Brenna Sullivan and Cari Munro
Last year around this time, our family’s babysitter, Shelley Bennett and some friends / colleagues (Brenna Sullivan, Cari Munro and Tabitha Simpson) started a non-profit organization – the Uplift Association. Having known Shelley and the care she provided my daughters for over five years and the support she offered other families in our community whose kiddos needed a little extra help, made it an easy decision to get behind Uplift and to sign up to their first inclusive program offering – No School Day Groups. This was a huge success for us, there is nothing quite like picking up your kids and they are energetic yet calm, full of excitement and questions, and asking, ‘when is the next one?’
Next up, it was Summer Camp… a week-long adventure with a diverse group of kids ages 6-12 that included playing, crafting, outdoor exploration, experimenting and more. Again, cups all very full.
Uplift began to gain momentum within the community, alongside these group programs, they were offering support for behaviour intervention, parent coaching, customized support for families that ‘don’t belong in a box,’ academic support, job coaching, and ‘thrive’ guidance for teens – helping them to transition from teen to adulthood. What I have learned, though is that there is not a fixed template for what this team offers… they are here, listening to the needs of our community, and developing programs that meet those needs in response.
Last month, I had the opportunity to sit with Brenna and Cari to uncover even more about the passion and perseverance of this team.
Brenna was born and raised in Fernie and moved to Victoria for a few years after graduating.
“I worked out there and nannied and then moved back to Fernie and became a preschool teacher, an ECE assistant. This is how I delved into the world of behaviour intervention, and pursuing a course through Douglas College,” she tells me.
Cari was born and raised in Brooks, Alberta. After high school, she attended post-secondary education in Medicine Hat, and completed a degree in science, majoring in Kinesiology at UofL.
“And then I moved to Fernie for a year. Five years later I’m still here!” she says with a laugh. “I really liked the psych and sociology courses in my program and enjoyed working with kids – I worked in summer camps during school.”
The two met through a cousin, Brenna had invited Cari over for coffee. “She was talking about her job and I thought, I want to do this! I found out later there was an opening and that was the beginning.”
Cari, Brenna, Shelley and Tabitha began chatting and realized they all had similar goals, dreams and values.
“They all really aligned, so it was natural for us to team up and start Uplift. We had similar ideas of what kind of programming we wanted to pursue, and while sometimes we have different opinions, our respect for one another can help to reign one another in when needed and to learn from one another.”
The main goal was to fill the gaps in the valley, uncover where kids’ and families’ needs are not being met and to support these needs. Behaviour intervention is just one aspect of what Uplift does.
“We also work collaboratively with home school programs, schools, EBYF, and with a lot of really cool people. We want to be a hub that families can come to and talk about what they need and what support looks like for them. You know your child best and what they need, and we adjust accordingly,” Brenna says.
When we started, we had pages of ideas, things we wanted to do, things that could improve Fernie and the Elk Valley. It is hard to be patient, but we are moving in the right direction and ideally down the road we will be doing it all! We will keep adding layers.”
There is a lot of benefit to group programs, including how to work with other people, conflict resolution, understanding that everyone is different.
“Everyone has needs, they just look different for each person. It’s nice to be able to talk about it. It’s not a ‘thing’ or taboo anymore. Their questions are fair questions – they ask why and that’s okay. We want to provide inclusion, but also inclusion looks different for every family. For some families, two hours at a program is what they need. And that’s okay!” Cari shares.
Uplift has had its challenges. Both Brenna and Shelley went on mat leave soon after its inception. They have been surprised by the specifics of grants and funding. “None of us are well-versed in grants,” they say. Additionally, much of their funding streams do not cover overhead. “On the other hand, the support from the community has been incredible. We actually wouldn’t be here without it.” For example, the Elks Hall has allowed them to use their space at a reasonable price and have even donated to the organization.
So, where to now? The team is working to find a permanent space. On top of their social groups for similar ages with similar goals, they hope to start a multi-sport program for young kids.
“Instead of choosing hockey for a season, kids would rotate through a variety of sports. This allows kids to try it all before parents sign them up and realize they don’t like it. It’s also a space for kids who won’t be successful at following the group – a space where everybody gets to try even if thy need one-to-one support or adaptive equipment,” they share with excitement adding that Rocky Mountain Adaptive has been helping them to figure this out.
For the long-term, Uplift plans to continue having flexibility, expand their programming and become diverse in what they offer. “We love it when parents tell us what they need, and we are committed to listening. The needs are always changing, and we’ll adjust as needed.”
To learn more about the Uplift Association, and to keep up to date on the programming and changes taking place, visit upliftassociation.com, email info@ upliftassociation.com or follow them on Instagram @upliftassociation.
1. When did you first arrive in the Elk Valley and what brought you here?
B. I was born here. C. I started coming up here in 2008, visiting on family vacations. Then I moved here after university to live the Fernie dream ‘for a year.’
2. Who did you first meet/remember knowing?
B. My family, my sisters. C. Probably Parker, who is my boyfriend.
3. Do you remember your first general impression of the Elk Valley?
B. Ya, I loved it. It felt so free and small, spending endless days in the ravine behind my parents’ house. I felt like the luckiest in the world. C. I don’t think I grasped how unreal it was until I became an adult.
4. What keeps you here?
B. My family, and the ability to raise my kids as small town kids. That’s what I want – the dream. Them being able to do the things I did growing up. C. My home feels like a vacation – everyone is working to save up to come here and I just get to live here!
5. Do you have a favourite pastime?
B. Flyfishing and reading. C. Being outside. Just in any capacity.
6. What time of the year do you love most and why?
B. Summer, there is just so much to do and you don’t have to wear a jacket. I hate wearing so many winter clothes. C. Summer, because of how many activities you can do and the long days. I love coming home from work and it’s still light out!
7. Where do you see or hope to see the Elk Valley in five years?
B. I hope to see it more affordable for full time residents. I hope it doesn’t lose its magic. You can feel it slipping away slowly, I hope to still walk down the street and see at least five people I know. C. I hope it keeps its small town vibe.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals?
B. Coffee and the news. Everyday. And snuggles with Walker Rose. C. Coffee and trying to remember what planet I am on.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you.
We’re both the baby of three girls and we relate heavily on it.
10. Quote to live by: B. One thing my dad does say to me is, “Today is a beautiful day. I’ve never seen this one before.”
C. When you have the chance to laugh, do it.
Heather Anderson Photo