Message from the Board of Directors
Dear stakeholders and partners,
Spring 2020 and these are not normal times as we adapt our lives in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s difficult to believe how much has changed in such a short time. In this newsletter our most important message is to confirm how we’re operating and the importance of staying connected.
As an essential service, the Agency is operational with changes to routines and with some closures to the public in the Fraser Valley because of the pandemic. Specifically, the Langley offices (both Eastleigh and 56 St) and Mission offices are closed to the public and have maintained a small number of rotating staff to handle emergencies and service delivery. Chilliwack, Surrey, Abbotsford and Agassiz are still open to the public with a limited number of staff. We have cancelled all events and implemented safety procedures for people visiting our offices, as well as for social workers providing services. The social workers are working on a rotational system are available by phone and email. Should you need to contact staff they are available to assist you. Be aware the standard health and safety precautions are in place and practiced for everyone’s health protection. But do make that call or email when needed.
Some very good news is that the Agency has filled the final position and completed the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) with the addition of Penny Trites as the Executive Director of Staff and Community Relations. Penny joined the Agency late in February 2020. She comes from the Ministry of Family and Family Development where she honed many of her skills that she practices with professionalism and understanding. Over her working years she held several positions, the most recently as the Director of Early Years and Indigenous Services. She is a welcome addition to the ELT that includes Kyla Darby as Executive Director of Programs and Rod Spitzig as Executive Director of Administrative Services. Penny, Kyla and Rod all report directly to the Board. In the position of Executive Director of Staff and Community Relations, Penny’s primary role is to be the spokesperson of the organization and responsible for ongoing relations with our partners, stakeholders funders and staff.
Penny has lived in Stó:lō Territory for 23 years and draws on her identity, experience, knowledge and Metis heritage with professionalism and understanding. In the months to come, Penny will be introducing herself to our communities, partners and stakeholders. Please join us in extending to her a warm welcome. The Board is happy to have Penny working with Xyólheméylh.
In other Board news, Angelina Gosselin who has been a Board member for the past two years resigned for personal reasons, her Board colleagues are grateful for all her great work with and wish her every good thing as she moves forward. Tammy Bartz, who finished her term with the Board this past October, is now an ex-officio Board member. We appreciate her knowledge and commitment.
The Board looks forward to the time Covid-19 is no longer a threat and when social distancing is over and we can return to normal routines and work schedules. In the meantime we want to do everything we can to support our ELT and staff, so they in turn can provide our children and families with the support they need to stay physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally well.
Éy té mót, Éy té thále, Éy té sqwálawel.
Xyólheméylh's new executive leadership team
We now have a complete Executive Leadership Team, consisting of Kyla Darby, Executive Director of Programs, Rod Spitzig, Executive Director of Administrative Services and newly hired Penny Trites, Executive Director of Staff and Community Relations.
Kyla, Rod and Penny all report directly to the Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society Board of Directors. They lead the Agency as a team of equals. The arrangement may seem unusual, but the decision to move to this model is based on traditional leadership models of the Stó:lō people who valued individual strengths and skills as well as collaboration and teamwork. There was also a desire to divide responsibility and workload in a more equitable fashion. In fact, this collaborative leadership structure is what convinced Penny to apply for the position of Executive Director of Staff and Community Relations.
Kyla Darby has been with the Agency since April 2019. She has over 20 years of experience in child and family services with expertise in Family Development Response, Investigation, Youth Services, Family Services, Guardianship, Adoption and Resources. She was most recently with Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD). Kyla’s main responsibility is overseeing practice co-leading the five baskets that work with children, youth, families and communities in the Fraser Valley. For Kyla, joining the agency “feels like coming home.”
Rod Spitzig was appointed to the position of Executive Director of Administrative Services and is responsible for Finance, Human Resources and Administration. Rod brings significant knowledge and experience through his 20 years of service with FVACFSS. “It’s great working with two people who have passion and take pride in the work they do,” says Rod speaking about Penny and Kyla.
Like Kyla, Penny joins us from MCFD where she has held several positions, most recently as Director of Early Years and Indigenous Services. In her new position, Penny will be the primary spokesperson for the Agency and is responsible for developing and implementing regularly occurring communications with internal stakeholders, including the Board, management and staff, and external stakeholders that includes funders, community leadership, community members and social services organizations operating in the Fraser Valley. “My first day of work I was overwhelmed with the warm reception I received from everyone and am amazed at the passion the staff have for their work with children and families. I am very proud be a part of the Xyólheméylh family” says Penny.
Kyla, Rod and Penny look forward to leading the Agency together and working with staff and our community partners to serve Indigenous children, youth and families in the Fraser Valley. Letse mot te sqwalewel - With a good mind, a good heart and good feelings.
Meet our Directors of operations
Last fall we began restructuring our agency in order to create better outcomes for Indigenous children and families in the Fraser Valley. Our focus has been on family strengthening and working collaboratively with families to develop relationships and find solutions to problems. We have now completed the restructuring and want to share with our stakeholders who is responsible for what. It is very exciting to see our vision come to fruition.
Laura-Dawn Wilkin, Director of Operations, Stó:lō Services Team
Laura-Dawn Wilkin leads the Stó:lō service basket with two delegated teams and a family strengthening team. They serve the children and families from our 18 member communities on and off reserve. New funding this year has provided an opportunity for the agency to create these new teams that now offer prevention services to families. The teams also work closely with our designated band reps to provide supports to families where child safety is a concern. Their goal is to support building parental and extended family capacity wherever possible, and protection and guardianship services are provided when needed as well. Laura-Dawn says although the teams are still new, they have already seen positive practice shifts.
“I have also witnessed the passion of staff grow as they recognize the ability to return to the original mandate from our communities and provide prevention and support in true collaboration. We are fortunate to have recruited a significant number of Stó:lō and Indigenous staff and I am savouring the times when I can learn from them about how to infuse our practice with culture. It’s finding out how to partner and walk this journey together that excites me. I love being a small part of supporting our communities to regain what is rightfully theirs; to find justice, and to truly be supported to make the decisions about how to protect their most vulnerable,” says Laura-Dawn.
Marlee Ponich, Director of Operations, Family Service Team
Marlee leads the Family Service Team which uses a holistic approach in working collaboratively with families and community partners to develop strategies in problem-solving, life skills and conflict resolution to enhance parenting skills. Marlee enjoys being part of a team that supports families in their journeys and celebrating our families’ successes.
Inderjit Aujla, Director of Operations, Resources and Family Strengthening
Inderjit is responsible for providing services in a culturally holistic manner with the overriding goal of ensuring the safety and well-being of children which involves assessing, recruiting, training, supporting, and developing a range of resources to serve children in care. Her staff are also committed to preserving the cultural identity of Indigenous children and maintaining their ties and attachment to extended family, therefore, providing services to Out of Care families. Through Family Strengthening programs, they work collaboratively with families and communities to develop strategies in problem solving, life skills, conflict resolution and to develop or enhance parenting skills.
“I feel connected to each one of our families, children, and communities although I may not have met them in person. Most importantly, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve FVACFSS in my role as Director of Operations Resource and Family Strengthening where I find my own personal values are in align with the agency values. All my relations!,” says Inderjit.
Ann Hagel, Director of Operations Family Development Response
As the Director of Operations for Family Development Response I provide leadership for our Screening and Family Development Response teams. The Screening team’s primary role is to manage child protection reports and initial requests for services. Members of the team screen child protection reports and determine the appropriate action to be provided. When the information received by the screening team raises concerns about a child’s safety the concerns are managed by our Family Development Response team with the support of our Family Strengthening team.
Family Development Response is an approach to child protection that focuses on how to keep children safe while the family stays together to work through their challenges whenever possible. When this is not possible the team works along side the family to identify extended family or community members that can provide temporary care for the children. The philosophy guiding Family Development Response emphasizes collaboration and strives to build on the family’s strengths.
“I am honoured to work with a dedicated and compassionate group of team leaders, social workers and family strengthening workers who share my belief in the value of strength based practice that focuses on creating safety for children while supporting families to stay together,” says Ann.
Rebecca Easson, Director of Operations Guardianship & Youth Services
Rebecca’s role is to ensure that the children and youth falling under our Agency’s umbrella of care (not serviced by our Stó:lō Services Basket) receive the care and support they need to reach their fullest potential. Permanency and stability for children & youth is a priority as we aim to change the legacy of children growing up in care and becoming young adults who are disconnected from family, culture, and support. Connection and belonging are the two most important words guiding our work. If children and youth cannot grow up with family, or within their community, we will ensure they grow up connected in meaningful ways to both; knowing who they are, where they belong, and with a deep sense of pride in their Aboriginal identity.
Rebecca says she feels privileged to work with a large group of staff who are passionate about the work they do, and who go consistently above and beyond what is required of them. “They are the ones who truly make a difference in the lives of the children and youth we serve, and I am always grateful to them. Nothing fills my heart more than hearing them speak about how they have found new family for their children, reconnected them to siblings or grandparents, brought them home to their land, and have watched them succeed in ways we may not have thought possible. I am honoured to be witness to these moments,” says Rebecca.
Offices closed to the Public
Eastleigh, 56th Ave, Mission, Hazel and On Reserve office will be closed to the public. Clients needing to pick up documents will be contacted by social workers to arrange pick-ups at the offices.
Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Surrey and Agassiz offices remain open with a small staff compliment.
- Clients who need in person services can call their local office (telephone numbers listed below).
- For emergency situations, staff will be available to help. Please call the Helpline at: 1-866-851-4619.
- Meetings may be held using technologies such as teleconferencing, FaceTime, Microsoft teams or Skype.
- Surrey Supported Connections program will remain open.
Contact Telephone Numbers
Chilliwack: 604-858-0113 / Toll-free: 1-866-851-4619
Abbotsford: 604-855-3328 / Toll-free: 1-855-855-3324
Agassiz: 604-796-9836 / Toll-free: 1-888-593-5053
Langley: 604-533-8826 / Toll-free: 1-855-533-8836
Mission: 604-820-2595 / Toll-free: 1-888-820-2595
Meet an Elder: Arlene Heese
Xyólheméylh has an Elders Advisory Committee comprised of nine elders who ensure we are delivering services in a culturally appropriate and sensitive way. They meet with social workers, caregivers, families and children and provide invaluable advice on conflict resolution, parenting skills, problem-solving and traditional Indigenous culture.
One of our Elders is Arlene Heese who has been on the Elders Committee for nine years. From the Spuzzum First Nation in the Fraser Canyon, Arlene had previously worked for Xyólheméylh as a staff person with responsibilities for transportation of foster parents, families and children.
Arlene is known for her sunny disposition, her sense of humour, her big heart and her awesome and colourful wardrobe. She enjoys listening to social workers, caregivers and children and finding solutions to problems. “I believe every child needs to know who they are, who their parents are and where they are from. That is in them,” says Arlene.
“The residential schools ripped the hearts out of children. The trauma that was in those children was horrible. They were never given love or hugs. Children need that, they need to know they belong,” says Arlene.
In Arlene’s spare time she likes to go to car shows to show off her 1997 32 Northstar STS. She also enjoys gardening on her acre of land with fruit trees, sewing pillows with animal motifs that she sells, practicing Halqu’emeylem, and attending pow wows. “It’s wonderful to see children dance. It’s in them. When they see it, they eventually want to do it themselves.”
Thank you Arlene for your wisdom, kindness and dedication to children and families in the xáxá témexw té Stó:lō.
Meet a Caregiver: Deb Hill
Deb Hill has been a caregiver with Xyólheméylh since 1993, almost at the very beginning of its inception as an agency. She has eight kids ranging in age from one year to 20 years, and she has officially adopted six of them.
“I couldn’t do this without the kids’ families and their communities,” says Deb, who was honoured by the Seabird First Nation two years ago. “I get a lot of support from the families, they visit regularly, they bring me salmon during fishing season, they take the kids canoeing. They have become my extended family,” says Deb.
Deb is passionate about her responsibilities as a caregiver. “It’s not all rosy, but when the kids are not biologically yours, you owe it to them be there for them. And to not be judgmental.”
Deb is a valued member of the Xyólheméylh caregivers team. “It has been a pleasure to get to know Deb and interact with her over the years. She is a prime example of what fostering is; not only loving and caring for kids but also making them feel proud of their roots and heritage,"says Inderjit Aujla, Director of Operations Resources & Family Strengthening at Xyolhemeylh.
Deb is also passionate about connecting the kids with their culture. “It’s not just culture, it’s who we are, we all have a history and we all deserve to be connected with it,” says Deb. Some of her adopted children have changed their names back to their original Indigenous names so they can be reminded where they’re from and she thinks that’s wonderful.
What motivates Deb to care for so many children? Deb responds, “I love families and I love kids. We all need support, kids need families, communities and stability.”
Thank you Deb and all the caregivers out there!
Our Youth Advisory Committee is called Visions & Voices and consists of 19 youth in care or previously in care who are 14 years of age and older. The group ensures that youth have a voice within the Agency on policy and practice and within the larger system of care. The committee also organizes events for children and youth in care, and act as mentors to other Indigenous youth.
Every fall the youth organize the Visions and Voices Forum where they invite Indigenous youth from across the Fraser Valley to listen to speakers, share their experiences of being in care and take part in cultural activities and learnings.
The committee gets together at least once a month to share a meal, participate in workshops, and to organize events for other children and youth in care. Through their engagement in the committee, the youth learn leadership skills, build relationships and gain a sense of pride in their culture.
If you are a youth in care or previously in care, and have a suggestion, a question, or would like to be involved in the committee please contact: email@example.com. We provide dinner, transportation and a small honoraria.
Meet Summer Cousineau Wesley
Summer lives in Chilliwack. She is from the Nisga’a First Nation and her family comes from the Nass Valley. She joined Visions and Voices to help youth with their struggles and to give them a voice by sharing how to make the system better.
“Visions & Voices is important me because we organize events to show the other youth that our opinions matter. If youth on the committee are making choices, it proves to the other youth that aren't on the committee that their voices will be heard too,” says Summer.
One of her goals is to have more youth attend the events and to learn about Indigenous culture. She wants more youth to feel comfortable speaking out and to use their voices. “The system is not perfect and the goal is for it to always be improving and the only way we know how to improve anything going on is listening to every youth that we can,” says Summer.
Glenda Campbell, FVACFSS Board Secretary
Glenda Campbell was elected to the FVACFSS Board last fall for a three-year term. She currently holds the position of Secretary of the Board and also sits on the Agency’s communications and governance committees. Glenda is from the Tzeachten First Nation. She has two children and eight grandchildren.
Glenda brings many years of experience as a Band Councillor and Chief, as an executive team member for the Stó:lō Nation Chiefs, and as a Board member for the Xholemet Society and the Coqualeeza Board.
Glenda wanted to be on the Xyólheméylh Board because she feels strongly about family preservation and children being connected to their families and culture. She believes that if Indigenous children need to be in care, they should be placed with their families, grandparents, aunties, uncles and siblings. She also would like to see the number of children in care reduced and brought back to their home communities.
What are your impressions of the agency so far?
This agency has progressed and evolved so much over the years. I have learnt a great deal since I have been on the board. One never really knows until you are actually the one doing the work. Before I was a member in the community looking in and now I actually am a board member and can see what everyone is doing. It gives a person a different perspective. I am a person who always believed you never judge until you walk a mile in their moccassins. Believe me, the agency is working for the betterment of our children. You have some big-hearted people on board who will work really hard to make positive change.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to spend time with the grandchildren. I have two children and been blessed with eight grandchildren - four girls and four boys. I love going to hockey games. I cheer for the Vancouver Canucks. I love UFC fights so we go out wherever it is showing. I have an RV so I like to go camping in the summer. I love listening to music . I spend time with my sister and we go to Aqua fit and massages. I like going to the movies - my grandson and I like war shows. 1917 was a good one. I also like the music shows like Bohemian Rhapsody and Walk the Line, Johnny Cash.
Who have been your strongest influences in life and why?
My Dad was my first influence. When I was growing up he was very strict about school and said that I had to learn the English language and grow up to be anything I wanted to be. Both of my parents went to Residential school but they rarely talked about it. Dad spoke his language fluently but he said that I needed to learn English to go places. I said I was going to be a nurse but I changed and went into Social Work. He said never quit, you will outlast most people. To this day I think of my Dad and him saying I can be anything I want to be.
Due to COVID 19 we have unfortunately cancelled all events, including:
- Family Nights and Youth Drop-in Nights at Squiala First Nation
- Life Skills classes for youth in Abbotsford
- Spring Break Youth Camp
- Smίmeyáth Ceremony
This is the event, also known as the Butterfly ceremony, every May where we honour youth turning 19 and aging out of care.
We are still planning on doing the ceremony but at a later date. We will be in touch with everyone when we’re able to gather safely again.
- Summer Camps
- Summer Camps are cancelled this year. However, we are developing alternate plans, including the possibility of a Youth/Elders Gathering later this summer. We will continue monitoring the situation in the next few months.
BC Child & Youth in Care Week Contest
For Children & Youth in Care
To celebrate BCCYCW Week, June 1-7, 2020
Draw or Paint Your Feelings of Being a Child in Care
We will use your art to create a printed card!
1st Place: $150
2nd Place: $100
3rd Place: $50
Contest runs from April 20 to May 1, 2020
How to enter the BCCYIC Week Contest:
Please email your artwork to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and telephone number. Artwork can be sent as a PDF, Jpeg or Photo.
Social Distancing Poster & Video Contest
Open to all Indigenous children and youth, up to age 24
What does social distancing mean to you? Design a poster or make a video that promotes social distancing. We will display them in our offices and on social media.
Prizes: $150, $100, $50 in each category
Deadline: April 19, 2020