Talia Storm is a passionate advocate committed to improving lives through her work in the non- profit sector. After earning a degree in International Development from York University, Talia relocated to Montreal to create tools and curriculum to further the prevention of HIV.
In 2013, Talia accepted a front-line position in Niagara providing active opioid users and their networks training in overdose prevention. Talia is currently the Manager of StreetWorks Services at Positive Living Niagara and oversees the Consumption and Treatment Services site as well as other supports for active substance users. She credits her roots in volunteering for helping shape her career path and currently practices self-care as a volunteer leader for the oldest Girl Guide unit in North America.
In your view, what’s the most important attribute of a leader?
A leader is someone who can navigate between sectors and effectively communicate at all levels. One must believe in their work, even when faced with adversity and be someone who can empower and inspire others to be their best selves. Paramount is the recognition that a leader is still part of a team, and that all teammates can learn from one another. An openness to consider new perspectives and to try new methods is crucial not only for personal development, but also to strengthen programming, partnerships, and placement in the community. Being able to question policy, legislation, and decisions ensures that there is continual progress.
I believe that leadership happens not only in the office but outside of the 9-5 as well. As a nature lover, I am a Girl Guide leader for the oldest Guide unit in North America. While it’s much more work than the two hours per week we provide programming to the girls, it gives me a beautiful opportunity to teach youth about different issues and help spark ideas within them. With a strong emphasis on community, diversity, the environment, women’s rights, and giving- back, it is my hope that the girls who come through our unit become tomorrow’s involved, caring, and compassionate leaders.
How do you define civic leadership?
Civic leadership is the ability to bridge communities across the socio-economic spectrum including the general public, program participants, and all levels of government. It is about inspiring communities to evolve and to support one another without judgment. Civic leadership is community-facing, seeks to be inclusive, and must ensure the meaningful involvement of people with lived experience. The ability to question policies, legislation, and decisions is paramount for moving forward.
Why are you personally motivated to explore civic leadership?
Working in the midst of a highly publicized and politicized crisis, I am learning to appreciate how complex all systems are. Navigating the demands between funders, changing governments, and community stakeholders is a delicate balance. I believe that I have an amazing opportunity to influence great change for an incredibly marginalized population if I had a better understanding of system navigation.
I have been an active volunteer in various capacities throughout my adolescence, schooling, and adult life, and being involved in a leadership role at a non-profit was a long-standing career goal. My early volunteer experiences expanded my outlook on social issues, built compassion, and gave me valuable experience. As a young woman in a middle-management role, I am eager to explore civic leadership because my career is just beginning. In a short period of time and surrounded by incredible teams, I have been a part of many innovative developments in programming and will take any opportunity to continue to grow. I want to continue to build on my own skills not only to improve myself but to positively impact the community.
What, in your view, is the most significant issue/opportunity facing our community? Why?
At the moment, the majority of the drug supply in Niagara has been poisoned with fentanyl. People who are using substances no longer know what they are buying and consuming. Fentanyl testing strips can be obtained through some programs provincially, but they too have their downfalls. The strips only test for a portion of the many fentanyl analogs, and because substances aren’t evenly cut or mixed, they may not be able to detect “hot spots” in a batch. Fentanyl aside, substances can also be bulked up with many other dangerous things. For years, levamisole, a deworming agent for cattle, has been causing necrotizing fasciitis (commonly referred to as flesh-eating disease) in some cocaine users.
As prescribing guidelines change, a well-intended set of policies is having a disastrous effect on the substance using the community. For new prescriptions, it makes sense to adjust prescribing practices as a preventative measure. However, for long-term opioid users, just because a substance is being taken away; it doesn’t mean the dependence is addressed. Years ago, when manufacturers changed the formulation of OxyContins to make them harder to inject, people turned to a street supply of heroin. This is happening yet again as doctors cut people off of their opioid prescriptions.
While there may be risk of diversion, and people were not necessarily using the substance as prescribed, they knew that the product entering their body was pharmaceutical grade, and it gave them the opportunity to pace themselves accordingly to prevent overdose. This means that people are able to stay alive longer and allows another chance for recovery.