During these very difficult times, CHOA wanted to highlight their partnership with the Distress Centre Calgary and do a profile on executive director Jerilyn Dressler.
Jerilyn got into social work after she moved away from friends and family in Saskatchewan and came to Calgary.
“I had anxiety – high anxiety. I reached out to someone for support and was connected with an amazing counsellor,” she added that that experience made her think about social work as a career. “I thought it would be interesting to work with people who had mental health or addictions issues.”
So, she decided to volunteer at the Distress Centre.
“I had taken a couple years of psychology – toward my undergrad major and then I dipped my toe in by volunteering for the distress line. That’s what got me involved in the helping profession as a career.”
Jerilyn finished her bachelor’s degree in Saskatchewan and then she came back to Calgary as a staff member with the Distress Centre in 2007, managing the crisis line volunteers.
“With every community crisis we grow a little bit more because our services are viewed as so critical,” said Jerilyn. “We use highly trained, supervised volunteers for our service. We have 250 volunteers, and 110 staff. At the heart of what we do is deal with crisis – 24 hours a day.”
But what really interested Jerilyn was the leadership side of the role. She says that many people who come into social work don’t have specialized training for leadership or management and it was that gap that led her to pursue her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Calgary. For Jerilyn it was an extremely busy time – in addition to her degree, she was working at the Distress Centre full time, and took a maternity leave in the middle of her program to have her first child.
“My husband and I like to joke that we thrive in crisis. I have a tendency to create situations where it is busy and a little bit crazy and that works for me for the most part.”
However, what is going on right now with COVID-19 and the erosion of oil prices, causes her some very real concern.
“We have a very prolonged crisis situation right now. Even though some at the Distress Centre may thrive in crisis, we have to make sure we take time to slow down. We have a group of highly dedicated, very passionate people and this is a situation that is ripe for burn out. We are trying to remind everyone to slow it down a little bit.”
Jerilyn’s passion for her work, led her to become the Centre’s executive director in 2017. Today, her work focuses on bringing together people and building consensus as she seeks to manage both the fundraising and operational sides of the role.
“CHOA chose us as their charity of choice this year – their challenges are our challenges. Heavy oil is struggling and when there are major layoffs, we are here to support those people. But at this time, we are also struggling to keep up with demand,” said Jerilyn. “We are in this together. The Distress Centre is here for the community and CHOA and its members are supporting our agency. That is awe inspiring to me – having everyone so generously give.”
In these very trying times, Jerilyn is truly thankful that she has this strong partnership.
“It is great that CHOA recognizes the critical work that the Distress center does. That mutual support that we are able to offer one another during this challenging time is amazing.”
If you or someone you know needs help, the Distress Centre Calgary distress line is available 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. Call 403-266-4357 or visit distresscentre.com.