I won’t pretend that 2020 was not an overall a terrible year. Nearly all 7.5 billion humans (minus the 1% of course) agree. Growing a non-profit is difficult under any circumstances, let alone in a global pandemic.

So far this year hasn’t been the fresh start many of us were hoping for, either. However, after some reflection, we realized the best thing we could do was to celebrate what we did manage to accomplish and keep fighting to make our world a kinder, safer, and more equitable place for youth to grow into the leaders, champions, and friends we need them to be.

Much of the following was accomplished IN SPITE of the pandemic. Because we had no other choice but to rise and be there for the people who depend on us. Because we care and we love and we want tomorrow to be better for all.

And all of this was possible because our supporters were there for us in a big way. If you engaged with us at all, whether you donated, bought a Family Dinner, listened to us on the radio, or shared our message, this is your victory too.

Here are 10 ways our non-profit grew in 2020:

1. We strengthened our programming

When shit hit the fan, we knew we needed to grow stronger if we expected to survive the storm. Especially in the early months of lockdown, there wasn’t a lot we could control. So we focused on what we could: reinforcing our foundational programming by throwing all of resources into supporting our participants and grads. This meant getting rid of all non-essential programming and pumping 100% into the basics — supportive housing, food security, mental health, individual support, grad support, land-based healing, life skills training, and unconditional care.

We are proud to say that not only did we keep all of our participants housed and safe from COVID-19, but we also had several complete the program. We served more youth than ever before, providing stability for over twenty Work 2 Live participants and grads.

2. We prioritized mental health

Mental health support has always been a core offering of Work 2 Live. Mental wellbeing can be one of our most important tools for creating a stable, fulfilling life.

In 2020, Zero Ceiling made big steps in creating space for mental health support, not just for our participants, but for youth in our community.

We engaged Dan’s Legacy, a Vancouver-based organization that provides trauma-informed, low-barrier, culturally appropriate counselling to participants in Work 2 Live. This meant we could support participants and grads when and how they needed it. The Whistler Community Foundation and the Rotary Club of Whistler funded this pilot program, and we are seeing great results so far.

We also had a hand in starting and facilitating Youth Connections with Vancouver Coastal Health, an online peer support group for young people in Mount Currie, Pemberton, and Whistler. That group is still going strong and accepting members.

3. We had our biggest intake EVER

The wise thing to do was to cancel our usual spring Work 2 Live intake in order to keep our participants and community as safe as possible. That, coupled with the overwhelming increase in the number of young people seeking out support and services like ours, meant that we had space for EIGHT new participants this fall. This means that we will be supporting 10-12 new participants per year (up from 8 in previous years).

While this is exciting and a long time coming, more must be done to ensure that all young people receive support and care in our province so that programs like ours aren’t at capacity. Our waitlist for our next scheduled intake is still longer than we will be able to accommodate. We still need support from our community and partners in order to make sure we can continue to serve young people.

4. We worked with some amazing partners

It’s no secret that our partners are the secret sauce to making our programs work as well as they do. 2020 brought a lot of changes to these relationships, as many of our partners rely on tourism, funding, and labour that just wasn’t there this year.

However, we are proud to say that we gained some new, amazing partners this year and found new ways to work with some of our old partners. Growing our non-profit in 2020 would have been impossible without them.

A highlight from our summer was bringing back the Adventure Sessions day activities for groups of youth. Due to social distancing, we had to get creative. And our long-time partners, Whistler Blackcomb and The Adventure Group, responded spectacularly with safe activities and even some new things for groups to try.

And this fall, we dipped our toes into selling meal kits with out Family Dinner fall fundraiser. This event was a big success, not only bringing in some much-needed support, but also in highlighting the food security element of Work 2 Live and its importance to the program. We are so grateful to the amazing restaurants, vendors, and venues who gave to us during a challenging time. Head to the event page for a list of all the partners who made Family Dinner possible.

5. We have a rental home (and are looking for one more)

In the fall, we secured some funding that meant we could change our supportive housing model. This allows us to rent and set up two houses in Whistler to provide a home to our Work 2 Live participants.

We secured the first one in time for the fall intake, and it has been an exciting new venture. Now we can not only centralize programming, but we can keep participants safe and on track to meet their goals.

We are still on the lookout for home #2, so help us out if you can!

6. We found new ways to raise support from our community

We are not alone in saying that raising support became more of a challenge in 2020. Even with our regular fundraising events, campaigns, and local venues shut down or moved online, we managed to raise funds and reach more of our community than ever.

Some incredible businesses and community members also took it upon themselves to run fundraisers on our behalf. Thank you to The Adventure Group, evo, Altitude Sports, RMU, Senka Florists, and some awesome individuals for supporting us, telling our story, and welcoming the new crew to Whistler.

Our Family Dinner fall fundraising event sold out! And we upped our online presence, doing more social media, blog posts, newsletters, and general outreach than ever. It really shows what an amazing community we have created, when we can still connect and amplify the voices of the people we serve during a pandemic.

7. We gave back through education & research

2020 was a big year for us in terms of outreach in our community. In 2020, our team was involved in the following:

-Co-facilitated Home Truths: Your Guide to Making Whistler Rentals Work Q&A event with the Whistler Public Library and Peter Yates, Poverty Law Advocate

-Facilitated research and presentation of findings from the COVID-19 Adaptation and Recovery: Human Resource and Training Needs in Whistler, B.C. project with Dr.’s Jo Axe & Rebecca Wilson-Mah from Royal Roads University

-Presented Renting in Whistler 101 with Connect Whistler Week

“In Search of Employment: Tackling Youth Homelessness and Unemployment”, containing data collected from the Work 2 Live program, was published by the Royal Roads University research team in the Children and Youth Services Review

-Sean and Dakota, along with the Royal Roads University research team, presented at the BC Non-Profit Housing Association Housing Central Conference on the role of youth voice in program development

8. We hired two additional staff members

Making a difference and improving systemic structures takes capacity. Capacity comes in the form of awesome staff members doing the day-to-day work. We were fortunate to bring on two new rock-star staff members in the fall to provide overnight support to Work 2 Live participants.

We’ve already seen a million great things happen as a result of this decision, from growth in individual participants, to being able to change our housing model, to Sean being able to take a few vacation days this holiday. While we don’t get to see them around the office very much, we feel the difference they’re making in every part of our organization and we’re excited for them to grow with us.

You might recognize one of our new additions: Dakota Williams!

9. We used our platform to amplify the voices of those we serve

Many of us learned some hard lessons about our own privilege and the ways we are complicit with the oppression of others. Zero Ceiling has changed the way we incorporate anti-racism, decolonization, and diversity into our organization and programs. Part of that work is in addressing how we can better amplify the voices of our participants and the populations we serve.

In 2020, we grew our non-profit by:

We have also added some amazing programming elements that our participants have told us they need, such as formal life skills training, the RentSmart Certificate, low-barrier counselling services, and Zero Ceiling-controlled housing (with private rooms!)

But some of our proudest moments this year have been witnessing our participants and grads sharing what’s important to them and expressing themselves through art, advocacy, leadership, and community building.

Take another look at these posts by grads we published on our blog this year:

10. We are growing our non-profit even more in 2021

Everything we did last year is building towards some very cool new opportunities coming our way. In 2021, we will be growing our non-profit even more to benefit the youth we serve and our wider community. Stay connected to hear about the exciting things we have in the works and how you can be a part of it.