Working with CAYR has been a surreal experience that has truly placed me on the front lines of the social service sector. Although my placement was only 4 months long and has quickly come to an end, it has provided me with the goal I had in pursuing post-secondary education and an eventual career: To make purpose of my lived experience.

While in the office directly interacting with clients, something instinctively comes over me and I find I can empathetically listen and validate their concerns (which is a core aspect of counselling), while attempting to meet their needs with what resources are available.

Helping through harm reduction, education, and outreach really takes prevalence at CAYR as well, and it can save lives. The goal of harm reduction is simply to reduce the harms caused by substances through education and safer tools to use, and the harm reduction team delivers just that. The kits that are made have what is needed in them to allow people to consume safely. Harm reduction is an important part of allowing clients the right to self-determination on their journeys through life as well. The relationships built between the harm reduction outreach team and the community members that access these services is the epitome of meaningful connections and “meeting people where they are at”. I am so glad I had the opportunity to see this in action.

I have also learned that sometimes the most disheartening aspect of this work is that (aside from core funders) money is not readily produced for things such as practical supports, and we have to rely to donations or fundraising, which can often times mean that CAYR is not able to provide everything we want to offer to clients. Financial and resource shortages have been made worse with the effects and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and that is why it is crucial more than ever to continue pursuing fundraising, donation, and grant ventures. I have worked on researching possible avenues for receiving grants and on the A Taste for Life fundraising event, and it is my hope that my work pans out as every service user I have met at CAYR is worthy of living a meaningful life full of dignity.

Working with CAYR has been a wonderful experience, from building friendships with coworkers, sharing lived experiences, and to developing interpersonal skills for effectively helping relationships in a peer support framework. I am glad to have been lucky enough to have been placed here. I look forward to what the future holds, but I know I have left here learning more than the education system alone could have ever taught me, and I hope one day I can come back to continue to do good work.

By Michelle

CAYR Student Placement, Social Service Work Program