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As its 25th year comes to an end, Zero Ceiling’s reach now extends far beyond Whistler

Between its decolonization work and its advocacy on housing, the local non-profit’s impact isn’t limited to the youth it supports
Whistler non-profit Zero Ceiling has been supporting at-risk youth and young adults for 25 years.

Since its founding a quarter-century ago, Whistler non-profit Zero Ceiling has had an ambitious mandate—nothing less than ending youth homelessness.

For the handful of active participants in its renowned Work 2 Live program, which provides supporting housing and employment to young adults at risk of homelessness in Whistler, the impact is direct and tangible. But at a certain point, the organization’s leadership realized something.

“[Co-executive director] Sean [Easton] and I recognized that in order to end youth homelessness, we’re not going to do it just by supporting the youth in our program. We know from the youths’ experience in our program and the research that has backed it up each year that the model that Zero Ceiling uses to support youth is one that works. But we needed to be advocating for the policy changes and the supports needed in communities to impact more youth and to change the structures so we don’t have that pipeline of youth coming through.”

Part of this broadened mandate has been years in the making, the natural culmination of a growing organization, and some of it was accelerated by the onset of the pandemic, which disproportionately affected at-risk youth, leading to a spike in demand at Zero Ceiling as hundreds of B.C. youth aged out of foster care.

In November, that took Zero Ceiling to the Housing Central Conference in Vancouver, where the non-profit presented to approximately 1,700 attendees, including representatives from the corporate and non-profit worlds, as well as local and provincial government.

“A workshop was done in partnership with Royal Roads University, who we’ve been working with the last five years, so themselves, Sea and I and one of the grads talked about … the Work 2 Live program and how youth facing homelessness really need a lot of additional supports around them to be able to move forward with their lives, get and maintain jobs, and feel well,” Wrightson said.

This more individualized approach to the supports they provide has led to a complete reimagining of Zero Ceiling’s organizational structure, part and parcel of the work it has undergone in recent years to decolonize its practices and approaches in a program that disproportionately serves Indigenous youth.

“We understand ourselves as a safety net. And that's kind of always been there, but we've just leaned into it,” said co-executive director Sean Easton. “When we're making tough decisions on how to support a participant or whether we're going to end support for a participant, we just ask ourselves: What would our parents do? How would our parents support us through something like this? We mirror that in our support.”

Earlier this year, Zero Ceiling received a $60,000 Canadian Heritage grant over two years to continue the decolonization work it has already started, with a focus particularly on decolonizing its governance structure.

“It’s focusing a lot on the organization itself: the structure, the governance structure, the leadership structure, and the succession plan, so that we're not a white-led organization in the future,” Wrightson said.

That’s even led to the hiring of Anita Patrick, director of the N’quatqua Child and Family Development Centre, as Zero Ceiling’s resident “Auntie” for Work 2 Live participants and grads to lean on when they need support, in whatever form that may take.

First of all, I appreciate and love each of the youth in the program. I’m there as an auntie. I’m not prying, but I am a support for them,” Patrick explained. “They just need to be understood, respected and loved and not in that order, and I really appreciate the opportunity I get to spend time with each of them or as a group.”

Now closing its 25th year, Zero Ceiling enjoyed a banner year in terms of fundraising, raising $110,000 at its 25th Birthday Family Dinner in October. With days before the end of the year, however, the non-profit is still hopeful to reach its year-end target of $250,000 by Dec. 31. At press time, it still had just under $65,000 to go to meet its goal.

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