Regina DaSilva-Gibbons: Making a Difference Today

Regina DaSilva-Gibbons, the Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Thompson, thinks she might have gravitated toward “people-intensive” work because at one point in her life she felt helpless.

She recalls a childhood punctuated by frequent trips to the psych ward to visit her struggling father, who battled schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He ultimately took his own life when DaSilva-Gibbons was only seven.

“I was too young at the time to fully understand,” says DaSilva-Gibbons, who grew up in Winnipeg’s Weston neighbourhood. “I came to realize and understand over the years that he wasn’t weak, he was sick.”

DaSilva-Gibbons, now 49, remembers with fondness and gratitude the teachers who helped her cope with her feelings of grief and confusion. “The suicide happened when I was in grade two. My grade one teacher saw me sitting on the steps one day and I have a vivid memory of telling her that my dad had killed himself. She stayed connected and checked up on me for years after that,” says DaSilva-Gibbons. “There were others, too. I always had someone to talk to.”

Today, DaSilva-Gibbons returns the favour in her job. At the Boys and Girls Club of Thompson she sees kids in distress all the time. She tries to be a source of comfort to kids whose pain seems all too familiar to her.

Her personal story gives her credibility in the eyes of the youth she serves. She doesn’t just sympathize, she can truly empathize.

“Mental health issues run rampant in my family, and it wasn’t just about suicide,” says DaSilva-Gibbons, who takes anti-depressants to manage her own condition. “I know what it is like to grow up without expectations. I know what it’s like to be abused. I know what it’s like to be poor. The older kids here know that I feel their pain at a deep and authentic level. They know that I’ve been there, done that, and have come to terms with the horrible parts of my youth.”

What drives DaSilva-Gibbons today is her desire to help the kids of her adopted community in Thompson to deal with the strife in their lives.

“A lot of these kids don’t have it so good at home,” she says. “The Boys and Girls Club aims to provide a stable, compassionate environment with nutritious food, programs, and life skills training. We give these kids first chances, second chances, and third chances. We try to give them hope.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Thompson serves about 500 different children a year through after-school, weekend, and summer programs. On busier days, DaSilva-Gibbons and her colleagues might see 100 different kids.

The population they serve is mostly aboriginal, says DaSilva-Gibbons. “The community is still living with the consequences of the Sixties Scoop and the residential school system,” she says. “Some of these kids don’t feel like they have a heritage to hold on to. The community was decimated. The kids don’t feel fully aboriginal, and they don’t know how to fit into the rest of Canada. It’s challenging for them.”

DaSilva-Gibbons moved to Thompson in 2014 when her husband accepted a position at a mining company after they had previously lived in Beausejour and Winnipeg. DaSilva-Gibbons eagerly accepted the position at the Boys and Girls Club after the move north. She had worked as a waitress in her younger years and then worked with an agency helping adults with developmental disabilities to find employment. Through it all, she earned a psychology degree from the University of Winnipeg and is working on attaining her human resources credentials through Red River College.

The job in Thompson is stressful, she says, but she works with a small staff she trusts and admires. “We see a lot of sadness and despair,” says DaSilva-Gibbons. “But there are many ‘miracle moments’ that make it all worthwhile.”

And so, Regina DaSilva-Gibbons has traded the helplessness of her own childhood to a position where she can help children today find hopefulness: “This is very important work and we have to do it well. It is necessary for the kids, and it is necessary for the community.”

To learn more about the Boys and Girls Club of Thompson, visit http://www.bgcthompson.ca/.

Building the Next Generation of Non-Profit Leaders

The Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations is eager to answer those questions by inspiring youth and young adults to pursue careers in the non-profit sector. A first step in achieving this important objective is the launch of the Career Explorations website.

“The site will be an important way to engage youth, new graduates, and young professionals,” says Meaghan Morrish, the MFNPO Project Manager leading the development of the site. “We want them to see that they can orient their careers in a way that will make a difference in the community, while challenging themselves to grow professionally in a thriving sector.”

At MFNPO’s November 25 annual general meeting, attendees got a sneak peek at the website. The site will be formally launched by spring 2017 with a special in-person event and strategic social media announcements.

“We realize as a sector council that we need to promote the many merits of working in the sector,” says MFNPO Co-Chair Martin Itzkow. “Our sector is continually changing and there are always new and creative ways for people to build meaningful careers. Career Explorations will be the leading source of current information for youth and young adults in Manitoba.”

Morrish, who has been working on the site for about a year, says the site will expose users to the vast array of career opportunities in the field. To develop the content, she has relied on MFNPO’s rich bank of labour market research, meetings with non-profit organization leaders, and interviews with people who work in the sector. She then started to develop stories about people who work in the sector and descriptions of the work they do.

“We are trying to publish stories that will truly resonate and inspire,” says Morrish, who has worked as a professional and volunteer in the non-profit sector. “We will be highlighting interesting programs and organizations and making it clear that a career in the non-profit sector can be rewarding, fulfilling, and exciting.”

For MFNPO, the Career Explorations project has the potential to strengthen the sector as a whole. “By sharing information about careers in the sector and by emphasizing the many opportunities that exist for young people, we will ultimately support our sector’s recruitment and retention efforts,” says Itzkow.

For Morrish, it will be important to measure success. “We will measure web traffic, of course,” she says. “But our most important indicators of success will be seeing more youth showing interest in careers in the sector and more organizations finding the people they need to serve their clients. In other words, Career Explorations will be successful if it can contribute to building a more resilient sector in Manitoba.”

The Career Explorations project is funded by Manitoba Education and Training (Industry Services; Workforce Development and Income Support; and Jobs and the Economy).

MFNPO: The Voice of the Sector

People who don’t work or volunteer in our sector are often amazed to hear the numbers. Even people who DOwork or volunteer in the sector are often taken aback. There are roughly 8,000 non-profit organizations in Manitoba collectively employing about 100,000 people. It’s a significant proportion of the province’s workforce.

“As a sector council for Manitoba’s non-profits, our key objectives are to strengthen the sector, ensure its long-term effectiveness, and enhance how it is perceived by government, other sectors, and the population at large,” says Sandra Oakley, Co-Chair of the Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations (MFNPO). “We aim to be the sector’s voice.”

MFNPO’s roots go back to 1998 when current MFNPO Co-Chair Martin Itzkow initiated a process to enhance the visibility of the non-profit sector in Manitoba. This led to the launch in 2000 of the Manitoba Voluntary Sector Initiative (MVSI). Under the MVSI, Itzkow was the founding director of the Secretariat on Voluntary Sector Sustainability. In 2004, the sector came to be represented by a new body called the Voluntary and Nonprofit Sector Organization of Manitoba, which became MFNPO in 2009 when it was declared a sector council through a government Order in Council.

Today, MFNPO focuses its efforts on a few key areas.

“One of the most important functions we perform is labour market research,” says Oakley. “The provincial government has turned to us over the years for labour market information. No other body in Manitoba has the data or insight that MFNPO has.”

Oakley notes that one of the key benefits of gathering, assessing, and reporting data is that the effort can move the sector toward greater standardization and consistency.

“As we learn more about the sector and how people are employed within it, we can promote and see movement toward standardization of job titles, job descriptions, pay ranges, credentials, etc.,” says Oakley. “This is important so people can plan for and make lateral and upward moves in the sector. We want to create the conditions for talented and passionate people to have meaningful, long-term careers in the sector.”

Another important function of MFNPO is to provide reasonably priced and practical human resources training for people working the sector.

“We know that it is luxurious for most small and medium-sized non-profits to have a human resources leader on staff, and yet it is a critical function,” says Oakley. “Typically, HR issues are handled by the executive director off the edge of the desk. Our programs help executive directors and other leaders manage HR as effectively as possible.”

The demand for this work is evident. For 2016-2017, MFNPO has been offering a six-part course called “Fundamentals of Human Resources” in three locations. The Winnipeg and Brandon courses sold out quickly. Registration for Thompson is still underway at time of writing. Additionally, MFNPO’s Human Resources and Leadership HUB is on its third cycle, providing a small group of non-profit leaders with intensive training.

Other exciting initiatives under development include the Career Explorations website, launching in 2017 and designed to position the sector as an exciting and meaningful career choice for youth and young adults; and MFNPO’s ongoing pilot of Open Badges as a way to promote innovative and exciting professional development pathways in the sector.

On top of all the work to develop the sector, MFNPO also advocates on the sector’s behalf and takes part in national conversations about the sector’s value to society.

MFNPO employs an Executive Director and an Administrative Coordinator, and engages a handful of external contractors. As a member of the Alliance of Manitoba Sector Councils, MFNPO shares some additional services with the other sector councils located at 1000 Waverley Street. MFNPO is funded by the Government of Manitoba and operates on a budget of about $220,000. A very active Board drives MFNPO’s agenda.

“This is a passionate and dynamic sector,” adds Oakley. “We have seen growing interest in our work and our mission and we are communicating more and innovating to meet the sector’s appetite for knowledge, training, and growth.”