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Q&A: Making a positive difference in the lives of others

For nearly two years, Don Evans has been the quiet force behind some of the most crucial and innovative programming for the city’s poor and homeless at Our Place Society.
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Our Place executive Don Evans: "As a community, we need to care for each other."

For nearly two years, Don Evans has been the quiet force behind some of the most crucial and innovative programming for the city’s poor and homeless at Our Place Society. While his financial and communications backgrounds might anchor his everyday decision-making as the executive director, he reveals there is a strong personal passion to learn and to continue the ministry of Our Place that really drives him — as well as a few surprises.


Q: How did you end up working in the non-profit world?

A: While going through some serious personal challenges, I began volunteering and then working on the front line at First United Mission in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It was a time when female sex-trade workers were going missing and people were dying on the street from drinking rice wine. The experience had a profound impact on my life. After returning to the corporate sector, and spending a number of years there, my sense of compassion and concern for social justice drew me back to the non-profit world. I wanted to try to make a positive difference in the lives of others.


Q: What is the most important thing you have learned in your career, and why?

A: I’ve learned that, when people are provided with the right opportunities and support, their lives can improve dramatically. At Our Place, I’ve seen people’s lives transformed more than I could ever have imagined.


Q: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from the people you work with?

A: People who are homeless or living in poverty have no need to “hide behind a mask.” They have nothing to lose. They have taught me that, by showing our true selves, the beauty within us shows through much more easily. In the wider community our fear and sense of pride often get in the way.


Q: What is your age?

A: 51


Q: Where are you from?

A: St. Albert, Alberta.


Q: What’s a surprising thing we don’t know about you?

A: In my younger days, I enjoyed extreme sports such as sky-diving, race-car driving and hang-gliding. I also have a wonderful daughter and three grandchildren ages two to seven twho live in Alberta.


Q: What do you want to accomplish over the next year? Five years?

A: Within the next year, my focus is to further expand the hours of Our Place to better meet the needs of the Our Place family.

Within the next five years, I would like to complete my degree in Diaconal Ministry and see that Our Place is open from early in the morning until late at night, seven days a week, with robust education, skills training, employment and health-care programs. Our vision — and our business plan — is to increase donations and other financial support so we are fully utilizing the amazing facility on Pandora Avenue that many of our family members call “home.”


Q: What’s your greatest regret?

A: My mistakes have helped make me who I am today, so I don’t have many regrets. I would have to say that my greatest regret is not spending enough time with my former partner.


Q: What do you think is the most important issue in your field today?

A: Having the most vulnerable people in our community suffering needlessly and dying on our streets.


Q: How would you address that issue?

A: As a community, we need to care for each other. Everyone needs to be provided with the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and a sense of belonging. We also need to include proper supports (access to health care, education, skills development and employment). I am confident that by bringing together business and community leaders who understand the power of philanthropy to transform lives that Our Place will increase the depth and breadth of its family of supporters, and create lasting solutions that benefit our entire community.


Q: What’s your favourite book?

A: The Bible has been the most influential book in my life. I tend to read books that I can learn something from. A book I read recently, which I enjoyed was The Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté.


Q: Which movie star would you most like to have dinner with?

A: Julia Roberts, I really enjoyed her performance in Erin Brockovich.


Q: What’s your preferred mode of transportation?

A: It depends where I’m going. I walk to work, so I’ll say walking.


Q: When did you last read a book? What was it?

A: I am currently reading A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden by Stephen Reid.


Q: When did you last rent a movie? What was it?

A: I can’t recall the last time I rented a movie, but the last movie I saw at the theatre was Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.


Q: Do you still have a landline?

A: No, I gave up my landline because I find my cellphone to be convenient and it makes me more accessible.


Q: What is your greatest hope?

A: That as a community, we stop letting people die needlessly on our streets.