BC CRN’s team of Regional Mentors helps communities establish Community Response Networks (CRNs). Mentors provide ongoing local support in the coordination of responses to abuse, neglect, and self-neglect, and community development initiatives. Some Mentors are also community development partners who collaborate with local agencies and organizations to respond to the needs of the people.
April Struthers’s scholarly pursuits, curious mind, and love of people have helped her build academic and professional careers grounded in helping communities thrive.
A self-professed air force brat, April’s family moved house frequently. Meeting new people and becoming acquainted with new communities were as normal as flying in helicopters and airplanes. “It taught me to be very comfortable with change. I also learned how to see the big picture of things, quite literally,” she says.
As a teenager, she dabbled in media broadcasting and music. She discovered folk, folkloric, opera, and classical music styles and quickly became a fan. “Today, I still start my day listening to music,” April says. “Mozart’s horn concertos are a favourite – they are my morning motivator!”
April also picked up, first, guitar, followed by banjo and mandolin. “I was drawn to stringed instruments,” she says. “You can transfer your skills between these instruments quite easily.”
When it came time to pick a university, April selected Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby for its library. “It had material I couldn’t access anywhere else,” she explains. “I could read a lot of extra stuff. In the 70s SFU was also considered one of the most radical universities at the time. There were lots of demonstrations: we were all looking at the problems that could arise from institutional power.”
She majored in English, focusing on literature and drama. “I wallowed in this for a bit, figuring out how an English degree could translate into a job,” she laughs.
April spent hours in the university library, sitting on the floor studying, writing, and listening to music, sometimes all at the same time. She also dabbled in performance (“I sang and played guitar.”) and building bands (“I love ensembles: there is a lot of trading of musical ideas.”)
During a gap semester, April ran into a family friend who invited her to visit Kamloops. “She was studying archeology at the local university and took me out to identify archeology sites in town,” she explains. “It was fascinating, and after shadowing one of her courses and I was hooked.”
“Archeology is like time travel,” she continues. “You look at the layers of earth and you can see where people lived and worked. It’s like being a detective where you can see through time and space.”
When she returned to SFU, April threw herself into archeology and anthropology, taking political science and sociology courses on the side. She was keenly interested in culture and social justice. “I was encouraged to read the Indian Act when I was 21 and it was the first time my eyes were open to the oppression endured by First Peoples,” she says.
April earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1974. A teaching certificate, also from SFU, quickly followed. “I was able to incorporate music education as part of my teacher training,” she says.
After graduation, she worked in salvage archeology. “We conducted digs on and collected archeological data from sites that were slated for industry,” says April.
April wanted to work internationally and decided to take a sabbatical to complete a Master of Education degree in applied psychology at the University of Nottingham in the UK.
She then pursued projects that had her traveling between the UK, the US, and Canada.
Her early projects with the Nottingham City Council and several arts groups involved establishing “learning exchanges”, where community organizations came together to collaborate, and problem solve. April was able to apply her collective knowledge of social justice, organizational development, social science, and psychology. (April later became a registered clinical counselor in BC in 1998.)
“These exchanges were about bringing people together to learn each other’s strengths, and to share thoughts that could address each other’s problems and needs. It was about innovation: experimenting with ideas and practices to see what happens,” she explains. “When you work this way at a grassroots level, you can break down barriers and develop long-lasting relationships and networks.”
April and her UK-based consulting partners helped several organizations build networks and relationships with their communities. Some of their clients included the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Sherwood Forest Ranger Service, British Telecom, and Nottingham Women’s Shelters.
Back in Canada, she was part of the team that established the Sunshine Coast campus of Capilano University (then called Capilano College) and she taught there for several years.
In addition to teaching, April built a solid portfolio of research projects with various Canadian agencies, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, and the Ministry for Children and Family Development.
Her research led to the authoring of articles and academic papers, the development of programs, and speaking at conferences on topics such as anti-racism and diversity, organizational development, and the power of community networks.
She met then BC CRN Executive Director Alison Leany at a music festival in the late 90s. The encounter would lead to a collaboration that resulted in an appointment as a facilitator of the First Nations Reference Group for the BC Abuse Prevention Collaborative.
In 1992, April established her own management consultancy – WitWorks – offering assistance and research practices in community development and engagement, abuse and violence prevention, and organizational development.
She joined BC CRN as a regional mentor in 2003 and has since focused on adult abuse prevention research in addition to her mentor duties.
“I am interested in seeing how community networks coordinate responses to abuse and neglect, create the environment for prevention, and support the new Adult Guardianship Act and legislation,” she explains. “Self-organized networks are a new way to create social change. We’re seeing this everywhere.”
She has also authored and co-authored professional development and training content on the topic of older adult abuse for the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association, and for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. She was also part of a team at SFU that developed adult abuse reduction curricula and foundational courses for the legal, health, social work, and finance fields.
Perhaps her proudest pieces of work were the promising approaches that were developed first, for addressing and preventing older adult abuse in First Nations communities, and then adapted to assist women fleeing violence.
(The former was a collaboration between BC CRN, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Division of Aging and Seniors, Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Home Care and Community Care Division, and First Nations communities. The latter was a collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Elder Law.)
April was also integral in launching BC CRN’s annual evaluation process in partnership with social scientist and researcher Ben Kadel ten years ago. “The work of the CRNs is social change in action,” she says. “It’s a vast social experiment being conducted over time.”
The evaluation process continues to take place to this day.
Her early clients continue to be her clients today, a testament to the strengths of her own relationships and networks. “It’s never a total good-bye when a project finishes. I believe we always will meet again,” April says.
She continues to “keep up connections” outside of work. “Before the pandemic, I enjoyed visiting people all over the place. Today, there is a lot of Zooming, emailing, and phoning,” she says.
She continues playing guitar and writing songs, and she swims as much as she can. “I love the ocean. I could be in it every day,” she adds.
Continuous learning may be April’s greatest passion. Currently, she is learning podcast production and is involved in a learning exchange with professional musicians.
“I’m always interested in things that stretch and challenge me and that are fun,” she says. “Those things will always pull me in.”
Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn: @debbiechowabc
(Header photo: April (right) at an It’s Not Right! presentation. Source: A. Struthers)