A Spotlight on CPNP: Chris Koop Interview

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Jonas Kakaroto

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Jonas Kakaroto

We spoke with Chris Koop, of North Island Community Services, who has worked for the past 12 years as the Coordinator of CPNP programs for families in Port McNeill and Port Hardy, two small towns on north-east of Vancouver Island, overlooking Queen Charlotte Strait, at the northern tip of the Island Highway. Chris has recently retired from her full-time position, but is continuing on a part-time basis as Program Coordinator for the agency in their Children’s Centre, leaving her more time to connect with her grown children and her 7 grandchildren.

Port McNeill is a town of about 2,500 and Port Hardy has a population of just under 4,000. Over the past twelve years, Chris has seen growth in the number of families accessing the CPNP programs. In Port McNeill, families are increasingly struggling with isolation. In Port Hardy, family poverty is a growing issue. The program continues to develop year by year to support families in these remote communities.

When Chris started as a new Coordinator, she was exceptionally grateful to two other Island coordinators, Linda Kempling at Campbell River, and Jane Hughes, in Courtenay, who were truly supportive. Linda, in particular, was always willing to answer questions, showed Chris how to do the necessary paperwork and collect statistics, and gave her a framework to start with. To any coordinator starting out, Chris stresses the value of getting out and meeting other coordinators, face to face. She recommends making a point of getting to the annual BCAPOP conference and to regional meetings. She says, “Telephone conferences are helpful, but face-to-face is invaluable.”

Chris notes that, over the years, everyone she has dealt with has been helpful. At the conferences and regional meetings, she has found informal opportunities to socialize, such as dinners, have facilitated relationship building. PHAC funding that enabled site visits to the Campbell Rive and Courtenay sites provided exceptional value. She stresses how much learning there was from these opportunities to see other programs in action.

Over the years, Chris has met a number of wonderful people over the years who have provided her with exceptional inspiration. As well as Linda Kempling and Jane Hughes, who were so supportive in the early years of Chris’ work as a coordinator, Colleen Wickenheiser, PHAC Consultant, has been consistently helpful and honest. Stephanie Wong at Frog Hollow is a supportive link, and Chi Cejalvo, former Executive Director of BCAPOP, has demonstrated a wonderful, positive attitude over the years. These individuals, along with many others, provide encouragement and understanding to their colleagues working in the field.

Chris singled out some training sessions that have been particularly inspiring to her. Occupational therapist Kim Barthel, author of Conversations with a Rattlesnake, who has been an innovator in connecting mental health and function, is a speaker to whom Chris says she could have listened for days. Barthel’s trauma-informed teaching on “putting your mind in the mind of the other” helps develop understanding of what’s behind complex behaviour, with the message, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it, that matters.”

Another inspiring speaker has been Kathleen Lindstrom, Perinatal Program Manager for Prenatal and Career Development Programs for 28 years at Douglas College until her retirement in 2017, and currently a DONA International Birth Doula trainer. Kathie came up from Vancouver to offer the Circle of Birth and the Breastfeeding courses in the North Island area. Chris took both of these courses from her.

Over the years, the BCAPOPS conferences have had many terrific speakers, such as Gabor Mate, who has been such an inspiration to those who work with families.

One of the greatest gifts Chris has experienced in her work in the community, has been learning from the participants in the CPNP programs. The opportunity to be trusted with the reality of their lives, the, at times, very hard experiences they bring, and the courage and resilience in their lives, has been truly rewarding.

One particular ongoing challenge for mothers in the North Island area is the need to leave home and travel south to deliver their baby. Some deliveries do take place locally, at the 10-bed hospital in Port McNeill, but if a delivery is considered high risk (e.g., first baby, older mother, young mother) then the delivery cannot be scheduled locally. Dr. Jude Kornelson (Yellowknife), author of The Safety of Rural Maternity Services without Local Access to Cesarean Section, a 2015 Applied Policy Research Unit Review commissioned by Perinatal Services BC, BC Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, & University Centre for Rural Health, Australia, has facilitate focus groups on rural maternity care for them in their community. Under the current regulations, midwives can give limited pre-and post-care, but cannot yet be part of delivery. Chris hopes that she will get to see the day when midwife-assisted delivery is available to mothers in her community.

Other notable workshops have included the Mother’s Mental Health toolkit presented by Kate Wilton (Ladysmith), which they have adopted into their program, and an excellent FASD workshop presented by Ann Garcia of the College of New Caledonia, made possible with support through PHAC.

Chris shared that when she was fearful, first starting the job, her first Executive Director, who was a counsellor, taught her to leave the painful stories that are hard to hear at work and not to take them home with her. That has been a wonderful gift and has made a real difference to her resiliency in the job over the years.

Chris notes that coordinating the programs is not a job that everyone could do, but for the right person, it is intensely rewarding. One of the necessary skills is to “just let go of any judgement you had before, and accept people for where they are”. The trust building takes a while, but it means so much once you have it. The connection with so many different participants over the years has been deeply meaningful.

Nelli Agbulos