Author: Karen Copeland
On June 1, 2015, I was pleased to take part in the Collaborating For A Family Friendly Abbotsford community forum. It was an honour to be able to share a brief snapshot of our family journey with the larger group to kick off the day. There are so many things I have learned these past years, and I wanted to illustrate to the people in attendance that there is hope. Change will happen if we continue to push forward, come together to learn from and with each other and most importantly, believe that we can make a difference.
Often, when we hear a family story that is quite complex, it can feel discouraging. We can hear about or look at the web of services they have accessed over the years and feel disheartened. It can feel like an exercise in futility – but does it have to be this way?
In our own family journey, I had to take the above message to heart. I had to start looking through the lens of opportunities and possibilities; instead of focusing on all the missed opportunities and not so great experiences, I started looking for and recognizing the champions who had come alongside of us to support us.
There are some common characteristics that I have found in all of my champions – ingredients if you will. I have taken these and put them into practice in my own life. And I want to share these, because I truly believe we ALL (parents, youth, community members, professionals) have the opportunity to be a champion in the life of a child, youth or family in our community.
- Become involved in your community, attend events and share your story and experiences;
- Utilize social media channels to engage with community members you may not already be connected to;
- Expand your network to build your knowledge of what is happening beyond your community, and then use this information to create opportunities for reflection and dialogue;
- Create opportunities for conversations that include all stakeholders. This may mean stepping outside of your comfort zone and what you are familiar with, but can lead to great insights and learning;
- Look at parent and professional partnerships that are already working in your community. Use these as a model to guide you towards future partnerships.
- Practice empathy, kindness, love and most importantly, acceptance – not only towards others, but also yourself
- Be knowledgeable about your community, share your knowledge;
- If you have a particular skill (for example, knowing how to advocate), share this with others;
- Be a mentor to another family in the community who is just starting their journey;
- Be curious, do not be afraid to ask questions;
- Inspire others by sharing your story and creating opportunities for community to come together to learn from and with each other;
- Be informed about current resources, look for those untapped resources that exist and connect families to these;
- Look to parents and youth to identify new opportunities and resources
- Believe in yourself. Your experiences matter and your story is an critical component in the change process;
- Set aside judgments and assumptions – not just about others, but also the assumptions you make about yourself;
- Seek out opportunities to use your voice, to share your story;
- Do not be discouraged by those who say or act as if your voice does not count. Know there will always be those who disagree, but this does not mean your voice is not important;
- Know that when the time is right, your voice will matter, your story will make a difference;
- Create opportunities for others to share their stories.
- First understand and identify the experiences you do not want to share, this will guide you to the experiences you do want to share
- Ask for and listen to the stories of others, learn from them, draw strength and inspiration from them;
- Reflect on and own your biases, acknowledge them, not as limitations, but as opportunities for growth and discovery
- Find the best way to share your voice and then do it! There are many ways to speak out – through public speaking, sharing via social media, or through writing
- Face fears, assumptions and expectations head on; speak openly about your ideas for change;
- Be vulnerable; share your learning and how you have shifted or changed your perspective as time has gone on
- Share what has worked, as well as what has not – with the intent of learning from this
- Be aware of the barriers and challenges that face children, youth and families in your community;
- Challenge common misconceptions respectfully;
- Seek opportunities to speak out and share your vision and advocate for change;
- Be open to new ideas and perspectives; look for opportunities to learn more from the families and service providers in your community;
- Actively promote curiousity and challenge judgments and assumptions;
- Look for opportunities to create conversation and dialogue – in your community and via your social networks;
- Reflect on “water cooler talk” – how are you talking about children, youth and families in your community?
- Think about how children, youth and families are being included in conversations and events in your community – are they viewed as partners? participants? or observers?
- Look for ways to include the broader community in our conversations about child, youth and family mental health and wellness – invite people in
We all have it in us to be champions, sometimes we just need a bit of encouragement and guidance. What would you add to these lists? Please share in the comments!