Wednesday, 31 January 2018 05:46

New CMHA executive director enjoys new challenges in SW Sask.

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Jacqui Williams can still not believe how much she enjoys her new job as executive director at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Swift Current branch.


“I'm shocked at how much I love it,” she said. “Every day is a little bit different. So three months in I'm still really excited when I'm coming in in the morning.”
She has been in the position since Oct. 25, 2017. There has been a lot to learn, but she has benefitted from the work of the two previous executive directors, Cortney Reynolds and Ruth Smith. Williams feels fortunate that both have been willing to answer any questions she have had about the position.
“It’s nice when you’re struggling to find something or you’re attempting something for the first time to have somebody come in and say do it your own way, but this is what I did and this is where the information is, and that has been really helpful,” she said. “I found that both ladies are very open. They’re both very committed to the organization.”
Williams, who is from Newfoundland, moved to Saskatchewan in 2012 after her husband started a new career in the RCMP. She brings a diversity of work experience to her new position.
She worked for 18 years in youth custody in Newfoundland, and thereafter for three years in St. John's with Choices for Youth, a non-profit organization that provides support for homeless and at-risk youth.
“I was in the supportive housing program,” she mentioned. “This community work was lovely, and I was very fortunate. I’ve worked with really good teams throughout and that team was a fabulous team. There were only four of us in that program, and we worked really well together.”
After moving to Saskatchewan, she became the assistant coordinator for victim services in Kamsack for three years.
“I had a team of volunteers who I basically coordinated and they were amazing,” she said. “Some of them have been volunteering with victim services for 20 years. So they were fabulous. They knew their community, they knew their people, and they were really good to work with.”
In Swift Current she worked with Partners in Employment, a division of SaskAbilities, before accepting the position at CMHA. Her position at Partners in Employment was initially only for three months, but after a month she was employed full-time. She was very happy there and she feels fortunate that her places of employment have always been a positive experience.
“All my work has been very interesting,” she said. “There was no job where I was in it where I was thinking I have to get out or this is not for me.”
She has been impressed with the work done by the CMHA in Swift Current to provide support for people who are experiencing mental illness.
“This organization is actually very effective, which is excellent,” she said “You can actually see the direct effect between what they offer and what the effect is on the members.”
She has been getting familiar with the organization since taking on the role of executive director at the CMHA Swift Current branch and her focus has been on the day to day operations.
“I guess from the little things come the big things,” she said. “Sometimes focusing on that big picture is so overwhelming that you lose sight of the little things. So we’re focusing on those little things and keeping things running as smoothly as possible.”
She joined the organization at a significant moment, because nationally the CMHA will be celebrating 100 years of service to Canadians in 2018, and it is one of the oldest continuing voluntary health organizations in the country. Locally the Swift Current branch will also be celebrating 40 years of service to the community in August 2018.
In recent years, CMHA Swift Current has implemented the clubhouse model to provide in-house programming to members. Individuals are therefore not only recipients of services, but  they become active participants to organize activities.
“We're not doing for them, we're doing with, and they're a part of it, and they're part of the decision-making,” she explained. “With the peer leadership we have more than five groups that are peer run. So they're definitely part of the running of the building because they're offering the group, they're organizing what they're doing with the group, they're leading the group.”
According to Williams, it is important for CMHA Swift Current to look at ways to reach out to individuals in the community who are still struggling on their own with their mental illness.
 Some people are coping and they're surrounded and they're doing perfectly fine, but for anyone who is struggling, who is trying to get back on their feet, or just needing that little bit extra, we do provide a pretty good service,” she said. “I think that for the people who don't know, if we could get them in and just let them know, their lives would be better.”
She believes peer support can make a significant difference to engage with people who might be hesitant to become involved with the activities at the Swift Current branch.
“We're looking at implementing a peer program where someone is your peer support or companion for your first month just until you meet people and get engaged,” she said. “We would look for volunteers among our members to do it and then we would try to marry them up with someone who is similar in interest, so that the person who is volunteering to do it isn't doing paint class when they'll rather be at bowling.”
Members who are already actively participating in the clubhouse model will provide an excellent resource for individuals through peer support.
“Someone who has lived it, can offer an awful lot to someone who's starting to live it,” she said. “We have a lot of rock stars in this building. ... They are running groups and they are doing things to help out around the building and they're doing things to help one another.”
One of her key goals is to reach younger people and to make them aware of the benefits of the support provided to individuals through different CMHA activities.
“It has become increasingly obvious that people are not utilizing our service until they're older,” she said. “We're starting to get people in their thirties, but I want to see them in their twenties, because I've talked to the members here and they talked about that isolation. Mental illness affects the way you think about yourself, but also because of stigma it affects the way that society thinks about you and it can be very easy to isolate to protect yourself from the stigma and from the judgement.”
She has heard from members at the Swift Current branch about the benefits they have experienced from their involvement with the programs and services provided by CMHA.
“The people who are here who are doing that are definitely seeing the benefits of it,” she said. “So my biggest challenge is to get the people who are out there who are not seeing it in here, so that they are not 40 before they forge those friendships, because that to me is such a waste. I want them here in their twenties.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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