Staff Spotlight: Gavin O’Toole, Residential Resources Manager

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Gavin’s career spans 33-years working with families and youth from across Canada—now he’s ready for his next challenge as the VACFSS Residential Resources Manager.

Tell us about you background.

I grew up on a farm in the Ottawa Valley, meaning a lot of farm work and rural country living when I was younger. My heritage is Irish and English. I also come from a long family line of ‘helpers’: My mother was a career nurse, my father worked for the solicitor general, and there’s a lot of social workers and police officers in my family.

When I was 19, I had the opportunity to work in Northern
Ontario in a centre for youth convicted of criminal offenses. This is where I
cut my teeth working with youth living at risk, and set the course for me
career. It was challenging but also an amazing experience—I loved the
opportunity to work with Ojibwe youth who were in the program.

I eventually moved out West and worked with Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth who were court-mandated to do a residential attendance program in the Kootenays. I did wilderness survival with teenagers in the Rocky Mountains, teaching them how to build shelters and campfires and how to do snow camping. In the evenings we would do life skills workshops. We climbed Mount Fisher—a 9000 ft climb—a few times, it’s pretty grueling. This was back in 1988. I did it again 2 years ago, nearly 30 years later, and it nearly killed me!

How did you come to work at VACFSS?

I eventually transitioned to Vancouver and worked in various group homes for children and youth. That’s where I met my wife—she was a coordinator of programs at one of the group homes down the road. I would go over to borrow the lawnmower and we hit it off and got married in 1993. We’ve been married for 27 years now.

I continued working with young people at high risk in the court system at an organization that ran the Vancouver intensive supervision program for youth. In 1994, I was promoted to the Program Director there and did a lot of liaison-based work in and out of the courts and detention centres to get youth who were languishing in the court system without representation out of jail and into the community under supervision.

In 2019, Gavin (top left) received his 10-year service award from Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society.

It was a development model that looked to build on young people’s education and support a positive community experience by building peer and family relationships, in action, where they would need it—in the community, rather than in a remote centre somewhere. It encouraged them to develop coping skills within the context that they would need them. It was an incredible experience and I did that for about 14 years. I also completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology and some Masters level coursework during that time.

In 2006, I left to begin delegated Social Work at Fraser Valley Child and Family Services Society as a Resource Social Worker, and two years later joined Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services, first as a Guardianship Social Worker later as a Guardianship Clinical Supervisor. Last year I received my 10-year service award from the agency.

What are you excited
about in your new role?

As you can tell, I’ve been drawn to working with young for my entire career and this is an amazing way for me to continue doing that with the dedicated Residential Resources team here at VACFSS. This role is an opportunity for me to step up to the leadership call and model Siiyamints—the VACFSS leadership model of serving respectfully in a good way. It is an opportunity for me to grow and develop while staying and continuing to lend my skills to agency.

This role is an opportunity for me to step up to the leadership call and model Siiyamints—the VACFSS leadership model of serving respectfully in a good way.

I really respect and honour the vision of VACFSS, the commitment to growth and development, and the inclusive cultural milieu that we work within. I especially value the progressive research that drives the agency and I’m really thrilled to be able to move that forward in this position. I was involved as a Social Worker obviously, but this will be a different level to further encourage that visionary approach with my team and our staff.

What’s one of your favourite things about VACFSS?

I’m really honoured to be working here and working around so many people who are passionate and committed to their work and to walk alongside the Indigenous communities we serve. A highlight of working here is the pleasure of knowing so many creative, passionate people—both my colleagues and the Indigenous youth we work with.

A highlight of working here is the pleasure of knowing so many creative, passionate people—both my colleagues and the Indigenous youth we work with.

The level of commitment of the helpers is here is amazing. While the environment can be challenging based on the work, it’s also been very supportive. Creativity is a big thing too—I need creativity in my work and I’ve been able to find that here. The agency has allowed for staff to be involved in different ways and to come up with creative care plans and creative options to ultimately help us better serve the families and communities we work with. I admire that approach!