MONCTON – Samantha Traill’s life took a turn for the worse after she immigrated to Canada from the U.K. with her family in 2006. But she’s since worked with Leo and Jeannette Johnson, the founders of Enviro Plus, to turn her life around.
“I was a mother of two by the age of 14. I was a single mother living on my own. Never worked before. Had to survive the best way I know how,” she said. “Now I can actually look into my future and know what I wanna do. So now I just gotta get there.”
Traill is one of 12 trainees currently at Second Chance Workshop, a program that aims to help those marginalized in society to prepare for employment. This includes rehabilitated inmates, as well as those affected by addiction, mental illness or “a string of bad luck,” as Leo says.
Enviro Plus is the storefront that funds the operation of the workshop. It sells donated furniture refurbished by Traill and her colleagues. Some of the furniture is also donated to the needy.
“We put our time and our care into it. Because those things, they’re going to other families right? However people come here and get their stuff, we know it’s going to the less fortunate, so what Jeanette always says is if it’s not good enough for us, it’s not good enough for the customers,” she said.
Like other trainees, Traill was placed at Enviro Plus by her social worker. If they pass the evaluation phase, they can stay for a four-to-six-month training program and then placed at a job with Enviro Plus or elsewhere.
Traill said the program has given her a different way of life.
“People like me, and the people that come into the program, you know, we have a lot of issues and stuff, so we gotta face them. It’s hard for us to get a job in a proper community where we don’t get that chance. So here, we get a chance to learn, to handle customers, to deal with bosses and situations,” she explained.
“It gives you hope that you’ll get out of the game, or out the ghetto, you know what I mean? So, it’s not only changed me as a person but it’s changed my future too.”
The Johnsons started Enviro Plus and Second Chance Workshop after decades of volunteering with the House of Nazareth, a homeless shelter in Moncton. When they retired in the mid-2000s, Leo began holding yard sales to help the shelter get rid of things that were donated but can’t be used.
Inspired by the struggles of the poor and the success of the yard sales – the last one generated $11,700 in three days, the couple launched their social enterprise in 2013. Enviro Plus has grown from a 2,400-square-foot rented space to a 17,300-square-foot warehouse on 315 Baig Boulevard. The company now owns the space with the help of community donations and one anonymous contribution worth $200,000.
“When Leo was working at Nazareth, a lot of those people were there and they didn’t have nothing to do. And they very often ask to find them something to do. That’s where the idea of the project came to Leo’s heart,” Jeannette explained.
“[The marginalized people] are the reason we’re here. It’s not for the furniture, which, it’s okay to keep that from going to the dump. It’s good for the environment. But the main reason is those people,” she said.
Jeannette, who Leo says is “the heart of the project,” wants the trainees to see their worth.
“Some people they come here and they think they’re good for nothing. That’s not true. Everybody has something to give back to society. They have to know that they’re able to do something right and that’s very important to me. So we try to help them find those talents and do something with them,” she said.
Jennifer Faulkner, a 21-year-old single mother of two, is on the six-month training program. She said the supportive environment made her want to stay.
“It’s like a big family. Coming to work is nice. You’re happy to be here and you wanna come in.”
There, she realized she likes to take apart and rebuild things. So she plans to return to school to study construction. But she will enrol in a child and youth care program first in September.
Second Chance Workshop trains an average of 50 people a year, with a 60-to-65 per cent success in finding them a job.
“Whether they keep the job or not, that, we don’t know. But I know many many of them that four years, five years and they’re still working. So we must be doing something right,” Leo said.
At the end of the day though, Traill said the desire for change has to come from within.
“[Leo and Jeannette] have showed me that there are other people out in the world that don’t judge people like me and will help us. But you have to want help. You have to wanna change. Otherwise, all the help they’re doing is going to be a waste of time,” she said.
The Johnsons are now trying to build a kitchen at the warehouse so trainees can learn to make their own affordable, nutritious meals. So far, they’ve relied on volunteers to deliver meals.
The retired couple is working more than they used to in this volunteer job, but they don’t mind it.
“I always said we are blessed, Leo and I, because we both love doing this together,” Jeannette said about her husband of 50 years.
“‘What you give is not what counts, but the love with which you give,’ that means a lot to me,” Jeannette said quoting a poster of Mother Teresa’s sayings. “We always tell the people here, if you do everything with love, it’s so much easier.”