Wood's Homes Blog

The myth of Phoenix

June 02, 2015
By Vanessa Vernick, Wood's Homes Community Engagement Coordinator
The myth of Phoenix

What is a phoenix? What does it symbolize? This mythological creature, a long-lived bird, has for centuries been said to cyclically regenerate. Legend has it that the eagle-like animal, adorned with a halo, sapphire blue eyes, gold scales and rose-coloured talons, dies in a glorious show of flames only to gain new life and be reborn by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

When I first came to Wood’s Homes in February of 2015 as the new Community Engagement Coordinator, I heard and read about many of the wonderful programs offered to families and youth faced with mental health challenges. However, it was the Phoenix program that truly and immediately captured my attention. It was described as a one-of-a-kind, outside-the-box program that drew in youth from across the country while also having just a tinge of controversy – and as a bit of a rebel-with-a-cause, these were all characteristics and elements that I resonated with and related to. I suppose it’s interesting that an individual can seemingly connect with an intangible idea or in this case a program, on an emotional and fundamental level without ever ‘meeting’ it.

So, when our Foundation and Communications team members were tasked to visit a program of our choosing and write a blog post about our experience, I immediately, and without hesitation, knew that I wanted, and even needed, to know more about Phoenix: the program designed to help young males between the ages of 13 and 17 who demonstrate sexually intrusive behaviour.

In probably mid-April, I contacted Phoenix’s Team Leader, Andrew “Roody” McAllister (or just Roody to everyone who knows him) and asked if I could visit in order to learn more about him, his staff, the kids and their day-to-day life. He agreed almost immediately.

On the morning of our meeting, being the planner that I am, I hopped in my car, completely prepared with my printed-off Q&A, notebook and a pen, and eagerly drove from our Parkdale campus to Bowness. However, as I arrived and sat down with Roody in his quaint little office, I immediately tossed aside the Q&A knowing that in order to understand the heart and soul of that program, pre-determined questions just wouldn’t do.

What was meant to be a 30 minute conversation turned into two hours, and in that time any preconceived notions of what Phoenix was, and who the kids would be, quickly went out the window.  Roody’s stories about the boys who lived in the Phoenix cottage defied stereotypes and I realized that they were not defined by their label.

Every day, Roody and his team do their utmost and walk the fine line between instilling structure and accountability into each boy’s life, while also ensuring that they know they are cared for.  Coming into Phoenix as a staff member, or even volunteer, requires a special kind of personality with a unique heart – an individual who readily checks his or her own personal values at the door and sets judgments aside. Phoenix staff does their best to lead by example and be good role models while never shying away from perhaps uncomfortable discussion topics like sex and the train of abuse.

These boys are, in Roody’s own words, some of the kindest and sweetest boys in all of Wood’s Homes. They, like every other soul on the planet, struggle with loneliness, creating healthy relationships, fitting in and trying to find their place in a world that can, at times, be cold and unforgiving. They are the first to offer help to those who need it and desperately seek to be validated, understood and accepted. The team leaders and staff work diligently to support positive growth and redirect their energy to projects that allow self-confidence and pride to flourish – two of the most important keys that unlock success and allow them to leave the program as lower risk.

So, again, what is a phoenix? What does it symbolize?

There truly is something special about the Phoenix kids, and Roody freely and humbly acknowledges that they teach him just as much as he does them. Phoenix kids are indeed inspirational and the symbolism behind the program name, Phoenix, could not be any more fitting as it really does represent change, rebirth, hope and the ability to leave your past behind and regenerate as an entirely new and more beautiful creature.