Penticton Community Action Team

Creating a vibrant community for everyone

Formed in:  2019
Number of members:  15
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Penticton,  

Unique features:

Consistent representation of local government at the table

Interview with Jen Casorso of the Penticton CAT.

“Everyone is motivated to achieve the same goal. We all want to prevent overdose deaths. We want to save lives, to create a vibrant community for everyone, and that means there needs to be a variety of services to meet people where they are.” – Jen Casorso, CAT Coordinator.

Members of the Community Action Initiative sat down with Jen Casorso, CAT Coordinator to discuss the to discuss the evolution, learnings, and proud moments experienced while being a member of the Penticton CAT.

CAI: How are people with lived or living experience with substance use (PWLLE) involved in the CAT?
Jen Casorso (JC): Penticton non-profit organizations were serving folks who had lived or living experience with substance use, and who needed access to services. But there weren’t any formalized peer networks or opportunities for peers to get more involved. The Penticton CAT asked: “How can we help form some of those networks or opportunities?” We really liked the peer employment program that Kelowna developed – PEOPLE (Paid Employment Opportunities for People with Lived Experiences) – and didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. The establishment of the Penticton chapter of PEOPLE, an employment and life skills empowerment program, was started in early 2020.
    The second initiative was supporting the creation of a peer network called the Lived Experience Circle (LEC), which formed in 2020 through the support of OneSky Community Services (OSCS) with CAT funding. OSCS, through their Harm Reduction Outreach Coordinator, has been facilitating the LEC meetings, and building member capacity to identify key issues in the community and how they would like to see systems and services in the community change to better meet their needs. We discussed what the CAT was hoping to achieve, and OSCS took it and made it come to life. The first year has been about building capacity and the creating of the LEC has been instrumental in creating a safe space in the community for PWLLE to convene and share experiences. Participation in the LEC has built leadership and functional capacity among the peers to effectively organize and advance their collective priorities. Currently the LEC is comprised of six peers with the support of the Harm Reduction Coordinator at OneSky.
    There are also several projects that the CAT would like to tackle that will be best achieved in partnership with them. What made the most sense here was to work with some of the existing Peer Coordinators and Harm Reduction Coordinator-type supports, because they had trusted relationships and access to people.
CAI: How does your CAT work with or engage with Indigenous communities?
JC: The Friendship Centre, Okanagan Nation Alliance, and Penticton Indian Band are members of the CAT. We also have a member from the Aboriginal Wellness Team at Interior Health participating in CAT meetings. They attend meetings when they are able to and share their experiences and represent their health departments and the services they provide. It’s been incredibly helpful to have their perspective. We’re looking at how we can strengthen the knowledge and understanding of the broader community.
CAI: What is a success your CAT has been able to achieve or celebrate?
JC: I think getting the Lived Experience Circle off the ground is a great success. Another would be the launch of PEOPLE and providing peer employment opportunities in the community and getting a cohort of people with lived and living experience to obtain meaningful employment.
CAI: What is one lesson your CAT has learned over the years?
JC: In the formative stages of the CAT, we were having some conversations around the need for an overdose response strategy. What was interesting about that conversation was that service providers were very much of the thought: “We need to save lives. Our funds need to go toward action in the community – we don’t need a strategy.” Whereas other partners – local government, RCMP, and the health authority, to some degree – were saying: “A strategy would give us a guide and help us come together in a way that is consistent.” I think one of the big lessons that came out of this dialogue was that everyone is motivated to achieve the same goal. We all want to prevent overdose deaths. We want to save lives, to create a vibrant community for everyone, and that means there needs to be a variety of services to meet people where they are.


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