Many people are interested in pursuing a career that allows them to help the less fortunate, whether that’s through social work or education. Kate Lambert, Strategic Program Manager at Ready to Rent, has 20 years of experience in both! She has been with Ready to Rent since its inception in 2009, and after 10 years with the organization and dozens of RentSmart courses facilitated, she is embarking on a new journey in her career – she takes on the role of Tenant & Community Engagement Services Coordinator at Capital Region Housing Corporation, Victoria. We speak to her about her motivation to go into this sector; how she understands success; tips on facilitation, and more!
As we are celebrating this year the 10 years of your hard work and commitment to educating people to succeed in their housing journey, I wonder what led you to pursue a career in education / social work?
I grew up in South London and at the time, housing was a real challenge there. There were a lot of people sleeping rough and not enough being done to solve it. When I left school I spent a year as a Community Service Volunteer with a charity housing men leaving prison. It was quite a tough job for an 18 year old but it made me understand why homelessness happens and that it is possible to house people with safety and respect.
Facilitation and public speaking can be challenging even if you’ve been doing it for a while. Can you share some tips on how you overcome nervousness and anxiety?
The only thing that helps long term is practice. Lots of it. Volunteer for every speaking engagement you can. Talk to public meetings, anything where you have to speak in a group.
In the short term; put your hands on something if you shake. Breathe into your core if you blush. Have flash cards on a keyring so you don’t drop them. Don’t explain or apologize before you start. Think about what you bring to a room. My ‘thing’ is humour, but yours could be safety or calm or knowledge or fun. Everyone has something to bring to facilitation. And remember that 90% of the people in the room are just so grateful it’s not them up there!
How do you understand success in your work? What makes you feel accomplished?
When someone approaches me in a shop and tells me something helped. They kept their housing or they got their security deposit back. Ultimately, it’s all about housing for me.
Can you share with our readers one of your more challenging facilitation experiences, and what steps you took to overcome a difficult situation?
I had a really disengaged group with three youth who were just trying to outdo each other with jokes and messing around. I realized that attention was an issue so I broke out the chocolate. Pop quiz on anything we were talking about with chocolate as a prize. It helped. But I still cut the session short because there isn’t any point in forcing people to stay past their attention span. Get as much learning done as possible. I thought it was a disaster but one of the youth called me the next week about a tenancy issue. Sowing seeds, some of them will grow and you don’t know which ones.
We often hear from Educators that they are not sure how to adapt the program to fit the needs of the specific populations they serve. Can you share some general tips on what to consider and where to start when trying to adapt the course to a certain audience?
If I am speaking to a new audience, I like to ask people to go around the room and tell me their name and just a little about where they live. Is it roommates, family, sharing with a partner? Then use a parking lot to record themes. So a group of youth might have three who are leaving care. A seniors group might have two being renovicted. Those themes will be addressed. People know you care what is happening for them and the parking lot gives you a list of important subjects to cover. As you facilitate more groups you will see what comes up for people regularly.
At RentSmart, we are committed to continuously measure the impact of our program. Can you share your favorite story of how RentSmart education and support helped someone with their housing?
There are so many. And picking a favorite is really tough. Leaving Ready to Rent I packed up my desk and there were cards and sticky notes from people or phone messages saying things like, “Mary got housed because of you :)” or “Bob got into housing” or “Thanks for everything, I sorted things out with my landlord”. They are so short but mean so much. Someone somewhere isn’t worrying about their housing because of what we do.
What advice would you give our readers who are contemplating to start delivering tenancy education?
Just do it. You’ll have to learn some things as you go but you and the people you work with are learning together. Make sure there’s food and no barriers to attendance. Keep the door open and the atmosphere light.
This is a question we ask all RentSmart Certificate participants to answer in their evaluation forms. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about housing? Just kidding.
Every single person on the face of the earth would have a roof, a door they can shut, and a comfortable place to sleep. Not kidding.
Tell us about the new stage in your career and what your goals are.
End homelessness in Canada. That’s the big goal. In my new role I’m hoping to work on the mission to provide affordable, attractive, inclusive, sustainable housing.