Jen & Charlie’s Journey

Jen and Charlie have worked and volunteered for Face à Face for a combined period of 7 years.  Jen began her time with Face à Face as a student while Charlie started out as a volunteer and their commitment to the organization and to the people they work with evolved into many different roles. Charlie also worked as the Volunteer Coordinator and was responsible for recruitment, training and supervision of the volunteer clinical team.  Jen worked hard at networking with partner agencies and foundations and organized and updated Face à Face’s current Resource Information Bank.

They have gone on to completing their studies and have started their professional careers. Despite their busy schedules, they remain dedicated to Face à Face’s mission. Jen, who works in the community, considers Face à Face an ‘allied resource’ – a hub for information, consultation, and most importantly, for client referrals. Charlie, who works as an academic advisor while pursuing her PhD in developmental psychology, nods approvingly at this statement.

The skills learned during their time at Face a Face has helped them develop their professional identify and reinforced their love for working with people.  They remember developing and refining their interpersonal skills, active listening and crisis intervention skills, and they were introduced to a plethora of resources – references that help them in their work today. Jen and Charlie also praise the network of friends and colleagues that is Face à Face. Working with marginalized groups, vulnerable groups, is not an easy job, but here is a wonderful community of people working together for the greater good and doing so in a way that is humane, that promotes care, and self-care too. When asked, “where do you put it all down?” – the hardships, the heart-wrenching encounters – they sigh, they smile. Jen talks about her walk home, how she disconnects, and distracts herself in between shifts. Charlie talks about learning to trust her clients, how they always seem ok in the morning, despite the turbulence of the previous day. Nevertheless, for particularly hard days, there is always the community. They check in on each other and pay attention to how they’re doing. “It’s home,” Jen says of Face à Face. It’s not just the skills, and the people, but also “the feeling you get when you come here everyday, and you leave,” says Charlie. Of course, they realize that Face à Face is facing a great struggle now, a financial struggle that may jeopardize their ability to provide on-going services. This is why they urge the population to take action in supporting Face à Face. This is a community organization that needs to be preserved. This is why “every fundraiser we can go to,” they go to, and they urge you to as well.  Jen and Charlie are the epitome of the community that can be found and fostered at Face à Face.

Written by Emma Telaro

Mike Palmer

Mike Palmer is the Executive Director of the Foundation of Catholic Community Services, a non-profit organization that owns the building where Face à Face is currently located. When Centraide unexpectedly cut their funding a year ago, Face à Face was forced to look for a new locale. Of course, finding accommodation is often quite difficult for non-profit organizations. Mike, however, was exceptionally welcoming. He chose to help Face à Face because it “epitomizes the foundation’s mission.” That mission is simple: to support organizations with its infrastructure in helping to change people’s lives. The foundation has created a unique model with its infrastructure, a ‘shared space’, that rents out their offices to groups that are in need, rather than privileging those that can ‘afford’ the usual price tag that comes with a downtown location. This way, they have redefined what a building can be, and do. This is a rarity worth preserving: a business model that helps the non-profit. Truly, the foundation has cultivated a space for non-profit groups to come together in forming a collectivity that allows them to support one another. The building where Face à Face is located houses 25 organizations – a vibrant community formed of individuals and groups with different mandates that have all come together in supporting each other. When asked what Face à Face has brought to their community, Mike answers plainly, “Life.” Anyone that walks through the building’s doors immediately senses the dynamic community therein: “What was really missing was a service provider… and now we have service providers. There are people. There’s action. There’s drama. There is work being done in the community.” Mike urges the population to help Face a Face in facing their new financial struggles – struggles he, as a director of a non-profit organization, is all too familiar with. He recognizes that “helping people and changing people’s lives is a difficult job, and any group like that deserves all the support we can give them.” He is spot-on. Thank you, Mike, for your on-going support.

Written by Emma Telaro 

The Harm Reduction Principle

Face à Face is successful in their interventions because of their approach: a humanizing clinical framework that privileges the Harm Reduction Principle. The goal of the Harm Reduction Principle is to reduce harms associated to risky behaviours by actively involving individuals in their own recovery. Through guidance, individuals are encouraged to identify for themselves negative behaviours, and to remedy these slowly, until they get to the point where they are living a harm free life. Although this is an approach that is not always well-received, its success rate is higher than traditional, medical models, and this for many reasons. It’s a method that looks at systems of oppression – the consequences of racism, ableism, and of socio-political and gender inequalities and takes these into account in formulating strategies for recovery. Grace Fontes, the director of Face à Face, says “People don’t get up feeling like they don’t want to be part of a big social fabric. They want to, but things happen, and sometimes it’s out of their control.” Face a Face helps them gain back that control. Not many people ask their clients, “what do you want? what will work for you?” and perhaps, most importantly, “what does this mean to you?” It’s questions like these that place individuals at the center of their own healing by encouraging empowerment, self-determination, and individual dignity. Clearly, this is a method that works: Face à Face boasts over 22 000 interventions per year, and 200 volunteers that give them over 10 000 hours of volunteer work per year. Again, this is an approach that is not well funded, but that works. As Grace says, “What we do we do well. What we need to do now is find money.” Making up for lost funds is necessary to keep the organization running effectively in meeting their clients’ needs. Smaller organizations are often at the heart of their communities and do the hard work with very little fanfare. Face à Face is no different. They are not very well known to big funders, but to the 20 000 plus individuals who use their services every year, Face à Face does good work. It is word of mouth that has kept them going for all these years.

In keeping with the agencies inclusive and solution-based approach, Grace is confident, “we’re going to find allies that will allow us to be us.”  


Written by Emma Telaro

Alfred’s Story

Alfred first encountered Face à Face by accident. He had recently been released from the penitentiary when he came across a sign outside their door advertising free coffee. Twenty-five years later, he still comes around, “I go into to Face à Face to let them know I’m still alive, and to cause trouble, to get them in a laughing mood,” he says jokingly.  Alfred is currently in the hospital. His heart is very weak. Throughout his interview, he often pauses to catch his breath. But his spirit remains strong. This is a man who is straightforward, witty and a survivor. He is also unwavering in his loyalty to Face à Face. He understands their impact, because he has experienced it first hand.

Over the last 25 years, he has used Face à Face’s services many times. He has faced adversity throughout most of his life and has struggled to cultivate a place for himself where he felt healed and balanced.  He has lived on the streets, apartments, motels and back again. In all that time, Face à Face has supported him, listened, referred and championed him. He has since become something of their unofficial spokesperson, agreeing to give talks at several of their fundraisers, and promising to participate in any future events, “even if I’m in my bed at the hospital, I’ll get there somehow.” Although his tone is light, public speaking is difficult for him. Often, much of his past comes up in his talks – a history of abuse, and the death of his sister still haunt him. “I’m working on it,” he says. Despite this trauma, Alfred still chooses to tell his story, and this because of his mission: “I want to make sure Face à Face never closes, that’s why I do the fundraising.”

Face à Face has meant everything to Alfred. There he feels at peace and has found people he can trust – it is, quite rightly, “the only organization that actually treats me with dignity and more than just a guy with problems.” This is the perfect way of summing up their extraordinary humanity – what sets them apart from other service providers and warrants their conservation.

Written by Emma Telaro