Samantha is the Executive Director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara Region (LDANR), a non-profit organization that provides programs for children and youth with learning disabilities in Niagara.
Samantha began her work in the non-profit sector 8 years ago as a volunteer for the LDANR, where learning disabilities soon became her passion and influenced her career path.
After graduating from Brock University’s Concurrent Education program with both a Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Science, Samantha decided to pursue a post-graduate degree specializing in learning disabilities. Samantha received her Master of Arts degree in Child and Youth Studies, also from Brock University, where she studied goal-setting and self-regulation in children with learning disabilities.
Over the past 8 years, Samantha has since held various roles within the Learning Disabilities Association including program facilitator, research assistant, and program coordinator, leading her to her current role as Executive Director.
I define community leadership as an ongoing commitment to strengthening and improving the lives of those within one’s community. To me, a community leader is someone who seeks out opportunities to understand and learn about pressing issues within their
community,and has a desire to tackle these issues while inspiring and motivating others to do the same.
My motivation to explore community leadership stems from my work within the non-profit sector. As a manager of a small local non-profit organization, I have witnessed first-hand the positive change that occurs when community leaders join together with the shared purpose of bettering the lives of those within their community.
Not only did I see the Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara Region benefit from the support of many Leadership Niagara teams over the years, but we continue to benefit from the work of individuals who embody community leadership, specifically our dedicated group of volunteer board of directors who are passionate about our mission and about making a difference in their community, and have inspired me to want to give back to the Niagara community as well.
In my opinion, the most significant issue facing our community is the mental health and addictions crisis. The Living in Niagara Report (2017) indicates that this issue emerges as a critical factor across all 12 Living in Niagara Sectors. Mental health and addictions
isnot only linked to health but also to poverty, employment, housing, education, etc. Although this issue has recently moved to the forefront in, not only the Niagara community,but also the national context, it remains a pressing issue. There are many issues facing our community; from the obvious to the not so obvious. Howeverwhen considering the most significant issue, I find myself continuously coming back to a lack of awareness.
Last year I was asked to do some volunteer work with the Kristen French Child Advocacy Center. I had no idea it existed, I had no idea what they did, and I was utterly shocked when educated on the number of children and families they support and the number of cases they handle. I was unaware.
The sad reality is that social issues are difficult to talk about. These issues are often political platforms, but only those in need of a service or those looking to contribute, are remotely aware. Poverty, Domestic Abuse, Special Needs, Rape,
arerarely the topic of conversation at a dinner party…. but maybe they should be. It’s easier to be unaware. As soon as you’re aware, you are compelled to help.
Our community needs ambassadors who are not afraid to speak up. We need ambassadors who will bring awareness to the many issues and opportunities we face.
While implementing reactive measures such as affordable housing, food banks, naloxone kits etc. have proven to be extremely effective, I believe that proactive measures are just as important. Focusing on early and ongoing support and identification of those at-risk could help to lead these individuals on a more positive life trajectory. While education has a large part to
play,and the shift to providemental health counselorsin schools is a step in the right direction, this exists as a community-wide issue. Strong partnerships and collaboration between service providers are needed to ensure that supports are available from infancy throughout adulthood.
In my opinion, the most important attribute of a leader is compassion. I believe compassion drives individuals to do meaningful work and to inspire positive change within themselves, their team and their community.
Practising compassion demonstrates to your team that you genuinely care about them as individuals, and helps to create a culture of understanding whereby each member feels that their opinions and viewpoints are welcomed and valued. Compassion also helps to establish mutual trust and respect between yourself and your team and has been linked with higher levels of motivation, positivity, and a healthy work environment.
Personally, I hope to further develop confidence with my verbal communication skills. As networking becomes increasingly more essential in the non-profit world, effective verbal communication is the key to establishing and maintaining strong partnerships.
Furthermore, I would like to focus on my decision-making skills. Having recently moved from an interim to a permanent role, I now have more freedom to make decisions and therefore would like to work on expanding this skill.