Kassandra Marling serves as Youth Job Connection Program Coordinator at The Yonge Street Mission, a 125 year-old non-profit development agency in Toronto that focuses on responding to immediate needs and helping people move from surviving to thriving through wraparound support and services. She is passionate about working with job seekers as they grow both professionally and personally while caring for their holistic wellbeing. Kassandra is a coach at heart and loves to see people succeed and reach their goals. Connect with Kassandra on LinkedIn.
Alex Rascanu: Welcome to The Career Planning Show. Our guest today is Kassandra Marling. How are you, Kassandra?
Kassandra Marling: I'm great. Thanks Alex. How are you?
Alex Rascanu: Very well, thanks a lot for joining us. Kassandra, could you walk us through your career journey?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah, for sure. I studied at Ryerson University in Toronto. I studied child and youth care. This was always an interest to me, although I wasn't sure what specific sector I wanted to run with after university. I finished in 2016 a little bit unsure of my plan. I'm not from Toronto originally, I'm from a smaller town, so I was trying to decide "am I going to stay, am I going to sign another lease?" not knowing how I'm going to be paying for the rent and that sort of thing. I ended up working at a summer camp that summer, called Muskoka Woods, and just got out of the city. Didn't have to think too much about it, left my problems behind, and during that summer was kind of trying to figure out my next step. I started to job search in the middle of the summer , but I wasn't having too much luck. Started to just apply to a million things , ended off the summer still not sure what I was going to do... I had my place that I was going to in Toronto, I had already resigned the lease, so it was kind of like, "Hey, I have to make this work now, it's a year long lease." I went back not knowing what to do. So I just spent the first few weeks of September applying to everything all day. I'm sure anyone who has job searched before knows how draining that is, and three weeks of job searching feels like 10 years. You just feel like, "Oh, nothing's happening. Why aren't they getting back to me?" It's hard to stay patient. I was lucky enough; I think by the end of September I had heard back from Young Street Mission for a 10 week contract, a coordinator role for the toy market. They do that during the holiday season, providing brand new toys to families . I got an interview and it went pretty well, and I ended up getting that contract position.
Alex Rascanu: What was that experience like?
Kassandra Marling: That first role when I first got into Yonge Street Mission was for two and a half months and it was awesome. It was a lot of fun. Meeting with families in the community, registering them for our toy market, planning the toy market, decorating all of that , and then actually executing it, and it was a lot of fun. But, then again, I came back to this place where I'm like, "Hey, my contract, this is only 10 weeks, which goes by really quickly. What am I going to do again?" Thankfully, a role popped up within Yonge Street Mission in the employment center and it caught my eye. It's the job developer position working mostly with youth out of our Evergreen building, job coaching them, helping them to find work and to retain work. So I figured, "what do I have to lose? Let me put the feelers out there" and I applied to that position and ended up getting it. And I am still in that role a few years later.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. You were in the organization already, which was helpful because you were building relationships. Being closer to where you want to be definitely helps because you get to interact with the right people, but beyond just submitting the application through the online system, was there anything else that you did that proved to be helpful and securing that role?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah. Throughout that initial 10 week contract, my supervisor at the time , her name was Ruth.. she was amazing. She set the bar so high for being a supervisor. We had a really good relationship , and she and I were talking about the next steps and "are there positions coming up within the organization?" I liked what I was doing , I liked the values that Yonge Street Mission stood for. She was also keeping her eye out and encouraging me " Hey, if you see something apply. I can put in a word for you. It's been a great experience having you here." I believe she did put a word into the employment department. I hadn't really interacted with the employment department. Yonge Street Mission has a few buildings in the city. I had only maybe been to Evergreen one time for a tour. So they didn't know me face to face. I would say that, and my background in child and youth care -I think helped as well.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. Having acted in your role now for some time, as a job developer, are there any patterns that you see, anything that an individual who is perhaps unemployed right now and is looking for work, is really struggling sending applications and nothing's really coming through. Is there anything that you're noticing that some of your clients over the last number of years have found helpful in terms of how to approach job search?
Kassandra Marling: Hmm. Yeah, that's a good question. It can be hard and it can be really draining. I do empathize with people who I'm trying to help along their journey, because I remember that feeling of throwing in applications everywhere and feeling " why am I not hearing back?" or "what more could I be doing?" I think it is helpful, if someone is struggling to find work, to see what kind of resources are in their area, whether that's Yonge Street Mission Employment Services or another agency that does employment services. Get fresh eyes on your resume and cover letter. Or maybe you'll learn about new resources or job search tools that you didn't know about. And I think having connections is a big thing, so if you can go work with someone who can say "if you're doing these things and showing up to our appointments, we're going to be able to connect you to a job" that's huge. I do find networking is really big and if you don't have your personal network, you have to find one.
Alex Rascanu: Okay. That's great. And in terms of how one goes about submitting their applications, would you say that the vast majority of the people that you're seeing secure jobs, do they just submit through the online system where the company posts the job or do they use any other techniques in order to be seen, to stand out when it comes to a recruiter or an human resources manager or hiring manager getting to even select them for an interview?
Kassandra Marling: Online applications are tricky. The volume is huge and when you live in a city like Toronto, it's such a big city that sometimes people are getting hundreds of applications for one position , so I'd say people do tend to get discouraged quite quickly when they're applying online. And I get that because you feel like you're just throwing it out into the abyss of the online hiring system. We try to help individuals, connect them directly to our employer connections. Having that referral and someone who can say " I can vouch for this person, they've been showing up to my meetings on time, they've been showing me XYZ," that gives hiring managers peace of mind and eliminates some of their struggle in finding the right applicant.
Alex Rascanu: Right. It reduces the amount of time that they need to dedicate on their recruitment processes, they can focus on some of the other aspects of their operations. Is there a story that you might be able to share of someone who has used Yonge Street Mission and has had a positive experience?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah, absolutely. I'm thinking of one individual who I was worked with maybe about two years ago now. And she was fairly new to Canada. She had moved here from Kenya fairly recently and she didn't have much of a network, a support system . She didn't have family when she arrived here. That's an overwhelming experience. She heard about Yonge Street Mission and she ended up in the employment office. She had some really great experience from working in Kenya , but she was finding the struggle here was that people will tend to say " you don't have Canadian work experience." So then it's that classic struggle of how do you get the Canadian work experience? We ended up registering her for one of our programs, called the Youth Job Connection program , and at the time we were doing a Starbucks specific cohort. So everyone who was training was going to end up in a placement at Starbucks. We have a great partnership with Starbucks, we've done many of these cohorts, and they're highly invested in the work we do, so the retention we see is a lot higher because of their own investment in what we're doing.So this individual came, did the Starbucks program, was a star throughout the preemployment workshops, very engaged, always on time, that sort of thing. We placed her at Starbucks and they just absolutely loved her. They were like, "we have to keep her after this placement, there's no question." Seeing her journey of not just getting the job, but when I had conversations with her feeling like "this has become a really amazing support to me," both Yonge Street Mission staff that throughout the way continue to work with her, as well as the staff at Starbucks whom she found a lot of friendships with. So she really started to feel this sense of familiarity and support, and feeling more at home here. So that was a really great experience.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. Would you mind mentioning some of the other programs and initiatives that Yonge Street Mission provides? I know you mentioned the toy initiative that you do around Christmas time and you also provide employment services. Are there any other resources that community members can access?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah, absolutely. There are so many resources. Overall, our main goal is to help people rise out of poverty and, in doing so, increase their capacity to reach their full potential. It's holistic services. It's wraparound. We don't focus on one part of someone's life , we try to really understand and be aware that each aspect of our lives, whether that's our mental health, our housing, our food security... all of these things impact each other.
Alex Rascanu: There are a lot of organizations that only provide employment services and then they do referrals in the community to other organizations that are able to provide those wrap- around supports. Their specialization is not in the referral. Their specialization is on the employment services side, and thereforethe experience of the person could be different there than it would be at Yonge Street Mission, where you do have a more holistic approach.
Kassandra Marling: Absolutely. And I really love this about YSM and our ability to do that, because I think just referring internally it's one less organization you have to go to explain your situation to . You want to make it as dignified of a process as you can. When I have a client, for example, who... maybe their housing situation is precarious and they really want to secure consistent housing, for me to be able to say "I'm going to refer you and your appointment is downstairs" is amazing. And I think when you live in a city like Toronto, if you have four different service providers that you are involved with, that could be an hour or two hour commute to each one. So it's reducing those barriers.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. Would you mind speaking about some of your volunteer experiences? I know you volunteered internationally, you volunteered locally, you've been spending a lot of time over the years with Impact Romania and also Matthew House Toronto. What were you doing with those organizations and what experiences did you take out of the the volunteer work that you were doing?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah, sure. So with Impact Romania, I had been introduced to this organization from a young age actually; one of the people very involved in starting this is a good family friend. And so I'd heard about it for a long time and got involved during my undergrad. We had to do placements in child and youth care, and I really wanted to do an international placement, and so where I did my placement was with Impact Romania. It was an interesting experience. Intention of the placement was to whatever they needed, recognizing they're the experts of their community, their organization, the work that they're doing. And I essentially was just there to help, whether that was administratively or creating some fun activities to do with some of the kids in the organization. I went there for a couple of months, one summer quite a while ago and it was a great experience to see the work being done there. I did go a couple of times. I think I reflected a lot afterwards on my own intentions there... there's so much work to be done here in Toronto. I had a bit of a mindset shift; although my experience was really great, I wanted to start focusing more on what can I do here in my own city. When you were there, you were working with children in orphanages in Cluj?
Alex Rascanu: The organization is called Pas cu Pas, which in Romanian, as you will know, means stepby step. They worked with children and youth in, I would say, government care. So whether that's orphanages, residential homes, transitioning into foster homes . So they, Pas cu Pas themselves are not an orphanage, they don't house anyone. They do external programming , and they're doing some great work right now. They secured a really large piece of land outside of Cluj. And they've always had this dream of building this space where they can bring the kids, kind of like a family farm idea. So this is actually coming to fruition now, which is really awesome to see. They've been building, they've been doing lots of gardening, teaching the kids different life skills of cooking and cleaning and yard work and all those things. So that has been really cool to see.That's nice. And Matthew House Toronto: what is the kind of involvement that you've had with them?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah, for sure. I'm a big fan of Matthew House. At the time when I started volunteering there a few years ago, I was living in the neighborhood with my sister and a couple of friends, and my sister and I were thinking "it'd be nice to volunteer somewhere locally." And we just started to look at what was literally right within our neighborhood. And Matthew House was really close by and we looked into what they did, their mission, their values, the process of how they assisted new refugees in Canada. We started volunteering there. Partly it was assisting in different events, and then mostly what we did is we would go and cook dinner there every couple of weeks. Every night they do like a family style dinner and they've got a nice round table where all the residents can eat dinner together. So we just honestly cooked dinner there and it's a lot of fun.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. So get involved in your community. You never know, you know, how those experiences can translate into you being more qualified for a role, right? And even just the fact that you are serving on an ongoing basis in your community, it shows your heart and how you could be useful in an organization that has a mission where they are trying to serve community, right?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's great to get involved in your own community. It's a good experience and reminds you and grounds you that you don't need to look far to assist or to help. Whatever you can do, on an ongoing basis especially, can be really valuable.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. Where do you find inspiration as you do your work as a job developer? Are there any books or resources or individuals that you that you watch on online or you interact with in person? Any thoughts as to what inspires you and helps you become a better job developer at Yonge Street Mission?
Kassandra Marling: Yeah, for sure. For the most part, what inspires me to do my job well and to stay motivated is the people who I work with, the job seekers. When somebody is looking for a job, going through that process, and they're showing up to meetings, they're working hard on their resume, they're doing these things... you want to work hard to help them and to honor the effort that they're putting in. So I would say that keeps me focused. I really try to be someone... if I say I'm going to do something I follow through. So if I say "I'm going to have your resume with those edits back to you by Monday, I'm really going to do my best to do that." So I'd say that keeps me motivated... knowing that they're putting in that effort I want to also put in that effort.
Alex Rascanu: That's great. Well, this has been very insightful. I really appreciated the opportunity to explore your journey and learn more about Young Street Mission and what it means to be a job developer. We appreciated having you on The Career Planning Show.
Kassandra Marling: Thank you so much. It's been great to be here. Thanks Alex.