Sharing Best Practices: An Interview with Grace Tait
Grace Tait grew up in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Vancouver neighbourhood. Encouraged by her mother and her grandfather, she began volunteering as a teenager with Meals on Wheels, and, through that experience, got to know and value many elders in the community. When she became a parent in her early twenties, her family were a great support to her in raising her kids. She worked two or three part-time jobs to support herself and her kids, and her kids went to Ray-Cam Community Centre Daycare.
When a local daycare was threatened with closure, she was introduced to grassroots mobilization for social change as parents banded together to find solutions for their neighbourhood. Out of that process, the group Children Need Care Now was formed, and that is how Grace go started in working with parents and children.
Parents started to meet with elected officials and local resource agencies to look at finding supports for families in the community. One of the things the parents researched was the AHS program model, and Ray-Cam Community Centre staff passed on information about CAPC/CPNP programs that were starting at that time. The group felt that CAPC would address the needs of parents in their community. The group was asked to participate at the CAPC Task Force for Vancouver working group, to draft criteria for their applications. Grace , along with other parents, participated in the Task Force group, representing Children Need Care Now (CNCN), along with Carole Brown, the Executive Director of Ray-Cam Community Centre. Nancy Cameron of YWCA Crabtree Corner also participated in this group, and CNCN and Crabtree Corner decided to work together in coalition partnership and network together. Ray-Cam Community Centre offered space for a parent-run voluntary childcare, and 15-20 families got actively involved. After the CAPC process had begun, Ray-Cam Community Centre offered space for the CNCN Extended Hours Daycare Pilot Project, and 15-20 families got actively involved.
CNCN approached the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA), who offered to be the host for their CAPC site application. When they were successful in their application, they hired a Coordinator, but unfortunately she had to resign due to health reasons. Grace was encouraged to apply and was hired. Their program worked with parents from Ray-Cam Community Centre, Strathcona Community Centre, and MacDonald Elementary School. The program operated very much with a parent-led and volunteer advisory-led program model.
After moving on to other employment for some years, Grace has come home to working again with YWCA Crabtree Corner, this time as Associate Director. She is grateful for her career development: starting as a parent in programs and moving into a professional career; seeing her children and grandchildren doing well; and building lifelong connections in her community.
Grace’s experience has been that the DTES has an unusual level of community life and extended relationships for an urban environment. She spent part of her childhood in the small community of Prince Rupert, and remembers walking down the street with her grandfather and talking with people, being known. The DTES has that same sense of community.
One of the great strengths of CNCN, was the support families offered to each other, as a parent went through a crisis or needed a break or had mental health issues. They helped each other to build coping skills, to build trust in each other, and to create supports that helped prevent kids from being taken into care.
Lou Demerais, Executive Director of the Vancouver Native Health Society, asked Grace if she would become involved with the evaluation and development of Sheway . In the process of doing this work, Grace found she had a big learning curve about the issues pregnant women face and how to support them more effectively. She is very proud of the range of supports that Crabtree Corner is able to provide to women and their families, including food programs, transitional housing, and FASD support.
Recently, Crabtree Corner has piloted a wellbeing group for parents and families. One of the roles Grace enjoys is being able to join in with that group and share her stories of growing up in the neighbourhood. She tells about her mum, a quiet, action-oriented woman with a sense of humour, who maintained a positive orientation to life despite adversity. She maintained an open-door policy towards her neighbours, and they became their extended family, as most of their family members at that time were living up north. Nowadays, most of Grace’s extended family lives in Vancouver, as they have moved down for education and to find work.
Age and experience have deepened Grace’s understanding. She has grandchildren herself now, and she wants to be able to help provide for them and spend time with them. Her work is all about the kids in her community. She understands from both perspectives now, what a huge role there is for grandparents in the life of growing children. She deeply respects the value of elders in the community, sharing stories, understanding and learning about community history and community action. She feels blessed to be in a position to give back to the community in which she grew up. So many young people move away from the community for education, and then never come back.
Grace would say to a coordinator starting out in the DTES neighbourhood, firstly, that there is a great deal of grassroots history with CAPC in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) Vancouver neighbourhood. She would advise any new coordinator to research their CAPC neighbourhood, learn about its history and evolution, and to welcome and support active grassroots parent/family engagement in your CAPC programs.
Grace noted that funding cuts over the years that have meant that there are less sources of funds now to meet the needs of low income families, and within the AHS/CAPC/CPNP programs, there are less face-to-face networking opportunities available now than there were in the past.
It is increasingly challenging for families with young kids to do fun things, or free things, in the Vancouver community. Bureaucracy in systems like the Vancouver Parks Board One Access Card and Leisure Access Card make it hard for low-income families to apply, and they feel stigma and shame in dealing with the systems.
In Vancouver, now, the biggest issue is housing security for families. Housing is so expensive, and hard to find for low income families, new immigrant families, and refugee families. It is very hard to find safe, clean, affordable housing. There are huge waitlists at the non-profit housing that exists.
Grace’s greatest inspiration has been her mother: a single mum who raised four kids; a two-time cancer survivor; a recent heart attack survivor; a long-time DTES volunteer and community resource as a daycare provider; and a woman with a fabulous sense of humour and a big heart!
The book that has had the greatest impact on her work is The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King, a Native American author who combines learning around indigenous history with a sense of humour.
The things she finds most helpful in supporting your frontline workers are:
- Making time to get to know each other, and being a supportive co-worker.
- Allowing for creativity.
- Learning together.
- Always remembering that, even though you have a specific role as a manager, you are a colleague.
A particularly significant training Grace received in one of the jobs she has had, was on trauma-informed approach, where she got to learn more about her own intergenerational family trauma and how to be more sensitive and understanding towards others. The training included learning about basic brain functions (e.g. “fight or flight”) and how to avoid causing re-traumatization.
Having the opportunity to work with neighbourhood Elders from various backgrounds and cultures has been an inspirational experience during her work in the community, along with opportunities to learn from grassroots community development, working together with other local residents to create infrastructure to benefit the community in which they all live together.
A career highlight for her was being involved in the establishment of the DTES CAPC Children’s Coalition, one of the pioneer coalitions for the program, starting in 1993, when the closure of a local child care facility brought community members together to take action around family/children’s issues. In 1993/94, local DTES parents met regarding the closing of the daycare and formed Children Need Care Now, originally to advocate for more affordable (or hopefully, free), safe, quality, childcare spaces in the DTES. Grace was involved in researching best practices and, in the process, became involved with local Task Groups as part of the development of CAPC. In 1994/5, DERA CAPC started running at 3 sites: Ray-Cam Community Centre, Strathcona Community Centre, and with MacDonald Elementary School parents at Eagles in the Sky Association space. This CAPC coalition continued until DERA dissolved in 2002, when the agency role was transferred to another non-profit.
The key things Grace would like to share with others working in this field are:
- Understand, and take care of, yourself (self-care planning), and listen to the people you work with (both paid and unpaid).
- Listen and be respectful when interacting with others.
- Be open to new ideas.
- Be open to learning from historical best practices and “old” ways – they always become the “new and improved” thing again at some point!