Rod Santiago Receives Social Justice Award

By Rick FitzZaland. OK, they aren’t the Oscars, or the NHL all-stars.
But the recipients of this year’s The Federation of Community Social Services of BC Award for Excellence do more to make this a better place to live than any movie star.

You don’t get rich helping homeless people take the first step off the streets, or linking aboriginal youth with their culture. You don’t end up on the front page for a campaign to give aboriginal children better futures.
But we are all better off because amazing people are doing great things to make this a fairer society, where everyone has a chance to make the most of their energy, enthusiasm and skills.

At The Federation, we want to recognize these champions. And we want to inspire others to join the effort.

The Federation, which represents 130 B.C. community social service agencies and umbrella organizations, gives these awards each year. The hard part is choosing from the tremendous examples of leadership in working for social justice.

Leaders like Rod Santiago, Executive Director of Abbotsford Community Services.

Rod Santiago

Rod Santiago

Santiago was honoured for his inspirational leadership of an organization that’s making a big difference in its community, with a team of more than 370 and 80 programs that help everyone from moms with newborns to seniors to youth escaping addiction. Almost 40,000 people per year come to Abbotsford Community Services looking for help.

Santiago has also been a social-justice champion in making the case for a 20-bed housing project in Abbotsford to provide the first step from the streets for a challenging population. The project has been controversial, and in fact failed to win needed rezoning. But the public debate did much to raise awareness about a critical issue.

Leaders like Sabrina Williams of Surrounded by Cedar Child and Family Services in Victoria. Williams, as cultural programs co-ordinator, has built a tremendous group of programs to link aboriginal children and youth in care – many in urban areas – with their culture. A 10-day summer camp teaches youth to live off the land, participate in ceremony and support each other. A leadership program includes weekly meetings and monthly dinners with elders, and other gatherings bring together children and youth and their birth and foster families.

Williams, from Somena Village in Cowichan Territory, has spent 20 years working in aboriginal child and youth programs and is changing lives every day.
And leaders like Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

Blackstock, a member of the Gitksan Nation, has taken a broad and effective approach to eliminating the factors that create disadvantage for aboriginal children and families.

She’s the author of more than 50 publications and has led advocacy campaigns that have brought important, fundamental change. The campaign to have governments adopt Jordan’s Principle, for example, ensured that no aboriginal child would be denied services while governments debated who should pay.
Her activism has had personal consequences. The federal privacy commissioner found the government launched excessive surveillance after Blackstock spearheaded a human rights’ complaint alleging government spent less on services for aboriginal children then it did for the non-native population. But it has also brought needed change.

At The Federation of Community Social Services of BC, we’re proud to be able to recognize these three champions of social justice. And we’re proud that two of the three winners are working with agencies that are members of our Federation.

Canadians want a fair, compassionate society, one where all citizens – children, seniors, people facing temporary or lasting challenges – get support when they need it and a chance to make the most of their lives.
It’s time to recognize and cheer on the people who are making that happen – and to support them every step of the way.

Rick FitzZaland is Executive Director of The Federation of Community Social Services of B.C., which represents more than 130 B.C. social-service agencies and umbrella organizations providing a wide range of community-based support services.

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