Aidan Sullivan, '15

Aidan Sullivan, '15

March 12, 2014
Business administration and finance major returns to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside to work for Mission Possible

"Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is right in the heart of the city, but it’s easy to miss," said Aidan Sullivan, '15. "It’s ten-by-ten city blocks and the poorest postal code of any urban area in Canada."

Sullivan first visited the Vancouver neighborhood with Dr. Craig Kocher’s Living a Life of Consequence Sophomore Scholars in Residence community.

"I was very emotionally moved by the problems in the Downtown Eastside and the creative and passionate work being done, which led to my desire to return," Sullivan said.

At the end of his sophomore year, Sullivan was granted a Burhans Civic Fellowship to spend his summer in Vancouver working for Mission Possible, a nonprofit organization providing Downtown Eastside residents with street-level assistance, including nutrition, clothing, crisis counseling, referrals, and spiritual support. As someone majoring in business administration and finance, Sullivan was particularly interested in Mission Possible’s social entrepreneurial model.

"The opportunity to leave my comfort zone and discover more about my passions and career goals drew me to the internship at Mission Possible," Sullivan said.

In Richmond, Sullivan first gained experience engaging with and advocating for underserved communities at Peter Paul Development Center and Voices for Virginia’s Children through the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement’s Richmond Families Initiative at UR Downtown.

"Since meeting Aidan when he first toured Peter Paul and part of Church Hill with his first-year seminar, Wrongful Convictions, I have been impressed with his willingness to dig beyond initial curiosity in pursuit of personal discovery," said Kim Dean, Richmond Families Initiative and UR Downtown program director. "I admire Aidan’s desire to use introductory experiences like touring an East End neighborhood in Richmond and visiting the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver as opportunities to explore the questions, 'What can I learn, and how can I be a part of social change?'"

At Mission Possible, Sullivan had two main roles: first, to be a member of the community and spend fifteen hours a week in the nonprofit’s community center, and second, to create a Work Readiness Course (WoRC) designed to equip individuals to find and keep employment. Sullivan also sought out future employers of WoRC graduates.

Time both in and out of the office enabled Sullivan to get to know the people of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

"I love telling stories about my time in Vancouver and the people I met," Sullivan said. "When you break down the walls that you’ve built up, you realize how much you have in common with others."

Sullivan remembered Deacon, a recovered drug addict from Montana who he met at Mission Possible and who shared one piece of advice: "Don’t sweat the small stuff."

Then, there was Shiraya who came to Mission Possible as an 18-year old looking for a job. She completed WoRC and developed the skills she needed to accept a position on the Mission Possible team.

"The ability to spend time with others and not label anyone until you get to know them is so important," Sullivan said. "I'll be able to do that now in my own life and be an advocate for that with others."

Now, as a junior, Sullivan continues to volunteer at Peter Paul Development Center and build connections with his neighbors.