This feature highlights one of many women who make a difference in the community, put on by ACAWS and the Alberni Valley News as part of the 16 Days of Activism. Read our other features here.
Born and raised in the Alberni Valley, I’ve always had a passion for this community and all that it has to offer.
I lived in Victoria for a few years while attending the University of Victoria, but my husband and I decided to return to Port Alberni to start a family in 2010. Coming back after living away for a few years really changed my perspective on the community and helped me to see how much we really have to offer here. I gained a much larger appreciation for the heart that this community has and a big part of our lives is now devoted to working to progress Port Alberni to reach its full potential.
Being on City Council has been a great way to get involved in the community and bring more of a voice to a segment of the population that hasn’t always been involved in decision making in our community.
In my professional life, I run a business working as a Mortgage Broker and Realtor. I really enjoy helping people find or finance their homes and it often ties in well to my council life, touring the community and showing people all that we have to offer. I’ve been a mortgage broker for eight years and have been recognized many times for my achievements and the business I’ve built up, including being in the top 10 of 800 brokers within my company Canada-wide several times for number of deals completed in a month. My business success is something I’m really proud of, especially being in a small town, as it’s typically brokers in the big cities who are recognized for this type of thing.
In my personal life, my husband Colin and I have four wonderful young children: three girls and one boy. So we run a very busy household between dance, soccer, school and other activities.
My husband and I buy and sell homes in the Valley, typically doing major renovations to them before we list them. We use professionals for everything to do with the renovations, but whenever we have small jobs like hauling things away, cleaning up yards, etc we try to employ people who would not otherwise the the opportunity to work and earn an income. We’ve provided work to people who struggle with disabilities, mental health, addictions, etc. It’s a small thing, but being willing to take a chance on somebody that nobody else is willing to hire can mean a lot to an individual. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s something we continually try to strive for.
I think it’s always difficult to pinpoint how you’re making a difference in the community. My big thing has always just been engaging people who wouldn’t otherwise be engaged. Hearing opinions of people who don’t think their opinions count for anything. On a council level, I think we’ve done a great job over the last three years of bringing in things like council live-streaming so that everybody has access to our council meetings and they’re available online for people to watch later if they miss the live meeting. We’ve put more of a focus on social media communicating more regularly as an organization and as individual councillors, we’ve started to request input in ways we haven’t before, and we’ve thought more critically about how we can effect change in things we’ve been doing the same way at the city for a long time.
We’ve made mistakes and we’ve had successes, but overall I’m really happy with the work our council has done in engaging a wider segment of the population. On a personal level, I’m really proud of the input I’ve been able to have on some of my committees I’m involved with, including the Chamber of Commerce, Rainbow Gardens Board of Directors, and as the new Chair of ACAWS.
I faced a lot of criticism when I ran for council three years ago because I was pregnant with my second child at the time. It was really surprising to me that some people had such an issue with the idea that I thought I’d be able to be on council with a new baby. It was actually really disappointing because maybe I was naive, but I didn’t think people would care. It was interesting that not only did I end up getting elected, but I ended up being elected to a council where I’m the only woman working with six men.
I think it’s been a great learning experience for all of us figuring out how to work together and considering needs that some people on council definitely haven’t had to deal with in a long time, or ever. When we started on council, I had a baby that was just a few weeks old. Since then, I adopted my five-year-old niece, and had another baby. So the vast majority of my term on council has been a time where, traditionally, I would have been on maternity leave.
My council of six men has been incredibly supportive and understanding of the different needs in my life versus theirs. We’ve implemented a 10 minute break halfway through our council meetings since that allowed me to have time to nurse my babies when they were young and we had long meetings. We also wrote into our bylaws the ability to participate electronically in meetings. So after I had my kids I was able to stay home with them if I needed to but was still able to participate and have a vote in the meetings. These changes may seem small, but I think they set the groundwork for other women in the same stage of life feeling comfortable running for council and knowing they won’t have to put their family lives on hold.
I’ve always felt very lucky to have ended up with the specific group that I did on council, as many other women in my situation (in other communities) have not been so lucky. I think our council embracing my family life as much as they have says a lot about the state of where we’re going as a community, and I know councils from around B.C. have heard about the things we’ve done and looked to implement them in their own communities. We should be very proud of these changes.