*Hi, I’m Cathy. I’m a champion on the U-turn phase 3 work-readiness programme. My passion is communication and I’m part of the U-turn communication team. Every week I will be writing a blog post sharing my personal experience on this programme, to give you a window into the experience of being a champion on the U-turn programme.

Last year as a team activity on our personal development day, we (the Champions) built an eco-bench. The process was messy but the end result was beautiful. 

As Champions, we had to collect plastics from chips, chocolate, packing and two litre cooldrink bottles. Each Champion has to select a stick that we would use to put the plastic in the bottles. We went through every nook and cranny of Church House in search of our stick. We sat outside on the lawn with our two litre cooldrink bottles in hand and started to place the plastics inside. We had to make sure that the bottom and the sides of the bottle were hard. The stick was used to move the content in the bottle to the bottom.  While we were filling the bottle, we were chatting along, while music was playing in the background. There was a slight competition to see who could fill their bottle the fastest. The first few weeks we were only filling the bottles. Later the hard  and dirty work started. 

A few of the Champions had to dig the foundation where the bench would be. The “chief advisors” on the project were the Champions who have worked in the  construction industry. After the foundation was laid, old tyres were placed in it. The tyres were filled with old bricks and sand. The strength of few of the Champions were utilised to pound and level the sand in between the tyres.  While the stomping was happening, the eco-brick making started. A few of the Champions got their hands dirty and mixed animal manure, clay and straw. They had to stomp on the mixture with their feet, till it was ready to be used. It looked like they were dancing in a circle as they were stomping the manure mixture. Another group of champions took the manure mixture and made bricks using old ice cream containers and allowed it to dry on pallets that were outside. 

While the brick manufacturing was taking place, a few of us still continued filling the bottles. When the call was made for more volunteers to assist with the brick mixing, I conveniently turned a deaf ear. When my granny used to share about her childhood and how she had to use cow manure on their house floors, I would boast that I am glad that I was not part of her generation. I thought that I would keep my hands clean and focus on the bottles. 

After all the bottles were filled with plastics, we filled the gaps with sand. At some point, Billy the Church House resident dog, derailed things after he broke some of the manure bricks. Billy acted as if he had done nothing wrong, instead he greeted the Champions lovingly. Thanks to Billy the brick making process was prolonged.

The manure bricks and filled up eco-bricks were used to make the bench. After the bench was almost complete, it was covered with a manure and a straw mixture. The colourful bottle caps were placed on the outside. After the bench was dried, each Champion placed their hands in paint and left their hand prints on the back of the bench, writing their names next to it with a permanent marker.

As I reflect on the bench making process. We could not have completed the project without each Champion working together as a team. Similarly, it takes a team to bring somebody out of homelessness. The journey starts at the U-turn service centres, where our team walks a journey with the client through two phases. Maybe the first phase clients feel like they are a dirty two litre bottle that is of no use. Or maybe they feel like an old tyre, ashamed of the road that they have travelled. Then they move to the Phase 3 Work-readiness programme. They are then known not as clients, but as Champions, because to come this far in life, they are truly champions. 

On the Phase 3 Work-readiness programme, their case worker or counsellor, has to work with them through the past. The past hurt and trauma might look like the brick mixture made out of straw, clay and manure. Not everybody would be willing to get their hands dirty, but the therapy team is. While the therapy team is busy once a week with the Champion, the shop and laundry managers walk a daily journey with each of the Champions. Their encouragement is like the bottles being filled. At morning devotions and during the day, the managers encourage the Champions to continue to work on their recovery and to equip them with the skills to overcome homelessness. The Champions who live at Church House, our transitional home, have house parents that are willing to walk a journey with them. For them to experience home-life in a safe environment, while they are on the Phase 3 Work-readiness Programme. 

When the Champion graduates from the U-turn Life Change programme, they are like our eco-bench. Their past does not define them.No one would guess the bench was made from old tyres or that old dirty two litre Jive bottle. 

As we (Champions) journey through the Phase 3 Work-readiness programme, I believe we leave our hands prints on our daily work. Just like the eco-bench is now proudly standing at Church House for future champions to relax on, we as Champions will leave a lasting legacy in our sphere of influence.

Join me next week as I continue on my Exit journey.