Mike Myette DIPEGN'92
How does a guy with a background in environmental technology and engineering end up managing 211, the province-wide community and social service referral network?
It goes back to a cold day in February in the late 1970s when a young Mike Myette sat with pen and paper to draw up a list of what he liked and didn’t like about his job at the time—fishing with his father in Tracadie, Nova Scotia. After growing up in small town Ontario, Mike had followed his parents back to the Maritimes, where his dad was fulfilling his dream of returning home to live and work as a fisherman. Twenty-year-old Mike had joined him, but it wasn’t working out.
Mike’s list told him two things: he liked working outdoors and he wanted to help people. He enrolled in an environmental technology program at what was then called the College of Cape Breton. This led to a job as an environmental enforcement officer, and a surprising amount of time spent in courtrooms as he waited for his cases to be called.
“I would see people who had ended up there for so many other reasons than whatever charge was being brought against them. They were dealing with substance abuse issues, mental health problems, poverty, learning disabilities,” he says. “I remember thinking that if only those people had access to resources and help along the way, they probably wouldn’t be here.” But Mike was on a different career trajectory at the time, one that led him to enrol in Saint Mary’s University’s Diploma of Engineering program. As a part-time student, his studies took nearly ten years to complete but eventually lead to an important job offer: managing the development and implementation of Nova Scotia’s 911 emergency dispatch program, which when it launched in February 1997 became the first province-wide 911 program in the country.
From the slow-grind beginning in 1995, when Mike was hired, until his departure in 2011, the 911 system became a well-oiled machine and Mike found himself ready for a new challenge. Enter the 211 information and referral service and an opportunity for Mike to take the important lessons he learned from his 911 work to a new project—one that connects Nova Scotians to helping services with just one phone call.
“Our research tells us that individuals needing assistance make an average of seven phone calls to get the help they need. Too often people give up and spiral into crisis. It’s hard for people to reach out for help and when they do, we need to make sure they get the help they need quickly.”
In the first ten months following its launch in February 2013, more than 50,000 people reached out to 211, either by phone or via the 211 website and its online database.
“Our process is one of thoughtful, compassionate inquiry,” says Mike. “We have a broad discussion to get to the heart of what the person needs. In many cases when someone presents with one problem, there are usually larger issues going on.”
Along with connecting people to services, 211 is also collecting a huge amount of data that will help identify gaps in the system and provide valuable information for policy makers.
The list Mike made on that cold February day many years ago has clearly paid off. It helped him see a clear need and a gap in services that he’s built a career addressing. “I’m grateful that I’ve been able to create meaningful work that benefits people. Nothing beats the feeling of that.”