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Alana Jones

Alana Jones

Photo of Alana Jones

Alana Jones

Founder and Executive Director at Borden Place Inc.

Master in Environmental Studies 2022

Starting a nonprofit is an incredible journey, and building a network around yourself is important. Leadership can be lonely, so don't underestimate the value of a mentor and network support. Seek guidance from those who have walked the path beforeā€¦

About Alana Jones

Alana Jones is the Founder and Executive Director at Borden Place Inc. We caught up with Alana, who shared with us her experience at EUC and her journey post-graduation, which includes forming Borden Place Inc., her own registered non-profit charitable organization formed out of community advocacy and necessity. Their vision was simple: to ensure that 60 Borden Street would be a place of tangible yet sustainable transformation to combat an increasingly broken social service sector.

How was your experience in the faculty when you attended?

When I started at York, I had a very positive experience, mainly due to the guidance from my faculty. I came without an undergraduate degree, so I faced challenges with academic writing and citation, as I was more accustomed to writing like a storyteller, using poems and short stories. My advisor at the time, Barbara Rahder, gently corrected me and suggested I take a class focused on storytelling in the community and community organizing. Additionally, I was encouraged to seek academic writing support, and Ray Bennett was indeed a sunshine of hope. This allowed me to improve my academic writing while integrating my passion for poetry, enriching my experience in York.

Do you have any classes, professors, or experiences that are particularly special or memorable? How did this impact you?  

I've had a few standout professors at York, particularly Barbara Rahder and Liette Gilbert, each for different reasons. Barbara Rahder, my first professor, encouraged me to delve deeply into my plan of study by combining storytelling and my community leadership experience with academic work. Our ongoing, supportive connection remains very meaningful to me.

Liette Gilbert was crucial in my return to complete my degree. She supported my full-time return after I took time off to restore my mental health and wellness. She helped me navigate a change in my academic focus, even facilitating an external advisor from the University of Calgary when no one in York could lead my new area of study. Barbara and Liette have been instrumental in my academic journey, challenging and supporting me significantly. I have made it a point to share my journey with them from time to time, never to forget my roots, but to allow them to see the investment they made in providing me mentorship continues to grow.

Can you share a bit about your Plan of Study?

I had a national focus when it came to my research and plan of study. My external supervisor, Jeanette Waegemakers Schiff, initiated national research to study the Psychological Impact of COVID-19 on Frontline Workers in the Homeless Sector. She invited me to join as a knowledge user, leveraging my experience with couch surfing and precarious housing as a newcomer. Additionally, I drew from my work as a frontline worker with lived experiences who continues to support clients in navigating similar issues. This involvement became central to my final paper, addressing issues I was passionate about. I proposed including questions for frontline staff with lived experience, a novel approach in this field.

This research was significant because it uniquely validated the trauma experienced by frontline workers with lived experiences, acknowledging their mental health struggles amid a housing crisis. It highlighted the immense emotional toll, including dealing with client losses from overdose, acute violence, murder, and suicide. This project underscored the need for more significant support and recognition of the psychological impact on those working in such challenging environments.

What advice would you give to someone interested in running their own nonprofit?

Starting a nonprofit is an incredible journey, and building a network around yourself is essential. Leadership can be lonely, so don't underestimate the value of a mentor and network support. Seek guidance from those who have walked the path before and be prepared for the chaotic funding world. Treat your nonprofit like a business, utilizing resources like business management courses to guide your journey. I took a business management certificate course at The Blackhurst Cultural Centre and Schulich and used the framework to guide me in forming my nonprofit, Borden Place Inc. The course allowed me to create a vision and identify goals while outlining how I endeavoured to meet these goals and who would support me. 

Maintaining a clear vision and surround yourself with believers who can support you through challenges is essential. Be resilient in the face of rejection, and remember to prioritize self-care. Seek support from mentors, colleagues, and peers to navigate the complexities of building a successful and sustainable nonprofit organization. Making time for family is equally important; however, it is often tricky, and you must constantly work on your work-life balance. Never underestimate remaining grounded in your spirituality and faith.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

Seeing the transformation in the individuals I work with brings immense fulfillment for the residents and the staff. Witnessing their improved quality of life and self-esteem brings me great joy and excites me daily.

 I always said it was time to leave the sector if I stopped feeling excited to come to work. Each day, I am ready to face a new challenge and celebrate a new success.

What fulfills me now is being able to dream of something one day and implement it the next without layers of approval. Whether organizing a picnic or fulfilling client requests for dinner, we can act swiftly and directly address needs. This immediacy and agility make the work fulfilling, as dreams can swiftly become reality without numerous hurdles to overcome.

How do you think your time at York impacted your career?

Gaining my academic credentials had the most significant impact on my influence. Academic writing has bolstered my reporting skills, enhancing my confidence in circles that previously overlooked me due to my lack of advanced degrees.

Returning to university not only allowed me to continue teaching but also positioned me to meet the higher academic expectations prevalent in educational settings. Encouragement from peers and faculty members propelled me forward, enabling me to seamlessly navigate community practice and academia, enriching both spheres with my experiences and insights.

Authored by Joanne Huy and Sam Navalta