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Celebrating International Women’s Day

Since 1974, Communitas has supported people living with diversabilities here in the Fraser Valley, as well as in Metro Vancouver and on North Vancouver Island. Over the years, this work has been done by women and men who have embraced the principle of person-centred care. Today, nearly 80% of our workforce is women who provide care and leadership throughout the organization.

“Women have embraced the social services sector as a career choice and have excelled in using their unique gifts in all areas of service,” says Karyn Santiago, chief executive officer at Communitas, the second CEO for the organization.

Karyn And Jacqui Recentred
Karyn Santiago, chief executive officer with Jacqui Toews, chief program officer for Communitas

When the organization began, all of the leadership was male, simply a reflection of the times. Communitas (then known as MCC Supportive Care Services or MCC SCS) opened homes that operated under a house-parent model, with couples caring for the people living in the home. But even then, leadership in the organization was forward thinking, hiring people based on giftedness regardless of gender.

Claudette Iverson And Helen Reimer Resized Dec 2023
Claudette Iverson and Helen Reimer the first and last managers of Choices and Connections

“The first person hired for one of our longest running services was Helen Reimer,” Karyn reflects. “Helen worked with the organization for two decades and every manager that followed her in that particular service has been female.”

Island Staff And Person Served At Bbq Photo Booth
Women make up nearly 80% of Communitas workforce, serving everywhere within the organization

As the organization grew to expand its services to include people living with mental health challenges and acquired brain injury, women stepped into roles at every level, from front-line work, to management, to administrative leadership. The board has also reflected this growth, having had women as directors and serving in executive roles on the board. Kathy Doerksen is the current chair of the Communitas board.

Kathy Doerksen Board Chair In Conversation
Kathy Doerksen is the current board chair at Communitas.

“I have always felt that Communitas is a place of welcome for anyone who wants to contribute to the work of the organization,” Kathy says. “I’m grateful for the women on the board, past and present, who have brought their skills and passion to the work of governance.”

Karyn believes that the inclusion of women throughout Communitas is a reflection of the ethos of the organization itself, rather than a concerted effort to recruit women for specific roles.

“I think Communitas has always been a place of opportunity for anyone who wants to see people of all abilities find places of belonging, growth, and contribution,” Karyn says. “This simply reflects our values of diversity and inclusion.”

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion and at Communitas, inclusion is another deeply felt value. Both Karyn and Kathy are grateful for the hundreds of people working for Communitas who faithfully deliver the person-centred care that is at the heart of the organization. “On this day, we highlight the good work of the women serving in our midst,” Karyn says. “But every day, we celebrate all of our staff, people who create inclusive communities, bringing abundant life to all.”

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