Meet Barb Spencer

e4c’s leader has found her right livelihood.

  • 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, “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 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.

More in this issue

Neighbourhood Views

  • Pets: A Part of Home – One part of “home” for me, is the pets we keep as part of our family. They provide love, affection, joy, and hope when we need it most. My two rescue dogs keep me walking when I don’t even feel like going outside, because they love to go for walks. Last month, I lost one of my rescued cats, Charlie, who I named after my grandfather. He was only about eight years old, but a month or so ago his breathing became laboured, and he began to lose weight. He never complained - he just wanted to sit on my lap and be stroked, so we did that. He died on Saturday night, April 7. My home feels so different without him. I took this photo of him in March, and to me he looks unwell even then. Poor little guy. I miss him. Joanne McNeal

  • Speaking Truth to Power – The annual Outdoor Way of the Cross took place on March 30 (Good Friday). Around 300 people took part in the walk, with numbers down a bit due to the cold weather - the coldest temperatures in the walk’s 39-year history. This year’s theme was “Speaking truth to power,” a Quaker saying used in the 50s and 60s in anti-war activities (and based on Jesus saying “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”). Stations looked at housing security, Truth and Rec- onciliation recommendations, police/courts/prisons, the environment, working people, and older people/isolation. For the first time, the Cross was carried past the new Royal Alberta Museum building. Michael Hoyt

  • Thanking the Plows – 110 Avenue in McCauley, between 92 Street and 95 Street, is very narrow because it was one of the first streets in Edmonton to have houses built along it. So, in the winter, the plows have nowhere to move the snow to but onto the sidewalk. When the snow began to melt this spring, it made huge puddles on the sidewalks, which turned to ice at night and made the road so narrow it was almost impassible. Joanne called the City and asked for their help to move the ice and snow. A few days later, two snowplows arrived and did an excellent job of cleaning up the spring mess. She wrote and thanked them for their work, and her photos are being included in a City employee newspaper, along with her thanks. It never hurts to say thank you when people do a great job! Joanne McNeal

  • Ukrainian Community Easter Celebration – On March 17 and 18, the exhibition of archive photos “History of UNF, UWO & UNYF in Pictures” took place at the Ukrainian National Federation Hall located at 10629 98 Street. The exhibition featured photographs from 1934 to 2012. Pictured above is the youth ensemble Dzherelo during a concert featuring young performers. Mykola Vorotylenko

  • Ukrainian Community Easter Celebration – On March 17 and 18, the exhibition of archive photos “History of UNF, UWO & UNYF in Pictures” took place at the Ukrainian National Federation hall located at 10629 98 Street. The Ukrainian National Federation (UNF) celebrated its 85th anniversary last year, and on March 23, 2018 the Ukrainian Women’s Organization (UWO) celebrated its 85th anniversary. The exhibition featured photographs from 1934 to 2012. Pictured above are participants in a watercolour workshop by artist Valeriy Semenko (front, kneeling). Mykola Vorotylenko

  • Fuel for Hunger Feeds Thousands – Moe Duval (front) and his crew of volunteers served chili lunches on the street by Bissell Centre and other inner city locations every Sunday during the winter months. The group, which is not affiliated with any agency, made the chili them- selves and served about 6500 bowls of chili between December and March (approximately 500 bowls each Sunday). For more information, search for “Fuel for Hunger” on Facebook. Jim Gurnett

Around the Neighbourhood

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