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Compassion: An Essential Component of Making Difficult Choices Well

When Iris Assouline was a child growing up in a small village just outside Jerusalem, her mother used to say, “May your future bring good people your way.” Iris loves her work at Momentum because Momentum is the “good people” in the story of so many lives.
Iris arrived in Canada ten years ago with a Masters in Social Work and experience in community development. The approaches to this kind of work in Canada are different from those in Israel, but they are the same in one respect: the work is successful when it empowers those who are ready to make a lasting change in their lives.
After working at Momentum for ten years, Iris knows that the Trades Training participants are coming to Momentum because they want to make a better life for themselves and their families. She doesn’t take that lightly. She has gone through difficult and lonely times in her life, and the compassion and support she received along the way are what helped her get through. This is what the program offers participants.
The high quality of the Trades Training programs offers a solid basis for success. The facilitators are skilled at helping participants develop the work, language and employment skills that are needed in the Canadian labour force. Staff regularly evaluate the program to keep it meaningful and relevant. They use market research to decide which trades to offer, and redesign the curricula based on a solid understanding of economic realities. And they remain in close contact with SAIT, Momentum’s training partner, as well as our various work experience partners.
The training provides a practical and proven way to offer support to participants—historically, 70 percent of whom are employed in their field six months after graduation. But such skillful and relevant training alone wouldn’t be sufficient. Momentum’s training is offered not only with skill, but with compassion and good-heartedness. At Momentum, compassion is a daily philosophy, a way of doing the work, not a theoretical “good practice.” This is the difference that matters to Iris. Especially in 2015, when the demand for Trades Training programs was so very high, compassion was a guiding principle for the department’s response.
This past year, we had 61 training seats available; 955 people applied. Iris and her team spoke with almost every single one of them. As best they could, the team gave applicants hope, advice, and solid referrals to other programs. They initiated new support and networking systems for current and past participants, brought in more staff to review applications, made themselves available, and worked with compassion in the face of need.
“It’s hard,” says Iris, “it’s really hard to turn people away.” But she knew that Momentum needed to choose those who were right for the training, who had the right level of skills, attitudes and motivation. They could choose so few of those who wanted to participate; they had to get it right.

“It burns in my heart and bones that this is the right place. Compassion comes in each person’s own way, but everyone at Momentum has it.” – Iris Assouline

Here are just a few examples to give you some sense of how honest, compassionate and clear the team has had to be:

  • A man, desperate for work, and with the attitude and motivation required, wanted to apply to the Trades program in spite of his very poor English skills. Iris told him that if he joined the class, his lack of English would make it impossible for him to pass—and the government would not pay for English language training once he had taken a skills program. She connected him to organizations where he could learn English, and told him that when he was ready to come back, she would remember him. When he came back, she did, and he’s now in the program.
  • An applicant had been unable to find work in his field in Canada because his PhD was not recognized. He wasn’t actually interested in a job in Trades, but really needed a job. Iris urged him to be a little more patient, gave him some suggestions of where he could get help having his accreditation recognized. Six months later, he called her, grateful, working in his chosen profession.
  • An engineer applied, again simply really wanting work. Iris told him he did not qualify to attend the program. But he did qualify to teach it. Was he interested? He’s now one of the instructors.

Just filling the classes is not the point, whether this year or in years when the demand is much lower. The point is to combine excellent training with employment support. It’s to ensure that the program is the right next step for the applicant. And it requires and a profoundly compassionate approach. This is what creates opportunities that participants can use to build the rest of their lives.