Surrey Community Action Team

Busting paradigms and building compassion.

Formed in:  2018
Number of members:  35
Communities served:  

Name of Town: Surrey,  

Unique features:

Focus is on engagement with South Asian communities through culturally specific resources

A Q&A with Courtney Kelly, Garry Sandhu, Erin Gibson, and Mark Griffioen of the Surrey CAT (Overdose Response Community Action Team), with contributions from Vicky Waldron, Lawrence Yang, and Shannon Formo.

“The discussions are always full of passion and compassion. This is a group that, at the core, actualizes the ethos of love for community,” – Dr. Lawrence Yang, family physician

Members of the Community Action Initiative team sat down with Sukh Shergill, Surrey CAT Coordinator; Garry Sandhu, Peer Coordinator; Erin Gibson, Manager, Clinical Operations, Harm Reduction and Overdose Response, Fraser Health; Courtney Kelly, Harm Reduction Coordinator, Raincity Housing; and Mark Griffioen, Deputy Fire Chief, Community Risk Reduction, Surrey Fire Services to discuss the learnings, and proud moments experienced while working with the Surrey CAT. We also heard from Vicky Waldron, Executive Director, Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan; Lawrence Yang, Family Physician, Surrey North Delta Division of Family Practice; and Shannon Formo, Fraser Region Aboriginal Friendship Centre Association. Here’s what they had to say.

CAI: Approximately how many people make-up your CAT and who are the members?
Sukh Shergill: There are typically around 25 people who attend our monthly CAT meetings. These include people with lived and living experience of substance use (PWLLE) as well as a cross-section of community stakeholders including First Nations, RCMP, City of Surrey employees, BC Emergency Health Services and Fraser Health, the Fire Department, Surrey North Delta Division of Family Practice, and Social Service Agencies, among others.
CAI: Looking back, what are you – as a CAT – most proud of?
Garry Sandhu: In the beginning, we were doing outreach in the parks, but we have made real progress by providing resources and support in one of the seven temples here in Surrey. People in South Asian culture come to the temples for information, to pray, and search for the answers in life. We have seen a huge shift and positive response in temples and gurdwaras. This year we will continue to focus on the temples.
Erin Gibson:
    Bringing Naloxone in to one of the temples in Surrey was a huge success. Bringing these kits into a holy place of worship – where a lot of people cautioned us, reminding us about the need to be careful so that it was not one more thing that South Asian people were negatively singled out for – with such grace. It was amazing to be part of that.
CAI: And why are you as a member of this CAT proud to be a part of it on a personal level?
Mark Griffioen: In my 20 years with the fire department, I was taught that people who require frequent attention were a burden on the medical system. That was the extent of my compassion. Since my time with the CAT, my attitude has changed completely. I now have an opportunity to influence my staff and change the way treatment is provided in a profound way. But also change the attitude of leadership in the fire service. Ultimately, it is not me who is helpful. It is the people with lived and living experience of substance use – sharing their life stories. I can take that knowledge and make it meaningful in ways that are appropriate.
Courtney Kelly:
    When I first joined, I just showed up and listened. Over time, I got a feel for the group and I learned that when it came to my bias, I was putting that on the people sitting at the table, and that all these people were here with good intentions and were there to learn. Once I felt comfortable voicing my ideas and concerns, I appreciated that peers’ voices were listened to and considered.
CAI: What would you say makes the CAT unique?
Vicky Waldron: The CAT is unique in that it creates a space for community dialogue that otherwise may not be possible or may be exponentially more difficult. In creating that dialogue, there is a sharing of resources, an understanding of grassroots issues, and perhaps most importantly, for the community members of the CATs, there is a flattening of systemic barriers that would ordinarily exist in organizational hierarchies and jurisdictional boundaries.
Shannon Formo:
    The CAT team has taken a progressive approach by taking ideas and putting them into action. Members of the Surrey CAT have addressed some of the local barriers in Surrey by providing a true representation at the CAT table to ensure that all Surrey community partners and voices are heard. In creating and producing materials in different languages – such as Punjabi written materials and community outreach projects – we have connected with people in the community who would normally suffer in silence.
Lawrence Yang:
    This is one of the rare places where I can engage with persons with lived and living experience, as well as parents, first responders, and other community leaders all at the same time. The discussions are always full of passion and compassion. This is a group that, at the core, actualizes the ethos of love for community.

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