All Sides of the Coin – Part 3: My Role of Employee

Bissell Centre employee, Sissy Thiessen, shares her story of assuming the various positions of volunteer, program participant and employee within Bissell. This is the final part of a three-part series.
By: Sissy Thiessen

All Sides of the Coin – Part 3: My Role of Employee

To my surprise, my journey with Bissell Centre did not end after my time volunteering and participating in the summer of 2009. Three years after entering the doors of the Robert Tegler Friendship Room for the first time, I finally returned to Bissell. But this time, not as a volunteer or participant.

Ever since the day a speaker from Bissell came to my high school, a seed was planted in my mind that made me want to be within the centre. Even after I volunteered and moved on to spend three years in another city being a University student, active volunteer and employee, I still found myself thinking about coming back to Bissell. Upon returning home to Edmonton after my studies, I decided I wanted to work at Bissell Centre.

On my first attempt, I had applied for a position within Bissell’s Homeless to Homes program, a program aimed at providing clients in need with stable housing and access to income supports. I was unsuccessful, but had learned more about the amazing support Bissell provides to inner city Edmontonians. I also felt like I put my name on a list and that someday, someone would recognize my drive, passion and eagerness to work for an organization that directly assists people. And I was right. 

In October 2012, I applied for and accepted a position within Employment Services, which assists participants looking to enter or re-enter the workforce. Manager, Mark Bubel, said my passion and writing skills were apparent in my letter of intent and after interviewing me, was gracious enough to take a chance on me. I was given an opportunity to prove to myself, as well as the organization, why I kept feeling the need to return.

I started my position as an Employment Support Worker on a relief basis at the end of October, and have gained a multitude of knowledge, experience and transferable skills since commencing employment. I have learned the inner workings of a non-profit organization, how to provide someone with the skills required to succeed in life and the workforce, conflict resolution and most importantly, I have learned how to empower someone. I have had the opportunity to work within a well organized social service agency that directly works toward eliminating poverty in our community.

Through my time spent in Employment Services, I have also gained valuable skills to assist me on my own career path. I came to help others and by the graciousness of this organization and its leaders, I have also been helped in return. I was even granted the opportunity to utilize my education in Journalism and work within Marketing and Communications a few hours a week.

At the time being, I have been offered a permanent, full-time position in a project-support role for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum of Services (FASS). This program works to enhance our community’s understanding of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), how to prevent it, as well as supports individuals and families affected by FASD. I am so thankful for all the opportunities Bissell has provided me with thus far, which have exemplified what it means to be genuinely compassionate, empathetic and courageous. These experiences have also taught me one of the most important lessons I think can be taught- the true power of the human spirit in the face of the most challenging obstacles. My life has been given new direction and meaning, and I am grateful my path has lead me back to Bissell Centre. I look forward to my future within this organization, as well as the continued generosity and lessons that accompany it.

Help Should Begin At Home

This is the story shared with Bissell Centre by one of our supporters, Patti Jones.  Thank you for passing it along to us and allowing it to be shared!  We hope it encourages you, your family, your community and/or your place of work to talk about how we view our most vulnerable and what we might be able to do to help.
My mom always said, “help should begin at home.”

My dad was divorced from my mom when I was six months old.  He was an alcoholic most of his life and struggled with his own demons.  He lived in the inner city of most of his life – the last few in a rooming house not far from the downtown station.  He didn’t give us a lot of opportunity to see him often, but it’s organizations like yours [Bissell Centre] that gave him some hope to get through another day.  It also gives families, who are in situations similar to our families, the peace of mind that there are places their loved ones can go to for help.

Freddy McDougall with Daughter, Patti Jones

You truly build a community with those in need, either impoverished or homeless, and it still makes me smile.

I recall one visit my sister and I made to our dad not long before he passed away. He took us on a walk through the neighbourhood late at night, which was a little scary for me and my sister. We went to the liquor store to buy him alcohol, because that was easier to bear than the alternative (that he might pick through garbage to find bottles to exchange for cash to pay for his booze).  It was one way we could show him love – understanding that he wasn’t going to change or stop drinking. When we walked with him, many of the street people knew him, (as Freddy McDougall), and we had the opportunity to say hello to his friends.  It didn’t take us any longer than that walk to learn they truly look after each other.

A few months after that night, my father had not been seen for a few days around the rooming house and it was one of those friends who called the police to report it.  The police broke down his door to get in his room and that is when he was found.  He had passed away from what they believe was heart failure.  Had it not been for such a tight community in that rooming house and neighbourhood, he could have been left unfound much longer.  Read More…

All Sides of the Coin – My 3 roles at Bissell Centre

Bissell Centre employee Sissy Thiessen shares her story of assuming the various positions of volunteer, program participant and employee within Bissell. This is a three-part series that will be published separately.
By: Sissy ThiessenSissy headshot

PART ONE:  Volunteering at Bissell Centre

I was sitting in Social Studies class in high school when I first heard about Bissell Centre. An employee from the centre came to talk about what the organization does for Edmontonians in need, and what it means to truly give back to your community. For the life of me, I cannot remember who the person was or what they did at Bissell, but the message of hope in their words is one that has stayed with me since I first heard them in 2005. I remember feeling so impacted by the warm heartedness and compassion I was hearing about. I was so amazed at how an organization could do so much for so many- how much help was really out there. And how much need for these services there really was.

It wasn’t until 2009 that I finally got around to volunteering for Bissell Centre. I had recently watched a movie called “Yes Man,” starring Jim Carrey, a movie about staring fear and apprehensions right in the face and saying “Yes” to any opportunity that comes your way. Giving what you have and going along for the ride. In the movie, Jim’s character volunteered serving soup to the homeless. And just like my mother will tell you, if I see something I want to do being done, I will find a way to do it. So, my mind was made up. I was going to serve soup to the homeless. Read More…

Bill – a staple in Bissell Centre for 20 years!

Q & A with Bill – Our Donations Pick-up Driver

How many years have you been with Bissell?
I’ve been with Bissell for 20 years. I’ve been working as the pick-up driver for about 10 years.

At 84 years old, most people your age are retired and yet, you are working full-time. Can you tell me why?
I enjoy working. It keeps me physically and mentally fit. Plus, I love the staff and clients that I work with at Bissell. I enjoy meeting new people.  I talk to about 100 different people a day!

What exactly do you do for Bissell Centre?
My job is to drive around town picking up food for the clients. I go to places like Alberta Health Services, Starbucks, the Italian Centre, Walmart, Funky Pickle, Shaw Conference Centre and Cobbs Bakery to collect their food donations and bring it back to Bissell. There is food to be picked up on a daily basis.

How much food do you pick up on a daily basis?
It varies. It can be as much as 600-700 pounds of food, like when I pick up at Capital Health. As astounding as that number may sound, it is not that much food. The food gets used up quickly, since we feed about 150 people daily.

Wow! That’s a lot of heavy lifting! Do you work with a team?
Nope. It’s just me. I do all of the heavy lifting. I don’t mind. I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I don’t have any back problems or anything –just asthma. But it’s manageable with my inhaler.

When is it the busiest time of the year for pick-ups?
I’m usually pretty busy all year round, but I would have to say from mid-November to about mid-January, we get a lot of pick-ups because of all the holiday parties.

In terms of donations, what is the one thing Bissell is always in need of?
Coffee!!! We need more coffee donations. We go through coffee so fast here! We can’t keep up. We are always running low on coffee.

  – Interview by Karen Lee, Guest Blogger

If you wish to make a food or other in-kind donation, please contact Barb, In-kind Donations Coordinator, at bnickel@bissellcentre.org or 780-423-2285 ext. 159.

A story about a devoted dad


Bryn MacDonald, a proud father, went from making $1,000 a day to an average of $1,000 a month, but he couldn’t be happier. When his daughter was born, he made the choice to work for himself as a graphic and website designer over working for a large corporation overseas. He explains, “She is my first child and I want to be the best parent I can be for her. I want to see her grow up and have stability.” He saw how important family values were in Asia and wanted to give his daughter the same caring and supportive environment to thrive in.

Since 2009, he has been spending his days working at home, while spending quality time with his daughter.  When he needs a break, he brings his daughter to Bissell Centre’s Child Care centre. He drops her off twice a week at the day care so that he can have some time to relax and take naps.  He is also taking the parenting courses offered by Bissell so that he can learn to be a better parent. 

Bryn lives in the area, but it is not the only reason he enjoys coming to Bissell.  “The staff are so nice. They really do care about the children. It is obvious by how they treat the children,” he tells me.  And over the years, he has become good friends with some of the staff. They are so supportive and caring and are great role models for his daughter.

It is obvious that he is happy with where he is at right now. He doesn’t care about the money he could have made overseas. He is making ends meet, but he has a close relationship with his daughter and that is priceless.

Written by Guest Blogger Karen Lee.

Clothing our Community with our Closet and Yours!

Q & A with Mandy, Community Closet Worker
So what do you do at Bissell?
I work in the Community Closet. I do paperwork, sort donations and organize the closet to keep it tidy.

What is the Community Closet?
The Community Closet, located in the basement of Bissell Centre, is a program where low income/no income clients can receive free clothes and household items on a referral basis. We work with 22 other agencies across the city, i.e the John Howard Society, women shelters, H.I.V Edmonton and more. Once a client gets referred, they get a voucher to use at the Community Closet. They will have up to 2 weeks to fill it. This service can be accessed once every three months.  It is open Monday to Friday from 12:30-4:30pm. Clients can drop by anytime with their vouchers.

How many years have you been with Bissell?
I’ve been here for 11 years, ever since the Community Closet program started.

What do you like most about working here?
It is rewarding and I get to help people. It is as simple as that.

How many clients do you see on a daily basis?
It varies, but we average about 28 clients a day.

Where can people drop off their donations?
You can drop off your clothes and other household items at the Bissell Thrift Shoppe on 8818 118 Avenue or our South Side Donation Centre at 5120 – 122 Street or you can drop them off directly at Bissell Centre (10527 96 Street), if you prefer. We are always short on Men’s clothes. So if you have any, please drop them off!

Marilyn, a new Community Closet client

Marilyn is one of the many clients who access the Community Closet at Bissell. She is waiting outside the doors patiently with her voucher in her hands. She came here today looking for a change of clothes. It is her first time here. She has been on the streets for some time now in the same clothes and only came here because some people on the street told her about his place. Marilyn didn’t ever think she would be in her current situation.  She always had her own place. She didn’t have to worry about where she would be sleeping each night. Now due to some unfortunate circumstances, she is homeless. Tonight, she will be staying in a shelter. Her future is uncertain. The only thing that she is certain about is that she will get some clean clothes to wear from Bissell Centre’s Community Closet.

To find out more about this program, please contact the Community Closet at 780-423-2285, ext. 118 or view the Community Closet webpage.

Story written by Guest Blogger Karen Lee.

Homeless People Aren’t Lazy Bums

Guest Blogger:  Karen Lee, photojournalist
It’s a common stereotype: Homeless people are too lazy to work and live off of handouts from the government. Yes, there are people like that, but it’s rarely the case. It’s not often we hear about the people who actually want to make an honest living, and perhaps even change their lives.

There is often a long line of people at Bissell Centre’s Employment Services’ Casual Labour office. It’s so popular that they have a Bingo Ball system in place so that everyone gets a fair chance for the day’s jobs.  Jobs are in high demand. There are usually more people than jobs available. And they are more than willing to work for a lower-than-industry standard wage.  They are willing to travel an hour or more by transit to get to these jobs. They are prepared to sweat and get their hands dirty.

After spending a period of time with some of the workers, I have gained a new form of respect for the clients that apply to work in Casual Labour. The work they do isn’t easy.  These aren’t cushy office jobs. The available jobs are often physically laborious and repetitive. The work environment isn’t always pretty. One of the places I visited was a scrap metal yard. It was understandably dirty and muddy.  It was a brisk winter day, yet the workers

did not complain once or ask to go inside to warm up.   The work is tedious and tiresome, but they don’t seem to mind. It is evident that they are hardworking and dedicated. Mario, a worker in his 60s, was impressive. He could barely speak English and didn’t have the same energy or stamina as his co-worker in his 20s, but he did his best to earn his wage for the day.  And he does it with a smile.  I can tell he is grateful to have a job, even if it’s just temporary.

I also spent time at a lumber mill. Bissell Centre has partnered with this company for over 10 years and they have had quite a few success stories.  There are many great things about this company. One being that Bissell’s clients have the opportunity to train and work as permanent staff.  For the highly motivated and determined, this is life changing! With a permanent job, they can get better housing and not worry about their next meal. They can support themselves and their family.  They can have a sense of dignity and self-respect. 

There are lots of able-bodied, hardworking individuals in the Bissell community looking for work. Will you give them a chance?  Bissell Centre is always looking for employers to partner with their Casual Labour program.  Please contact Employment Services at 780.424.4385.

Thanks Karen for volunteering your time and talent to Bissell Centre. It is only through working together that we will be able to fulfill our vision of eliminating poverty in our community. 

If you or anyone you know are interested in being a Guest Blogger on topics such as homelessness, poverty, unemployment, change, human services, food services, mental health, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or any other relevant topic, please feel free to contact Kristen Clark, Marketing & Communications Manager at kclark@bissellcentre.org.