When Matthew Rahn got laid off from his job as a media buyer at an advertising agency in downtown Toronto, he didn’t just steer his career in a different direction; he made a sharp U-turn.
The St. Catharines native seized the opportunity to forge a new beginning. His destination: social service work. It was uncharted territory for the university graduate who had a bachelor’s degree in Commerce, Marketing and was immersed in the fast-paced business world; but it was an area always been interested in.
“I always thought about doing it, but felt I was stuck in the career that I had,” he said. “I was attracted to this field because I’ve always enjoyed working with people, and am motivated by the breadth and depth of challenges the social services field presents,” he said.
He tested the waters by volunteering extensively at community agencies. At Positive Living Niagara he was a reception volunteer and assisted staff within the StreetWorks Needle Exchange harm reduction program, learning to shed any preconceived judgements he may have had.
Then serendipity stepped in. His mother had been volunteering with the arts program at Brain Injury Community Re-entry and Rahn too became involved. Something clicked as Rahn began to work with participants with acquired brain injury, assisting them with recreation and life skills activities as part of BICR’s Personal Effectiveness Training program. His discovery: he truly enjoyed the work.
“I really enjoy working with the program participants especially – they challenge me and to see them succeed truly enriches my life as a social service worker,” he said.
Working with people who have mental health issues became his goal. He spoke to staff from various agencies who recommended Niagara College’s two-year Social Service Worker program, and enrolled via Employment Ontario’s Second Career program.
At NC, Rahn was challenged to leave his comfort zone by working two – very different – co-op placements. As a student addictions counsellor at ARID Group Homes – a sober living transitional residence for men in Thorold – he supported clients with their recovery plan goals such as finding employment, reconnecting with family members and re-engaging with the community. As a student clubhouse worker at Oak Centre in Welland, he helped support people with severe mental health issues.
He also had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia during his October break week to participate in the Urban Plunge Field Student Initiative. Through a collaboration between Niagara College and the St. Vincent De Paul Centre in Philadelphia, students worked alongside other volunteers and staff from community social services organizations in the downtown area. They assisted at a soup kitchen, after-school program, seniors’ long-term care residence, and at an agency that prepared and delivered medically supervised meals.
It was a valuable experience for Rahn, who noted the opportunity was financially possible for him due to a generous bursary offered at the College towards the cost of the trip.
“It extended and enriched my NC classroom experience as I was able to participate in the work that we learn about in a practical way,” he said. “My scope of the social services field and my understanding of its complexities grew tenfold.”
Rhan was recently hired as a rehabilitation counsellor for Brain Injury Community Re-entry’s residential program. He crossed the stage to receive his diploma at Niagara College’s convocation on June 22 at the age of 33, excited about the future and with no regrets about his decision to return to school.
“I am very satisfied that I did it,” he said. “I was very determined and focused to succeed.”