Historically, women and especially racialized women have been marginalized in society because of patriarchal norms but, today women like Alicia Erenli are changing that dynamic.
Identifying as a Black bi-racial woman, she is working with Foundry Ridge Meadows (a youth mental health service) as an operations lead.
It’s something she’s extremely grateful for.
“I think I have an opportunity to [provide young people] with a space for their voice. We see these young people coming in and it’s so nice to just have the door open and be able to engage in conversations and talk about their experiences because they’re very different from my experiences or their parents’ experiences,” she said.
Also Read: Affordable mental health funding extended to Ridge Meadows
Foundry Ridge Meadows is led by the Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows Community Services. They provide youth between the ages of 12 to 24 years access to mental health, substance use support, peer support and social services.
The organization has been a vocal supporter of Reconciliation efforts with First Nations and important milestones including Black History Month.
In five years, Erenli has observed growth within the agency.
“From an agency perspective, we try to bring awareness through social media around identity, gender pronouns. It has been good to see that we’re not staying stagnant because you cannot be doing the same things and expect a different outcome,” she said.
Representation is important to Erenli especially because it was lacking from services she wanted to access while growing up.
As a woman of colour, she understands how important it can be for young people to see themselves represented. So, she channelled that lack of representation and became the face of it.
“Lack of representation has had or has an impact on teens within a group or agency. If you don’t see yourself represented in the services you may want, it’s very easy to start believing that they may not be meant for you. As a woman of colour in a leadership role, it’s pretty awesome to be a face and represent,” she added.
Undoubtedly, her journey as a bi-racial woman hasn’t been easy.
Growing up, she didn’t see fluidity in the Black community and sometimes questioned her identity as a child born to white and Black parents.
But, she wanted to channel her bitter experiences and knew she wanted to pursue a career in a helping profession. Today, she calls herself an advocate for young people and has pursued a master’s degree in counselling.
It’s something unfathomable to her younger self.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have a master’s degree and be working in a leadership position. I made this decision because I didn’t see myself represented. If you don’t see yourself represented then work towards creating that representation,” she said advising young BIPOC people.
Erenli currently works with a diverse team at Foundry, where 1/4th of her colleagues identify as BIPOC. She shared that it has been a positive change at the agency.
“We are receiving more [diverse] applications and I feel [great] having the ability to hire in a broader cultural diversity. It’s just a glimpse at how communities and cultural demographics are changing.”
Changing Ways to Help
Sometimes, children and families might need to access different social services. So, the Foundry has created an integrated model to ensure nobody feels re-traumatized. They work alongside community partners including Alouette Substance Use and Plea Community Services.
For example, if a patient with a history of substance use needs counselling, they don’t have to revisit past traumas. The confidential sharing of information between agencies takes that burden off the patient.
However, that’s not a common practice in the mental health sector. And Erenli believes that nobody should have to re-tell their painful experiences.
“It’s [important] that families and young people aren’t having to tell their stories over and over again and that they’ve come to a safe space where their experiences are going to be honoured and we are going to hold space for them.”
Despite the pandemic…
Exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed was natural for people across professions during the COVID-19 pandemic. But, people at the Foundry decided that it was time to extend their help.
Erenli shared that although they had the opportunity to say “no, it’s too much and we cannot do this right now” instead they said now is the time to do this work and we cannot let it slip away.”
Looking back at her own experiences while growing up, Erenli hopes that young BIPOC people can honour their experiences as they move along in life.
“I just [want to say that] I see you, I hear you and you matter. There are always going to be tough times but there’s always going to be growth, [too]. Find those who support your growth and hold space for you. Honour your experiences and then feel safe enough to say, “ok, now what?”