I have three main people to thank for where I am today: Old Lady in charge of practicum placements, Yvonne, and Kiwi.
When I was 21, I had a clear plan of what my life would be. I almost had my degree in Justice and was well on my way to becoming a police officer. I had one semester left where I planned to put time in as a practicum student at the youth correctional centre. I told the Old Lady in charge of practicum placements where I wanted to go - 1) Youth Correctional Centre, 2) Youth Group Home, 3) Adult Half-Way House. I was quite sure about these placements. I wanted one of them. I did not care which.
Old Lady (ICOPP) said "No".
She told me she would not place me at these places. Not because she could not, but because she would not. She told me I would be going to work as an advocate for people on welfare instead. And, being 21 and a good girl, I said "Okay."
When I entered the welfare office, my life changed. I met crazy women with no teeth, challenged men with bike helmets and no bikes, grouchy men with secrets, sad families with histories, old men with severe addictions problems. I fell in love. I loved these people more than I thought possible. I absorbed each one of their stories, I ached in their defeat, I raged in their stupidity, I glorified in their accomplishments.
I knew I didn't want to be a police officer any more. With that drastic change in plans (a goal which was 10 years in the making at that point) I was lost. I talked to my co-worker and friend, Yvonne, looking for a place to go. She had just done a placement at a mental health crisis centre and said I would love it. I was skeptical, but figured I had no where else to go.
I went. I walked in the door on the first day of my placement. Or, at least I tried. The door was locked. A lean, mean looking woman with a smoke hanging out her mouth opened the door as I stood there wondering what my next move would be. She was on the phone, leaning over the main desk, propping the inside door open with her shoulder and opening the front door with her foot. It was a weird welcome, but later I found it was a typical one.
I introduced myself and explained why I was there. The woman led me to Kiwi. Kiwi was... unconventional. But, he was a good teacher. I learned how to deal with people and how not to deal with them. I had long conversations with a lady who planted a garden of doll heads on stakes. I waded knee deep into a home lined with rotting garbage. I crawled under bridges and left business cards. I had the time of my life. When my 4 month term was up, Kiwi asked what my plans were.
I still had none. I knew where I belonged -- joking with street people, counselling sad people, dealing with non-compliant people, calming violent people. But I didn't know where to go.
This answer didn't seem to sit well with Kiwi. He walked me down the hall to the director's office, poked his head in the door and said "You need to hire her." And then I was hired. I moved shortly after from the mental health crisis area to the child protection et al crisis area and I have been there ever since.
Today is the 10th anniversary since the day I first walked in that door propped open with a foot. The day I found where I belong.