Being the Harm Reduction Coordinator at the St. John’s Status of Women Council

Reflections from the outgoing leader of our Managed Alcohol Program team, Becky Fleming

It has been no small task to develop, launch, and lead the province’s first managed alcohol program (MAP), but Becky Fleming never flinched in leading her team in this vital harm reduction work. The next leader of this team will benefit from the amazing tools and systems that Becky has built for the program, but will also take over on the important work that has been done to bring the St. John’s Status of Women Council closer to ensuring that all of our programs are based on the harm reduction approach.

Becky will be making a move within the organization, joining our counselling team, but before she makes the shift we wanted to check in with her to find out what it means to be the Managed Alcohol Program Coordinator!

If you had to describe your job in just 3 words, what would they be? 
Inventive, empowering, diverse 

What is the hardest part of your job?
Struggling with different ideas of harm reduction and what that support looks like. With MAP, we have the privilege of thinking deeply about harm reduction, taking a radical approach, and expecting nothing less. However, we find in our work every day that people hold different definitions of this lens depending on their own values, biases, and experiences, and what they think people should be. Finding common ground is tough and constant- but it’s so rewarding when you find that place with people where you understand each other in support of people who use substances.

What is the part of your job that you like the most?
MAP’s participants are incredible people. Their drive, independence, and remarkable ability to take charge of their lives are what gets me to work every day. I love any chance I can get to chit-chat about their weekend, hear about their successes from Outreach staff, listen to them when things are tough, and just remember that they are why we are all here- the service is for them.

It’s also really cool to work in a place that shares my values and to work alongside such a supportive group of other coordinators, coworkers, and people on my team. It’s fascinating how this sort of environment fosters personal growth, reflexivity, and community care. The coolest thing about working with them is a rare opportunity unique to this program. With MAP, you are lucky to be able to listen to people, hear what they need, and to the best of your ability, give them just that. There are so many limitations in other community work with marginalized individuals, and so many systems that create barriers to making this happen. It’s special, and it’s effective.

What type of personality do you think the new Harm Reduction Coordinator should have? 
Honestly, someone with a lot of fire and energy who can stay positive and productive while facing systems failure on the daily. This is the reality for so many community leadership roles, but especially in MAP where harm reduction remains a misunderstood concept for so many. These parts of my own character served me so well in my time as Harm Reduction Coordinator, and I think were essential for progress and innovation.

This job balances a lot of competing priorities- most importantly, a lot of relationships and partnerships. It needs someone who can see issues from different sides, acknowledge these, and still bring people into the harm reduction fold. This work is critical and has the potential to do some real change-making in our province. It’s an undeniably worthwhile effort.

I can’t wait to see the passion the next coordinator will bring to their role.

What types of career development or learning opportunities were important for you in this position?
Most importantly, in this role, I’ve had the absolute honour to learn from so many people with lived expertise in our community and across Canada. I’ve learned so much about what people want from health and community services, and how they feel these often leave them out, or fail to meet their needs. I’ve also been privileged to hear from people who have felt non-judgmental services have impacted their lives in positive ways. Seeking this knowledge, and listening to people that hold it, never gets old for me.

Secondly, this role has a surprising amount of fund development, finance, and reporting work. this was all so new to me coming into the job, and the mentorship I’ve had from others in these areas has been invaluable. This is a fulsome program, with its own funders, its own group of incredible staff to supervise, its own partners, evaluation, and monitoring, and more. Consider yourself a “miniature ED,” but with a wonderful group of other coordinators and an actual ED to support you through! It might sound kinda boring, but the administrative and leadership skills I’ve had access to here will always be invaluable to me, wherever I end up in my career.

What is the next big thing for the Managed Alcohol Program here at the SJSWC?
Expansion!! We have laid all of the important groundwork in the pilot phase for how MAP can function well. Now it’s up to not only our own organization, but those serving different regions and populations all over NL, to decide what we do collectively with this knowledge. How do we make MAP an accepted and readily available resource across our province? Who can we support to pick up this work alongside us and run with it? How can we make this happen sustainably under precarious funding across the sector? This will be the exciting new work of the incoming coordinator.

I can’t wait to see MAP grow and solidify, even from a backseat.

The mission of the SJSWC is to work to achieve equality and justice through political activism, community collaboration and the creation of a safe and inclusive space for all women and non-binary people in the St. John’s area. Can you tell me about a time when you felt that mission in your work? 
Every. Single. Day. This organization lives through these values. Sometimes they feel tough, leaving us some room for good ol’ transformative feminist conflict, bringing growth and strength to our collective. Sometimes, the beautiful culture we’ve set up for each other makes this mission feel easy.

I feel these values the most when we show up together for women and nonbinary people and do the absolute best we can. We organize, we lift up, and we empower. 

Is there anything else that you would like to share?
To anyone that is interested in the position, even if it feels like a leap, I want to convey that anyone can get involved in this work if they prioritize the dignity of all people and their right to self-determination. It’s not astrophysics, it’s a passionate exercise in empathy. If these values feel good to you, I encourage you to jump in. You will be so lucky to be this close to transformational work.

It was a very hard decision to step away, but I’m so proud of everything our team and participants have built and worked for. Congratulations to the next harm reductionist that has the good fortune of steering MAP with the SJSWC.

The St. John’s Status of Women Council wants to thank Becky for her leadership, her consistent smile in the hallways, her critical thinking, and her readiness to challenge, to laugh, and to listen. Her commitment to harm reduction make us all better community workers and people everyday.