Interview Date: May, 2008
Nancy: Tell us a little about your passion for the work.
Irene: I think for me what FaithLink did, allowed me to do, was to put my professional skills and my faith together. I have always felt and seen my professional work as my ministry in the context of helping other people. But I have always been schizophrenic—so professional work was work and faith was faith. And I did not talk about one in the other context. FaithLink allowed me to bring those two together and to be open about it and use knowledge and skills that I had in one and vice versa. So it was a coming together for me.
Bob: Historically it goes through a process of discovery, first with the development of HomeFront and my role in that so it was experiencing the people who were involved in that work of DV. And the people in the court system who cared about this. Those I have encountered in the various stages of my life some of whom I did not originally identify as having DV issues and found later were caught in that and had to respond to that. At another level, in terms of theology, I’ve always had a passion for unity…So that means that collaboration came as a way out of this…I would say that the passion comes from within me, part from a source that is beyond me, but also inside me and that source I call God and the burning heart of God. The other place is through contemplation…
Nancy: The work can be hard, it can be discouraging and often people talk about ways that they renew their energies. What would that look like for you?
Irene: Social work is a draining profession and you have to learn to turn it off… In terms of FaithLink it was not difficult. It was not difficult to keep up the energy process. It was creative, a good concept. I was working with great people. And it so fit my skill set because Bob would come up with a vision and I would say, “OK, what do I do with it?” I am not the visionary, I am the doer…And we had success far beyond what we thought we would have.
Bob: From the point of view of people working in the field, I think that variety of work is important as opposed to finding yourself on some social worker’s assembly line. You get to be part of the whole as opposed to being at other people’s direction. So that variety. There are some things that you may find harder but there are those things that are wonderful. And they fit each other.
Nancy: Were there any unintended consequences of the work?
Irene: I have been working with the Cambodian community. And this little group have begun to talk about their experiences during Pol Pots regime and how that has affected them personally and their community and it is terrible and the whole community is impacted by trauma and it has its impact on family violence.
Bob: You can always say that everything is unintended when you get into collaborative work like this. The larger concept and network of relationships even though you have a plan, the reality is that the work evolves in ways that you cannot control and did not conceive and it turns out to be much better because you have good people come together to do it.
Nancy: To what degree do you think that lessons learned in Calgary can be instructive for other jurisdictions?
Irene: I don’t think that another community can replicate FaithLink. I think that they can take the idea, but it has to be grassroots, grow out of resources, and the people that they have. I think that we have learned some lessons and I think it is worthwhile to share those lessons, but they may not be the lessons that another community learned. [There will be a link in the future to a forthcoming chapter of Irene’s about the lessons learned.]
Bob: We are asked to franchise FaithLink because other people in other locations want to do that. But we decided that we would not do that because we are a vision that people can use based on the needs of a particular community, so we have resisted any sense of empire building.
Nancy: Thanks so much for sharing part of your afternoon with me.