What do you mean, “I can’t do it?”

When I saw John Kirk the other day, my whole face broke into a smile. Here, in my books, is a guy who’s grabbed the reins and galloped full speed into his own destiny.

And he’s done it his way.

I first met John in 1994 when he applied to take a 16 week course called Creating a Career. John’s working life at that point had consisted of doing just about anything that a grade 10 education would give him. He’d dropped out of school in the sixties, bought a motocycle and “hippied” his way across the country [his words]. He picked up jobs as he went, settling in Calgary long enough to get married and have a child.

He cannot begin to list all his jobs during his working life, but he worked for a waterbed manufacturer, in a warehouse for Leon’s Furniture, ran a small hotel, learned how to build, tear down and build again. Marriage over, John moved back to Barrie almost 20 years ago and picked up odd jobs doing renovating, installing plumbing, building extra bathrooms and decks.

But somehow the threads of life hadn’t pulled together and John found himself at age 45 out of work, receiving social assistance and in a course with a lot of other people who’d lost their roots, their sense of direction, and their sense of self.

The course that John took involved four weeks of personal assessment, skill identification, resume building and esteem building. That was followed by a month of computer training and for John this was a foreign object. It sure didn’t look like the engine of a motorbike. He had real problems with the computer and a friendly soul with computer skills and a thirst for helping others volunteered to sit beside John for a couple of weeks and help him get the basic concepts.

He caught on. He actually got turned on to the computer and its potential.

Third part of the course involved eight weeks of work experience placement where he could get a taste of work activity he might enjoy.

John wanted to have a work experience that involved young people and all his woodworking and analytical skills. He was placed with Bryce Bayliss in the woodworking shop at North Collegiate. John related well to the students, and they liked him. And, maybe for the first time in his life John found a sense of purpose in the wonder of the computer lab at North and its marvellous CAD (Computer Assisted Design) department.

That experience became a launching pad for John Kirk. He graduated from the Creating a Career Course (which, incidentally, was supported through the vision of Human Resources Development Canada– HRDC) in March, 1995 and gathered up as many renovation jobs as he could, while living with his aging parents on Henry Street in one of Barrie’s oldest sections of townn.

In September John applied to the Barrie Learning Centre in the Bayfield Mall and during semesters 1 and 2 he took every course he needed to complete Grade 12, graduating in May, 1996. He was then accepted to Humber College in the Architectural Technology Department and for the next three years John lived in residence with young people less than half his age. He studied computer assisted design and drafting, learned written and verbal communications skills, brought a lot to the life skills discussions, and generally advanced his practical knowledge a whole bunch.

For three years John put what was his adult life on hold to pursue something that had tremendous appeal to him.

This month he graduates from Humber College with an Architectural Technology diploma. He’s qualfied to design any building 6000 metres squared and three stories high. His portfolio is a wonderful blend of what he’s learned in school and what he knows to be true as a framer, drywall installer, foundation pourer… his practical background in construction. His final report card reads like the model that might be sent out from Humber as a Public Relations gesture. Drafting and Detailing: 94%, Facilities Management: 81%, Specification Writing: 85%, Construction Administration: 72%, Building Inspection: 90%, Project Based Training: 91%, History of Architecture: 72%.

John Kirk has graduated from Humber College with honours with an average of 85%.

He’s 49 years old.

His student loans total $30,000.

Now John is back at HRDC in its Employment Resource Centre, eager to blend his 49 years of living with his five intense years of education and work with an architectural or design firm that will benefit from knowing him.

John’s quiet. He’s no bigger than a drop of water as it’s pouring from the tap! He’s thoughtful. He’s articulate. But mostly, John represents the difference between hopeful and hopeless. He’s battled some demons in his life and he’s won.

Getting a job will be the icing on the cake! And I have every expectation that he’ll do it!k

Thanks, John!