HeroWork Hero Series: Mark Roch


 “You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens.” —Aristotle

Authenticity is a trait that we often notice in a person when they express it. Be it from numerous internal or external pressures, we can sometimes forget what matters most within ourselves and in our actions to affect those around us. Maybe that’s why we notice an authentic person when we encounter one, because amidst so many distractions in life, we know and admire deep down the value of living true to ourselves. Mark Roch is one of those people who reminds you of the value of authenticity of character and how introspection can help you to expand a positive effect outwards to the people around you. A community, arguably, begins from within in each and every person who comprises it.

It was nearing 5:00 PM, and I logged into my Skype account. A chat window was opened, and Mark asked me if I was ready to chat. “Yes,” I typed, as I settled into my chair and got my notebook ready with a fresh page and my phone voice recorder app open. The synthesized tune of the Skype ringtone came to life and Mark Roch’s face came into view.

Mark has a calm way about him that you can’t help but draw from. Amidst the character of his chin beard and shaved head, his eyes exude a certain serenity and confidence. And when he speaks, his baritone voice has a kind of weight, yet he is soft spoken—something he has honed through years of involvement in Toastmasters. What he says is articulate, genuine, and deeply thoughtful.

Having grown up in Mill Bay, Mark has remained in Victoria his whole life, something he tells me is considered to be rare. He is well-travelled, but has always come back to “the shire of Canada,” as he calls it, for its idyllic beauty and small-big city feel, removed from many of the woes of a big city.

“…it created a different life story for me as well.”

Mark describes himself as an eco-entrepreneur, as every business he starts must have some kind of some kind of ‘eco’ or sustainability component. He has been in the construction industry for over 25 years and uses his skills and experience to help out his community and also come up with innovative ideas for environmentally-conscious building plans. Among his businesses, he owns Continuum Construction, and general contracting firm he started in 2005, which gives him considerable insight and ability to help out on the Radical Reno worksites. The weight he places on environmental and social responsibility are also great assets in contribution to the developmental stages of HeroWork projects.

HeroWork fits into his philosophy and personal values in that it fulfils what he feels is a sustainable social component.

Mark then cited a quote from Aristotle that had been resonating with him, “You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens.” HeroWork targets helping those people, and in his experiences with The Mustard Seed Project and the Citizens’ Counselling Centre, that concept has rung true.”We are doing the best we can, at least in our district, to fulfil the vulnerable citizens part,” says Mark.

Mark on the scene at the Citizens' Counselling Centre Radical Reno.

Mark on the scene at the Citizens’ Counselling Centre Radical Reno.

Mark’s first point of contact with Paul Latour and HeroWork was a coincidental meeting when Paul first came to Toastmasters. Paul soon asked Mark to become his mentor in public speaking, and through that relationship Mark became acquainted with Paul’s ideas preceding the creation of HeroWork. The two became associates, and when Paul left, Mark kept up with the social media postings that Paul would put out regarding the progression of his HeroWork vision. As soon as Paul expressed his need for assistance and the work fell in alignment with Mark’s abilities, he was more than happy to jump in. “Seeing where [Paul] was taking his public speaking skills into a community forum where he could make a difference truly inspired me back into upping my game as well. I greatly admire Paul for everything he’s done…sometimes coincidences—that he picked that [Toastmasters] club, at that time, and I happened to be there, it created a different life story for me as well.”

Mark recalled a story that stood out to him in the HeroWork scene. In the preparatory meetings that preceded the Citizens’ Counselling Centre project, Mark had noticed a problem with the stairs. “…I walked in and saw the stairs—they’re your first impression. You open the door and it’s not really a foyer, it’s just a landing, and you see these stairs that are just chaotic, they were really off at different angles. They irritated me because that’s your first impression…you’re looking up towards where you’re going to get counselling, and if that creates a perception of shoddiness of what you’re about to receive, I believe it will affect each and every person that comes in there.”

“First impressions, I believe, have the biggest impact in transitioning someone to feel comfortable…”

For three months there was a struggle to address the stairs, but HeroWork didn’t have the budget for it. Mark kept battling to try and get the stairs fixed, and eventually conceded to the lack of funds. “…but in my mind, I didn’t give up, I was like there’s no way I’m going to let the stairs go that way!” said Mark. The usual chaos of busyness in the Radical Reno scene ensued, and Mark jumped in wherever he could to help throughout the worksite. Other carpenters, too, were completely swamped with other important tasks, as other vital tasks throughout the project fell behind. “In the end, stubbornly, I just spent as many hours as I could afterwards where I said, ‘Ok, now I’m going to deal with it.” Mark’s extra efforts paid off, and as the carpet was ready to go down, the wonky staircase had been restored to a state of evenness and polish.

“First impressions, I believe, have the biggest impact in transitioning someone to feel comfortable,” said Mark, “Especially at the Mustard Seed, if I were to walk in and see a place that is run down and makes me feel embarrassed to walk in, or say I’m coming in for counselling, and my first impression is that theses people can’t even maintain their own environment, how are they going to maintain my heart? Suddenly it became more important than my sleep to make sure that every single person that came in there felt that they had value. That to me is the value of first impressions. That is also the value of HeroWork…of being a first impression to make you feel like a hero for stepping in to help others. It’s integral to a belief system that I have, and I hope it’s something we accomplish by all the work we do. It has made people feel better about taking care of themselves.”

“…If you have four employees, you can easily have one who is struggling and trying to get off the street.”

Mark was taken with the Citizens’ Counselling Centre and found a new way to continue helping them there. “I found out a program that they have,” said Mark, “and I have signed up to be part of their counselling program. I just got accepted about a month ago and I’m starting, coincidentally, tomorrow.” This expands Mark’s title to a General Contractor / Counsellor. “It’s one of those bizarre series of events,” he continued, “had I not met Paul Latour, had I not been in construction, to get me into that and into the Citizens’ Counselling Centre reno, to then bring me to this next step…we don’t know the paths that we walk, I believe, until the end of days.” He added with a laugh, “and even then, we wander still.” I can certainly relate to him, as I imagine many of us can, in discovering so many unexpected, yet incredibly fulfilling paths and events in our life by simply exploring new avenues. It shows the importance of remaining present in the moment and seeing even an inkling of the potential in opportunities that arise.

Mark’s propensity to help others extends beyond the HeroWork renovations and counselling. The social sustainability factor that he respects about HeroWork is something that he also promotes in his own business. He has hired a number of people who have encountered hard times in their lives and lived on the street. To date, of those people, he has mentored two of them to start their own businesses. “One of them started a hauling business, and the other started a landscaping business,” he explained. “The mover, I helped him buy his first truck and he is now married and has triplets. It’s just a bizarre life change. It was very impressive, but he was a go-getter though. He had previously lived on the street and got himself off, but he was struggling.” Mark told me about other people he had hired who had a much more difficult time adapting to a new life model based on issues with addiction and psychological challenges. With those individuals, he works in conjunction with other people to help them out in a longer, multi-tiered approach. “It’s part of my business model and I’m looking at how to more solidify that, because I think there are so many construction businesses that could model the same idea. If you have four employees, you can easily have one who is struggling and trying to get off the street. Or someone who has a dependency issue, you can be the guiding light for them…I think the counselling is going to send me down another different path, and now I’ll have to see how that transforms me.”

“Only by taking an action into something we wouldn’t normally do, when we stand up for someone else, we then for some reason are standing up for that hero inside of us.”

I asked Mark to tell me why people should feel inspired to give back to their community, with HeroWork or otherwise. “Each of us is a hero, whether we believe it or not. Only by taking an action into something we wouldn’t normally do, when we stand up for someone else, we then for some reason are standing up for that hero inside of us. And with enough of those actions, I believe we begin to see ourselves differently. I think that we start to believe in ourselves and that we can make a difference to inspire other heroes—other people to take their own heroic journey.”

Mark looking ecstatic at the fixed staircase leading up to The Citizens' Counselling Centre.

Mark looking ecstatic at the fixed staircase leading up to The Citizens’ Counselling Centre.

It’s not just about helping others though, as we need to take opportunities to discover and define ourselves in regard to who we want to be and what we want to do. Mark continued to explain, “…don’t come for helping someone else, but come to stand up to become [your] own hero…because there’s no way of knowing that anything we do will make a difference for someone else, but we do know it will make a difference for ourselves. That’s what I’ve found each time during The Mustard Seed, during Citizens’ Counselling [Centre], now becoming a counsellor, I’m living the life of my own journey of becoming my own hero, and that will show up in whatever way that one needs to define it for themselves. But only by taking action is that possible.” Mark went on saying that the next day his response may be different again, as he holds a number of other belief systems as well, including that we should absolutely help others and that it does make a difference. “In this moment I see the transformation that happens in myself when I’m standing up for someone else, and that can only happen when I come with that heart for someone, now all of a sudden it transforms me, and it’s mysterious how they work together. I only experience it by following this.”

I can relate to the former sentiment, in that to help others, we must develop a more conscious perspective of ourselves and grow in a way that accurately portrays our values and how we wish others’ actions to positively influence our world. It is not at all selfishness, but rather finding your own path that can best lead to you a version of yourself that you feel can inspire others, no less yourself.

“…I think to come out of that experience with those types of memories, I’ve been paid way more by those than I could be by any dollar.”

At this point in the interview, I had exhausted my list of questions and asked Mark if there was anything else he’d like to add. At that point, Mark’s roommate could be heard laughing in the background in another room. Mark began, “I’m listening to my roommate laugh in the background on the phone, and maybe that’s a good spot, perhaps to end. One of the things about HeroWork and all of these organizations that we’ve gone in to help, there’s a huge relief of lightness and laughter that results. There’s camaraderie that we don’t often get, even at our workplaces. Being an entrepreneur, being self-employed, it’s a lonely journey. Now, all of a sudden you’re in something that duplicates a belief system or an energetic feeling that gives one hope, that gives one a lightness to come back to their roommate and laugh with them, ‘Hey! I corrected those stairs finally!’ Or something whimsical that happened because you’re not now looking for the dollar as the reward, you’re looking for the memories as the reward. And though you pay the price of going in there and destroying your sleep and your body for a short time, the legacy of that laughter lingers all the way through so many other jobs, so many other things that are hard in this life. And I think to come out of that experience with those types of memories, I’ve been paid way more by those than I could be by any dollar.”

After speaking with Mark, I almost felt as though I had been through a counselling session myself, as the depth and incredible authenticity of what he had to say struck a chord. I know that he will be a wonderful counsellor and that anyone would be fortunate to talk to him. If you are lucky enough to meet him, listen closely to what he has to say and you’ll probably learn something about yourself.

Keep an eye out for Mark’s future eco-business developments as well as his efforts on the next HeroWork Radical Reno. I know we’ll be seeing great things.

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