Burnaby Community Action Team

The far-reaching impact of a Lunch and Learn

Formed in:  2018
Number of members:  80
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Burnaby,  

Unique features:

Diverse group of community partners, rooted peer involvement and dedicated to filling the needs in the community.

A Q&A with Hedy Wolff, Carl Howard, Ana Maria Bustamante, and Karen O’Shannacery of the Burnaby CAT.

“Celebrate small steps because every little bit makes a huge difference,” – Karen O’Shannacery, Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Hedy Wolff, Co peer-coordinator, Community Peer Resources (CPR); Carl Howard, peer, CPR; Ana Maria Bustamante, CAT supervisor, Local Immigration Partnership Coordinator for the Burnaby International Planning Table; and Karen O’Shannacery, CAT member, representative of the Society to End Homelessness in Burnaby, to discuss the evolution, learnings, and proud moments experienced while working with the Burnaby CAT. Here’s what they had to say.

CAI: We understand that one of the initiatives that has been a success for your CAT is the Lunch and Learn program. Can you tell us about that?
Carl Howard: The concept for the Lunch and Learns program came about organically from conversations within working groups and was created for community outreach with the peers who have lived and living experiences of substance use. The goal is to engage with the community members to help to destigmatize around individuals who are using substances. Peers would be sharing their stories and experiences. Since COVID, we’ve started a Lunch and Learn video presentation initiative. The videos are a way for people to tell stories ranging from addiction, overdose, and community to what people’s different experiences have been. The Lunch and Learns are designed to address stigma and translate the knowledge peers have to people who don’t have the same experience or understanding.
Hedy Wolff:
    Speaking from my lived experience, these presentations are vital for people who are seeking information and knowledge. Peers have a unique opportunity in the planning stages to look at a proposal and say: “I would never use something like that.” We ask questions that maybe wouldn’t be asked and can bring peer insight to the CAT. I’m so proud to be a part of this collaborative process and this team.
CAI: What are some of the shifts you’ve seen in your community since you first began this work?
Karen O’Shannacery (KO): Burnaby is one of the most multicultural municipalities in Canada, and language and cultural barriers are significant for accessing the range of community services available. As a CAT team, we try to be diverse, inclusive, and collaborative. Because of this, we’ve been successful in influencing and partnering with community leaders. The city has moved significantly on addressing overdose-related issues. For example, there’s a new pilot project offering Naloxone sprays in the city libraries and community centers.
Ana Maria Bustamante (AMB):
    Members from the CAT did a presentation for the Healthier Communities Partnership Initiative Committee, which includes members of local government and community agencies. Our CAT was very well received, and the committee will now leverage our Lunch and Learn videos to translate for communities throughout Burnaby as a way to share knowledge and reduce stigma.
CAI: How prevalent is stigma associated with drug use in your community?
AMB: We have a lot of work to do around stigma. For some cultures, it is considered shameful to have an addiction and that deters people from coming forward for help. Uplifting peer voices is so important because it shows our community that it could be anyone – it could be you or any member of your family. It’s important to recognize that big community changes take time and are best accomplished through shifts in behavior. Most important for Burnaby, given our diverse population and the high percentage of newcomers, is understanding the opioid crisis within the context of different cultures. Translation of information, posters and resources is a big piece of this. We all have a role to play to save lives.
CAI: Do you have any advice for other people engaged in this work?
KO: First, always take moments with your team to recognize success and how far you’ve come. Without this reflection, we lose our energy and initiative. It’s important to recognize that it takes a long time to understand culture, to lower barriers and address stigma. Second, celebrate small steps because every little bit makes a huge difference.


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