In Canada, October marks Women’s History Month – a time to honor the incredible achievements and significant contributions of women throughout history and today, all in the name of creating a more inclusive and better Canada.
This year’s theme is “Through Her Lens: Celebrating Women’s Diversity.” Throughout this month, we’re highlighting the outstanding women at Covenant House Vancouver who work tirelessly to promote fairness and inclusivity both within our organization and in the care we offer to the young people on their life’s journey with us.
What department do you work in and what is your job title?
I am the Chief Program Officer. My role has strategic oversight of all youth programming at Covenant House Vancouver. I am responsible for program design and evaluation in alignment with our values and best practices. In this role, I also do a lot of community engagement, training, and consultation work.
How long have you worked at Covenant House Vancouver (CHV)?
16 years! I started as a casual youth worker on the front lines, was a Social Worker, the manager of the Rights of Passage program, and then moved into senior leadership roles…..and I have loved every single opportunity.
How did you find out about CHV and what made you want to work here?
I was volunteering at a youth drop-in, serving meals down the street from CHV. The youth there actually told me about it, and I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of this team. I knew that Covenant House was and is a place of hope, a place of unconditional love and absolute respect, and a place where youth could dream and know that homelessness is truly the least interesting thing about them. Covenant House feels like home to me.
Could you share a memorable interaction with a youth or donor?
15 years ago, I met a young woman who was being trafficked by a violent offender. We didn’t talk much about trafficking in those days, and I distinctly remember a conversation I had with her, while sitting on the office floor. She looked at me and said, “Why doesn’t anyone believe me?” That was the moment that I knew we had to do better for these youth, and my passion for anti-trafficking work started. I remember looking her straight in the eyes and telling her that I saw her, and I believed her. Many years later, I saw her and her daughter. She was so excited to introduce me to her daughter and tell me about the life that she had created and thanked me for believing her, all those years ago. That moment was such a gift. I really believe that if we can truly see these young folks, listen to them, and believe in them, when they might not be able to believe in themselves, we can truly make a difference. Homelessness was the least interesting thing about her, and now she is healthy and happy with a family of her own. It was such a special gift to be a part of her journey, she taught me so much.
If you had to describe CHV in so many words, what would you say?
A place of hope and light, in a world that can be really dark. Safety, a refuge, and home.
What motivates you to show up to work every day?
I know in my soul that homelessness is the least interesting thing about the youth I walk alongside. One of my biggest mentors always says that if you can intervene at the right time, in the right way, in the arc of young person’s life, their potential is limitless; and I know this to be true having walked alongside hundreds of them over the past 16 years. The youth, their strength, their resilience, their hope, that is what motivates me to show up. Being a part of this is such a gift that I will never take for granted.
Why is CHV important?
The youth we serve are so worth it! All young people deserve a place where they are seen and heard, where they can be themselves, and where they are safe and loved. They deserve a home.
What do you love about your job and working at CHV?
I love the youth, I love the teams I work alongside, and I love doing my small part to be a part of the change that I wish to see in the world.
Could you tell us about 2–3 accomplishments that you’ve achieved and why you are proud of them?
1. I think I am most proud of being a mother. I have two babies of my own that inspire me to always try my best. I want to be someone that they are proud of. It is not easy being a working mom, but I think that I am doing okay!
2. The launch of our Harm Reduction Pilot: I worked so hard to make that happen. Overdose is currently the leading cause of death in young people, and I am not okay with that. We have to do better. We need to incorporate harm reduction principles into our practice, in a way that aligns with adolescent development. Our research found that incorporating these principles into practice increased youth engagement, saw a number of improvements in youth outcomes, and reduced harmful outcomes. This pilot has provided the groundwork to expand our practice and better meet the needs of the youth that access programs and services at CHV.
3. Our anti-trafficking project: Many of the factors that lead to youth homelessness are also the same factors that lead to trafficking and exploitation. Being able to take an intersectional approach, informed by best practice and survivors, to create a toolkit, was a dream come true. I believe that we not only have a responsibility to provide service excellence within CHV, but I also think that we have a responsibility to increase capacity within the sector and our communities as well. This toolkit was designed to increase capacity for organizations and communities, to better support survivors of trafficking and exploitation.
Do you have a role model or someone who inspires you?
Krista Thompson, our previous CEO. Krista taught me what it means to be a values-based leader. She showed me that it was possible to be ambitious and driven and a good mom, all at the same time. She taught me that it was okay to cry, and equally okay to fight for what you believe in and know to be true. Krista led with strength and grace and is one of the smartest women I have ever met. Her leadership presence was such a gift to me, and I will always want to be like her when I grow up!
How can society better support women to work towards equity? What are the roadblocks?
I think that society needs a holistic approach to equity; one that looks at social, economic, educational, political, and psychological empowerment. This is bigger than a discussion about equity in pay, this is about a true shift in thinking in our communities — a values realignment. Research has shown that when women’s rights are upheld, society gets better for everyone. I think the UN has it right when they say that “… gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not just a goal in itself, but a key to sustainable development, economic growth, and peace and security.”
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
It is a time of reflection, a time of deep gratitude for the women that came before me, a time to amplify the voices of women, and a commitment to continue to work towards healthy and thriving communities.
Thank you, Chelsea, for sharing your thoughts and inspiring words.