The London School of Economics is a place of prestige. Founded in 1895 by the likes of George Bernard Shaw “for the betterment of society”, the school has graduated dozens of Nobel Prize winners, educated more than 50 heads of state, and is ranked second in the world for social sciences, second only to Harvard. So when Matt Dirks was accepted into the Public Policy and Administration program (one of 40 accepted out of more than 500 applicants), his response was what one might expect.
“I was shocked,” he says.
When the reality of his acceptance sunk in, he realized that he still had a decision to make. Would he and his wife, Kenzi, actually do this? Leave all the familiarities of home in Abbotsford – good jobs, family and friends – and move to England for a whole year?
“We prayed and fasted, seeking God’s direction in this,” he says. “We came to the conclusion that God was leaving the decision up to us and no matter what that decision was, God would provide. In that sense, we knew we had God’s blessing either way, which was so freeing.”
They decided to go and in September, Matt and Kenzi will begin a year of adventure in London. For Communitas, where Matt has served as the manager of Communitas Social Enterprises (CSE) and STEP (Support Towards Employment Program), it means saying farewell to a young man who has helped this organization through a season of transition.
Just over three years ago, Matt stepped into his role as a newly married man (he was offered the job while he was on his honeymoon) and a new graduate from the Global Development Studies program (with minors in Business and Sociology) at the University of the Fraser Valley. At the time he was excited to step into the social enterprise role and use his training to help grow the businesses at ShredMasters and ValleyRecycling. He was also excited about the opportunity to work with people on their journey towards mental wellness. His first year was a challenging one and as he reflects on that time, he realizes that he was hired as much for his potential as he was for his education.
“I didn’t have very much management experience at all but Communitas saw that my values aligned with those of the organization and they obviously saw potential for growth,” he says. “That has been one of the best things that I’ve been given here. I’ve been trusted, encouraged and supported.”
George Jacob has been Matt’s supervisor and says that Matt is the kind of person that an employer would like to hang onto forever. He acknowledges the challenges that Matt faced but says Matt faced those with determination and integrity.
“He has shown me how excellence can be achieved in the midst of some really trying circumstances,” George says.
There have been significant changes at CSE and STEP in the last 3 years. The operations for ShredMasters and ValleyRecycling moved to a new warehouse and 15 permanent staff were hired. There were also changes to STEP that will improve the quality of life for the people served through that program. In each season of change, Matt says he’s felt supported by everyone on his team, by his program director and the executive team at Communitas. He also feels good about what has been achieved.
“I’m proud of what I’m handing over to the person who will take my place,” he says,” both in terms of the business end and with STEP.”
George agrees that the social enterprise is in a good place to move forward. He also believes there’s a great future ahead of Matt.
“I’m so excited to see where Matt’s journey takes him and if the last three years are any indication of his potential, he’s headed for greatness,” George says. “It has been an absolute pleasure working with Matt.”
As for his next adventure, Matt says that there have been many things he’s learned at Communitas that he’ll be taking with him to London. He’s learned a lot about working with people, about assessing strengths and giving people freedom to grow. He’s also learned how to manage conflict and learned the value of setting expectations. That’s not to say he won’t miss some things at Communitas.
“I will miss the people the most. There have been so many success stories (through STEP) that I hold dear. And I’ll miss the familiarity of the people here, feeling cared for and supported.”
He is quiet for a moment as he reflects further and then he says, “Communitas really is a people-centred place and I’ve come to realize that this is not the norm, that Communitas really has a unique culture. I see that lived out every day. I have been blessed beyond expectation.”