It only takes a small light to illuminate a dark room. If Northern Manitoba’s crime, addiction and poverty problems are the room, then NCN gas bar attendant Owen Spence is one of the lights.
The 25-year-old Thompson resident, who is on a journey of introspection and self-improvement, was recently a guest speaker during a YWCA Steps to Success customer service workshop. Spence regularly receives tips from customers at Nisichawyasihk Cree Nation (NCN)’s Cree Road gas station.
“I wasn’t even expecting it to be honest,” said the former South Indian Lake resident. “They asked me how I get up every morning and put a smile on my face. It’s just like taking off a backpack from yesterday, wiping yourself off completely of the problems of yesterday … and thinking about what today is going to bring.”
The secret to Spence’s success is transferring his focus from himself to others.
“Put a smile on your face and think about everyone that’s around you,” he explained. “If you’ve got problems, just leave them at home. And just have a good day at work, and make sure the customers have a good time when they come and see us.”
Spence’s words are not empty. He’s had to fight tooth and nail for inner peace and success at work. After being kicked out of his home, he’s struggled to find accommodation, while at the same time maintaining high standards at work.
“One of my friends at the gas bar offered me a place to stay with her until I get on my feet again, and I’m working towards that point now,” he said. “But I’m not really making enough from my job. But, the tips that people give me are great. It gives me more money to actually save up and try to get my own place. I just want to show my customers that I have great service.”
Overcoming severe adversity with a spirit of kindness is Spence’s real claim to fame.
“Living a hard life,” he explained. “I’ve been living my life around alcohol, people who drink, and do stupid s***… pills and the stuff they put up their nose. Crack and all that. I don’t want to be a part of it. I’d rather just work my whole life and show people that there’s more to do than drinking and staying at home doing nothing. There’s so much more that you can do. You can go out and make friends as you’re working. You can meet new people as you’re gassing them up.”
Spence’s bravery and honesty are indicators of deep personal reflection that have caused him to examine his gender identity.
“That’s something that most people don’t know,” he said. “It’s with me. It would be greatly appreciated if people would let me come and serve them at the NCN gas bar.”
Spence plans to keep working at the gas bar until he can become a certified carpenter.
“It’s a trade I’ve always wanted to learn growing up,” he said. “I never had a chance to, because I’ve mostly been around people who drink and don’t go to school. I’m not all about that."