For Jill Zacharias the foundation of every community is social sustainability and for the last 12 years she has strived to reduce poverty in Revelstoke.
“I have always felt very driven to contribute to society in a big way,” she said.
In August the city announced it would bringing Zacharias’ contract in-house, on Nov. 16 they posted her job, for which she will not be applying.
Though she is supportive of the city’s decision to bring her position in-house, the job posting’s broad focus has her worried.
“I would say that the social sector will need to be pretty vigilant to ensure that the original intent – which was ‘to facilitate proactive planning and action for positive social change’ is carried through and not lost to economic development goals,” she said. “Especially now, when we need a particularly strong focus on social development in order to meet our new community vision and remain a vibrant, healthy community.”
Zacharias’ position as social development coordinator was created alongside the social development committee in 2008. She said it was the result of a push from the social sector, long-time advocating by city councillor Nellie Richardson and the renewal of the community development action plan.
Concerns from the 2004 report on the potential socio-economic impacts of the resort expansion, as well as Zacharias’ 2005 housing study also loomed.
“There was strong recognition that new pressures would arise as a result of the ski hill development,” Zacharias said.
During her years as coordinator she brought in over $900,000 in grant money to support programs in the city, including the CYMHSU and the volunteer-coordinator position at the senior’s centre.
“I may have planted the seed and done the initial work, in partnership with others, but then the ripple effect with all kinds of other amazing people in our community has been great,” she said.
All along her job has been to support ongoing efforts to address social issues as well as identify gaps in the system.
One of her early achievements was helping the city get an age friendly designation from the province.
“With the resort, one of first was we wanted to insure we were inclusive with our senior population, that seniors weren’t feeling left behind,” she said.
So they added a bus stop at the senior’s centre, created exercise classes for seniors and established the volunteer medical transportation program.
Zacharias also worked to connect youth with opportunities, alongside Mary Kline, program coordinator at Okanagan College Revelstoke.
Together they brought youth service providers and the youth. The college was able to hire youth to create the first Youth Action Plan.
Since then the Youth Advisory Committee was created to oversee the youth liaison, Leslie Hogg as well as the Youth Access Fund, which can be accessed by young people to pay fees for activities.
Big picture, this was an upstream approach to preventing substance use, Zacharias said, supporting youth to help them achieve their potential and act on their interests by decreasing barriers is important in prevention.
Zacharias also wrote the grant application for the funding of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use collaborative, c0-chairing the committee for five years.
Zacharias said she and her committee did a good job of addressing the stigmas around mental health and poverty, through the annual living wage calculation and the Collective Impact movement.
“There is deep poverty, yes, but there is also working poverty,” she said.
Zacharias was also a co-creator of revelstokelife.ca, an online resource listing all health and social services available in Revelstoke and a replacement for paper guides she had done in the past with similar information.
Much of her job was community engagement and strategic planning, Zacharias said, though she was lucky to also be part of implementing the recommendations.
Zacharias said the biggest gap she continues to see in the city, is housing, something her committee asked her not to work on all those years ago, thinking it would suck up too much of her time.
Housing was flagged as a potential problem in a 2004 report to the city. Zacharias said she believes staff housing should have been a requirement from the resort’s beginning and that city lacks a consistent regulatory environment that makes it easy for the private sector to contribute to the affordable housing market.
But she doesn’t blame city staff, saying she would like to see a new position created to attempt to deal with the problem.
Zacharias started a new position with the Tamarak Institute at the beginning of November.
Her new job is the BC Manager of Growth and Impact: Cities Reducing Poverty. She will be connecting with other communities as they work to reduce poverty, developing and implementing a government and stakeholder engagement strategy, network and connect people with the resources they need and recruit new members to the institute.
The Tamarak Institute develops and supports collaborative strategies that engage citizens and institutions to solve major community issues across Canada and beyond.
Zacharias said one of their goals is to help end poverty in Canada. Forever.
Revelstoke has been a member of the Tamarak Institute since 2014, with Zacharias as the main contact for the program. Through this role as well as volunteering as the chair of Tamarak’s BC Community Practice for Poverty Reduction committee, Zacharias was familiar with the operations of the institute before applying for the job.
In fact, she didn’t apply for the job at all, saying the original posting asked for a full time employee and she doesn’t want to work full time (she has aging parents and wants to spend time skiing).
So she sent in an expression of interest instead, saying she wanted to work with the institute and explaining her needs.
They changed the job to fit her requests.
She said she has never felt so valued.
And so her fight to end poverty continues.