“To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?” – Katherine Graham
“Growing up, I had terrible social anxiety issues; even talking on the phone was a really hard thing to do,” says Emilija Cooke, an Extreme Cleaner at VHA for the past two years. The program, which is offered in the GTA, Durham, London and Champlain, helps people—usually on the brink of being evicted—to clean out their homes and offers them support to avoid the problem happening again. “Talking to new people every day I learned to become more patient, compassionate and got over my shyness.”
It’s clear that Emilija’s job involves much more than cleaning. Part counsellor, part organizer, part confidant—Emilija connects and assists a wide range of clients. Some are struggling with mental health challenges, others with illness. Because of the condition of their homes, many of these people are also socially isolated since having visitors can be challenging. But while some people may see weakness and struggle, Emilija sees courage: “My clients are the most amazing people I’ve ever met. It’s not easy to open your homes to strangers, you need to be brave to do that. It feels so good… I help people transform their life and in some cases get it back together. But most of all I get to make a difference in our community,” she says.
Emilija attributes her personal successes to the people she works with, “It’s a hard job and it takes a special kind of person to do it well—a big shout-out to the team!”
While many people would think that dealing with extreme filth, and unsanitary surroundings would be an occupational nightmare, Emilija thinks otherwise. “I meet new people every day, talk to people, listen to their amazing stories… I don’t have that shyness issue anymore, so it’s been a life-changing job for me. I have the best job in the world!”