A Changed Trajectory
As a COVID-19 school liaison public health nurse for East Toronto, Jason is responsible for 14 schools, where he meets with principals to ensure pandemic protocols are being followed, links cases with investigators and deals with outbreaks.
It’s a role that requires flexibility and calm, one he has been well-equipped for over his 12-year career—assisting new Canadians experiencing hardship, and people suffering with bed bugs, living in squalor without health insurance, affected by tuberculosis and, most recently, isolated because of COVID-19.
“I started following health-care workers and high-risk individuals who had COVID-19 through daily phone calls, and I felt God had put me in a place where I had the opportunity for great one-on-one conversations,” says Jason. “I don’t often lead with my background, but if a client opens up that door, I can talk about my faith and, more often than not, it will lead to an opportunity to share the gospel, pray for and encourage them.”
With his easygoing demeanour and empathetic personality, Jason puts clients at ease, telling stories and sharing experiences they can relate to.
It’s a skill set he developed while working at The Salvation Army Gateway, a 120-bed emergency shelter and drop-in for individuals experiencing homelessness in Toronto, where he worked from 2002 to 2010.
“I learned in the first few weeks that I couldn’t chalk up somebody as looking a certain way when they’re experiencing homelessness,” he says. “One moment in time can change the trajectory of someone’s life.”
Jason should know. He was in Grade 10 when his life took just such a turn.
Jason’s parents worked hard to provide for their four children while living in an apartment in Scarborough, Ont. Jason’s dad worked at Canada Post and his mother worked odd jobs from time to time. They didn’t have a lot of money, but his parents invested in their children’s faith, putting all four in Christian school.
In 1991, after his grandmother had a fall, Jason’s parents decided to renovate her semi-detached home so the whole family could move in and help take care of her. But that decision would cost the family in more ways than one.
“Over the next 10 years, my parents would lose everything financially as the home sat as a building lot,” says Jason. Their life savings were depleted, and things worsened when his dad was hit on the picket line during the 1991 Canada Post strike. He didn’t qualify for the Ontario Disability Support Program, and the family ended up on social assistance. Jason and his siblings left their Christian school to start fresh at a public school.
“The only good thing about that year was that on Christmas, The Salvation Army brought a gift basket and each of us kids had a $50 gift voucher to what was then Woolco (now Walmart),” says Jason. “I have very fond memories of that.”
From Tyndale to Gateway
Jason didn’t always aspire to be a nurse. When he was a child, he read books about David Livingstone and dreamed of serving as a medical missionary. He attended the University of Guelph in 1995 with this dream in mind, but found it shattered as his depression about unresolved family and relationship issues resulted in failing grades. He eventually graduated with a biology degree.
Unsure of next steps, Jason enrolled at Tyndale University in Toronto, hoping to teach in some capacity. A friend of Jason’s was working at The Gateway and told him to consider applying.
Over and Above
Dion Oxford, former director of The Gateway, remembers hiring Jason and being encouraged by his servant heart and genuine care for people in need.
“He focused on finding out more about who they were as human beings, what their gifts were and how we could walk alongside them to draw out their strengths,” says Dion. “He went over and above the call.
“I knew whatever he would end up doing, he would give 100 percent of his gifts to being the presence of Christ in the best way he knew how.”
“I started as a casual front-line relief worker, and those first couple of shifts, I wondered what I had gotten myself into,” Jason says. “But then I had this profound thought as I was sitting at the table that, if there was any place that Jesus would be, from what I know in my head and from Scripture, it would be here.”
A Dream Revived
While working at The Gateway, Jason listened to stories the men shared about their plight into homelessness and was touched by their vulnerability. Since The Gateway sat in a catchment area for services, a community health centre provided a nurse who would come in twice a week to care for men at the shelter. Jason recalls watching the nurse addressing the men’s physical needs, usually wound dressings and medication monitoring.
“A lot of individuals on the streets are, unfortunately, victims of violence or participate in violence, so they may be discharged from hospitals with staples or stitches and need to get them removed,” he says. “Wounds don’t heal very well when you’re not in a clean environment.”
Jason became interested in nursing and realized that, with his biology background, he could care for people in a way that would allow him to demonstrate compassion and be present with people.
“I found that maybe this dream wasn’t so lost,” he says. “God was leading me.”
Jason enrolled in nursing college, graduated and has been working ever since. He also pursues his passion for teaching in his roles as a clinical instructor at various universities and colleges.
“I’ve learned that if you sit with people and genuinely treat them as a person, giving them respect and dignity, you can get all the information you need for their care, and they feel valued,” says Jason. “And just as we engage with others on a daily basis, we need to engage with God, and it will equip us to not burn out and have the most impact for Jesus.”