Community, Connection, and Change: Whole Way House
The goal of DP World’s Community Kinship blog is to profile Vancouver B.C. nonprofits that are helping people throughout our region. In this post, we feature one such organization, Whole Way House.
Whole Way House serves low-income veterans, seniors, and other vulnerable individuals in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Whole Way House’s beginnings, however, were family driven.
Whole Way House was created out of life changes in one family. In 2009, founders Jenny and Josh Konkin were told by their father, Ron, that he had terminal cancer. He was only 48. Jenny and Josh decided to leave their successful corporate careers to focus on him and the family business.
Their grandparents had begun running low-income housing units in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the 1970s, renovating and improving the units. Eventually Jenny and Josh’s parents took over the management. Now it was Jenny and Josh’s turn.
They were both inspired and overwhelmed in their new role. They wanted to do so much to improve the Downtown Eastside but didn’t know where to begin. Then one of the residents died.
Jenny reached out to the other building tenants, asking if the deceased man had family or friends they should contact. No one knew whether he had any; no one even knew his name. This weighed on Jenny.
“I remember thinking, okay, I might not be able to fix the entire Downtown Eastside,” Jenny recalls. “But I can fix that. We don’t have to let people live completely alone, and then die alone.” This was the beginning of Whole Way House.
The initial goal was to provide residents with stable sources for food, job search assistance, addiction treatment and other services. They soon realized that while these things are important, creating a sense of community was key to eliminating the isolation and loneliness felt by so many.
They decided to start with a board games night. The opportunity to play games and socialize drew some residents out of their rooms and a community began to form. Their next endeavor was more ambitious and based on their Italian heritage, holding family dinners.
“If you don’t show up to Nona’s house on Sunday afternoon, you know, you’re going to get a phone call,” Jenny says. “You matter in the family. And you’ll be missed if you’re not there.” Jenny wanted to create that sense of community for their residents.
Pillars of Change
From this foundation, Jenny and Josh crafted their guiding principles: ReConnect, ReBuild, and ReCenter. These principles are interconnected and help ensure they are offering the full support their residents need.
Programs that allow residents to reconnect with each other and their community, such as family dinners, game nights, and field trips, are part of ReConnect. ReBuild programming creates a sense of purpose and pride, through education, training, and opportunities to volunteer. Finally, ReCenter includes one-on-one services, such as coordinating doctor’s appointments or completing forms.
Of course, the pandemic challenged Whole Way House to deliver their services in different ways. They added door-to-door meal delivery since group meals were not possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, for example, but the organization’s leaders look forward to getting things back to normal as restrictions are lifted.
Through its work, Whole Way House has transformed lives and outlooks. One success story is a resident named Mark.
As Jenny recalls, he had mental health challenges and rarely spoke. He walked in a shuffle, head down, with dirty clothes and matted hair. Yet he began coming to game nights. While he was not good at the games, his neighbors were patient and kind.
This continued for some time. Then one day while Jenny was at her desk in the lobby, she noticed an unfamiliar man with clean, long, flowing hair walking by. Jenny realized it was Mark.
Somewhat in shock, she complimented Mark on his hair and asked why he was all spruced up. “I wanted to be ready for game night,” he told her.
“It showed me he had something to be excited about that inspired him to take care of himself,” Jenny says. It also shows how well the Whole Way House program works.
Whole Way House receives government funding for their staffing expenses, but the programming is supported by cash and in-kind donations from individuals, foundations, and organizations. There are also plans for service and program expansions, but these can only come to fruition through support. Whole Way House’s goal for 2022 is to raise $222,000.