Barb Spencer. Paula E. Kirman
Barb Spencer is enthusiastic about her big job as CEO of e4c (Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation). The goal of this 48-year-old non-profit organization is to prevent and eventually eliminate poverty.
To this end, e4c delivers many programs for Edmonton’s most vulnerable and marginalized people. The programs include housing first, early (pre-school) learning, a school nutrition program, a women’s shelter, temporary housing for youth, and much more – all focused on the complex issue of poverty.
It can’t be easy to continually hear about and think about poverty and to address the needs of clients who are (sometimes unsuccessfully) seeking access to such basic things as food and housing, employment, education, and/or workplace skills.
But for Barb this is the right place to be, and this task is her right livelihood. Her first day at e4c was almost five years ago, in September of 2013. At the end of that day, she called her mother and said, “Pinch me.”
Barb sees the work of e4c in positive, strength-based terms. She fully agrees that the organization is changing lives and growing communities, as stated on the website, e4calberta.org. “I immediately felt at home in so many ways,” she says, “and I still experience pinch-me days.”
Barb doesn’t talk about “assisting” youth, men, women, and children who are struggling. Instead, she says, “You discover opportunities to be with someone, to walk alongside them.” She tries not to run a one-size-fits-all operation or to second-guess what people in crisis actually need. Her message on the e4c website describes “… taking the time to listen to and learn from the people we serve and respecting their personal stories.”
A major role for this CEO is leading and directing 325 to 350 employees (250 full-time staff and approximately 100 relief and part-time workers) who touch the lives of close to 14,500 Edmontonians each year. The employees include child and family support workers, teachers, and social workers. There are also administrators, and policy experts, and strategists. This last group, in the words used on the website, “… navigate the orders of government and the non-profit world.”
e4c also depends on the support of a legion of volunteers. “We couldn’t do this work without them,” Barb says.
This writer would like to think that having an office in the historic repurposed and renovated Alex Taylor School helps to make the CEO’s days more pleasant. (See the article about this building in the March 2018 issue of Boyle McCauley News, at bmcnews.org.) A number of e4c’s staff also work out of the Alex Taylor location.
It’s a given that Barb’s days are filled with “lots of conversations and meetings.” Her job is to collaborate with community groups and agencies, steward the financial resources of the organization, and promote the strategic work of e4c through speaking engagements and contact with the media. In other words, she is not directly working with the people who are benefiting from the programs. Nonetheless, she is always fully aware of them and connects them personally when possible. “Every person has a story,” she says. “No two people are alike.”
Barb’s work life before e4c prepared her for the role, both in terms of social justice awareness and financial and staff management. Her employers have included the Zebra Child Protection Centre, Alberta Tourism and Small Business, and TELUS.
Barb has received the Premier’s Award of Excellence for quality programming, leadership and innovation, the YWCA Women of Distinction Award and the Alberta Centennial Medal.
Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.