BC CRN’s team of Regional Mentors helps communities establish Community Response Networks (CRNs). Mentors provide ongoing support in the coordination of responses to abuse, neglect, and self-neglect and community development initiatives.
Supporting central and northern Vancouver Island communities is the intergenerational team of Alyssa Christensen and Jane Osborne. Their region includes Duncan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Gabriola Island, Oceanside (Parksville/Qualicum), Port Alberni, Courtenay/Comox, the western coastline communities of Tofino and Ucluelet, Campbell River, and the northern communities of Port Hardy, Port McNeill, and Port Alice. Central and northern Vancouver Island are also the traditional territories of more than 30 distinct First Nations from three different tribal groups: Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw.
E-Connector traveled to Nanaimo to speak to the duo in person, and we conducted our interview while meandering the forested, oceanside trails with dogs in tow, searching for whales in the distant waters. The twisted branches of Gary Oak trees reached seaward while Arbutus giants towered above, and deer fern flanked us on either side. Our dialogue was dotted with laughter and periods of silence to allow the ocean and wind into the conversation.
Jane’s first career was in management technology and organizational development, working with the likes of IBM, the University of BC, and the then Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro Vancouver). After 30 years, she retired and started her second career in community development and restorative justice, first in Vancouver North Shore communities, which include North Vancouver, West Vancouver, and the Sea-to-Sky Corridor, and then in central and northern Vancouver Island when she moved house to Nanaimo several years later.
Her 20 years in community development earned Jane the Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre’s Individual Elder Abuse Awareness to Action Award in 2016. View Jane’s professional profile.
“My first time working intergenerationally was in 1998 with (Dr.) Alana Abramson, who is one of today’s restorative justice luminaries in Canada,” says Jane. “My learning ramped up incredibly. I saw that her scholarly career did not follow the traditional path mine did. She connected with marginalized youth and adults in ways that I couldn’t, and this was fascinating to me.”
She continues: “When we talk about ageism, it’s usually within the context of older adults. I don’t dispute the wisdom of elders. However, the wisdom of youth is equally valid. Most of my learning today comes from working with and developing respectful, mature relationships with younger adults.”
E-Connector profiled Alyssa in 2020, after joining the BC CRN in 2019, filling a then newly created mentor liaison role to support Jane in the work of community development and creating Community Response Networks (CRNs). She was also just starting her post-secondary studies, focusing on criminology and accounting. Today, she is a fourth-year student in the process of completing her social work degree, instead of doing the criminology and accounting specialties she picked initially. She credits the change to her ongoing work with Jane.
“Learning from and working with Jane has been so different compared to other jobs I’ve done,” Alyssa says. “The experience harmonizes with my studies so well. Interacting with client services, starting from a trauma-informed place and using an anti-oppressive framework, and learning the legislation and the structural aspects of community development have expanded my perception of community itself. I used to think it was purely geographical. It’s not.” View our profile on Alyssa from February 2020, pages 4 to 6.
Alyssa also works night shifts with a supportive housing non-profit while she finishes her studies. “The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight!” she says.
Jane and Alyssa met over coffee in 2019 in Campbell River. “It just clicked,” says Jane.
While Jane is naturally extraverted, Alyssa is introverted.
Jane is well versed in facilitation and engagement, the best practices and scholarly papers on community development, the different parts of relevant legislation, and community responses. Alyssa has a willingness and keen interest to learn.
Alyssa has deep connections to her Métis family history and culture, which assists greatly with her engagements with First Nations communities. She is close to her aunt Kathi Camilleri, a cultural safety practitioner, speaker, and engagement specialist best known for her workshop series called Building Bridges Through Understanding the Village. “Auntie Kathi has been the most influential on my entire life,” says Alyssa. “I am lucky to have supported her, learning from the lived experiences of up to 50 people at a time per workshop. Not many people have this opportunity.”
Jane continues to explore her own white settler family history. “I want to be seen in my full identity. I decided it is important to use every aspect of who you are to connect into all communities, and not just with at-risk people within the dominant demographics,” says Jane. “Alyssa’s relationships with and understanding of First Nations is such an incredible asset.”
“Jane’s willingness to be vulnerable, to share, and to create a safe space with a complete stranger set the tone for our relationship,” Alyssa explains. “I’ve learned that once personalities and relationships click, the technical stuff just happens.”
Just as their differences in age, background, and education are strengths, their similarities are equally sources of strength and grounded in the desire for reconciliation, healing, and connection.
Alyssa’s connection to her family and her elders who have experienced the loss of culture and language through residential schools runs parallel to Jane’s lived experiences as a queer senior who is reconciling her disconnect from her family history.
“Intergenerational work is important when we talk with marginalized people who have been stigmatized and/or isolated,” says Jane. “It’s difficult to connect when we can’t connect with ourselves first. To help, we need to be open to really hearing out, and really listening to past and future generations.”
“Sometimes blood families are just not available to connect with for whatever reason,” continues Alyssa. “We need to build our chosen families. If we don’t, then it leaves people open to significant abuse, neglect, and self-neglect. For some of our members, the community response just isn’t safe because of colonialism, overt racism, or something else.”
It seemed appropriate to conduct our interview in the forest with the ocean waters close by. In addition to being lifelong learners, both Alyssa and Jane are nature lovers.
For Alyssa, being in nature is energizing and a significant part of her self-care. When not studying or working, she is hiking, camping, or kayaking. Her dog Jax is a constant companion. “I’m also a big family person,” she says. “I love hanging out with my parents and my partner. I try to make time to feed these relationships.”
Alyssa has also recently started engaging in cultural activities – harvesting medicines and food, beading, and learning her Indigenous language. (Alyssa is Cree Métis.) “My mom and my auntie broke the intergenerational cycles of poverty, addiction, and cultural shame,” she explains. “When I immerse myself in cultural activities, I feel like I am honouring my family and my ancestors and doing my part in the healing work.”
The combination of natural history and culture also captivates Jane, who enjoys traveling, forest walks, birding, being near the water, and singing in her choir. She has organized her trips specifically around birding and music. “Culture is about people and the way they live and interact with the environment,” she explains. “Music is also a cultural exploration. My choir director is quite invested in roots music, and he has taught me about Cuba, Ireland, North Carolina, New Orleans (amongst a host of other places in the US), South Africa, and Eastern European cultures through their music and their musicians. Culture, music, and nature are all tied together: I can escape to any of them and lose myself.”
Alyssa has high praise for her colleague: “Working with Jane, we’re tackling a bunch of different issues in addition to abuse, neglect, and self-neglect, such as mental wellness, addictions, and homelessness. All of them are connected and need attention. It’s cool to find different approaches to our work, finding what works for each of the unique communities and the grassroots organizations that support them.”
“There is a richness to our work when we see things broadly and interconnected,” adds Jane. “It’s been a terrific blessing.”
Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn @debbiechowabc.
(Header Photo: Jane and Alyssa, accompanied by Pat Newton and Jax the Dog, explore the tide pools of Beachcomber Park in Nanoose Bay in July 2022. Photo: D. Chow.)