Orca Place residents learn new skills

June 17, 2021

Three women craft inside Orca Place.

When Carol moved into Orca Place, a supportive housing building in Parksville, she went from homeless to housed. Now, she’s learning new skills.

Carol is a participant in Handmade for Hope, a social enterprise and skills training program for Orca Place residents. Run by Island Crisis Care Society, the non-profit operator of Orca Place, the program teaches participants to craft and sell handmade items.

“I've learned how to use a sewing machine, how to do resin work, how to knit. I’m 55, and I never thought I'd ever be able to knit,” Carol said.

Participants gain real-world experience by selling items, from quilts to wind chimes, at local markets and in the program's online store. Proceeds go to participants and Island Crisis Care Society.

For Carol, having a safe place to live has made focusing on other things, like skills training, possible.

“Now that I have a safe place to live, I can start improving myself and getting new skills so that I can be marketable in the future. I'm dealing with money and dealing with people. It’s helped me get back into the idea of working again, to getting a normal life,” Carol said.

“When you don’t have a home, all you can think about is, ‘What am I going to eat next? Where am I going to sleep safely tonight and how am I going to protect my stuff?’ There's nothing beyond that.”

While Handmade for Hope is for Orca Place residents, the program is a community affair.

Sara Schreider, Volunteer Coordinator for Island Crisis Care Society, said community members donate craft materials, provide skills instruction, and promote the program to family and friends.

“The community has been incredibly supportive. It’s been really inspirational,” Sara said.

“We have one gentleman who does all of our wood cutting for us because we're not able to do wood cutting on site. So, he preps wood packages with pre-drilled holes that participants use to make items.”

Tooth fairy bears and a wind chime.

Initially, many community members were opposed to the supportive housing building when it opened in 2019. Carol said Handmade for Hope has helped change minds.

“When we first moved in, there was a lot of opposition. People would yell things out the window as they drove by. And then there was a change. We started a clean-up program in the neighborhood, and we started Handmade for Hope,” Carol said.

“People's reactions are now very positive because they've seen that the crime rate hasn't gone up, the place is clean, and police aren’t here all the time. It’s a positive place. Handmade for Hope has really, really helped because it’s allowed us to connect with the community.”

Connection is a core feature of Handmade for Hope. Sara said the program has been especially effective at reducing the isolating effects of COVID-19.

“In the last year, things have been very isolating for a lot of people, especially the people in this building. Handmade for Hope gives residents an opportunity to come down from their rooms and socialize,” Sara said.

“Even if it's just working one-on-one with a volunteer, it gives residents more of a social outlet. It also helps them get a creative spin on their day.”

While Carol is skilled at crafting a variety of items, she is known for crafting a particular one.

“I’m queen of the dryer balls,” she said.