It’s a week before Vickie Roraph’s retirement party and the long-time facilitator of Community Futures North Okanagan Bridges program hasn’t even started packing.
The walls of her corner office on the second floor of CFNO’s downtown Vernon building are covered in inspirational quotes, paintings, and pictures of butterflies. The shelves are filled with books, such as Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear… and Do it Anyway, among female figurines and other knickknacks.
Roraph reaches up to the shelf and grabs a photo of a group of women wearing a funny disguise of “Groucho glasses,” with the big nose and moustache.
“It’s an inside joke that all who have participated in the Bridges program will get. It’s about not taking things so seriously,” she says.
Roraph started meeting with clients and facilitating workshops at Community Futures and Okanagan College as an employment counsellor and life skills coach more than 20 years ago. Before that she had worked as a personnel manager at a large retail firm and a purchasing and payroll clerk. She also operated her own business and even spent long shifts packing bread and pastries in a bakery.
In 2003, she was asked by Jane Lister, who was then executive director of CFNO, to apply as a Bridges facilitator.
Bridges started as a pilot project in the 1980s called Choices and was later picked up by the BC government and called Bridges as a way to help women, some of whom had come from abuse and mental health situations, overcome barriers by learning life skills to get them back on the road to employment.
Working alongside fellow CFNO Bridges facilitator Penny Monkman, whom she calls the other half of a successful marriage, Roraph has, for years, facilitated a series of eight-week long workshops, covering a wide variety of employment-related subjects that include the First Nations medicine wheel (for stress management), including health, mental, spiritual, emotional and physical wellness.
“They all have a connection. In some cases, our clients have felt like someone has been holding onto the back of a bicycle and they have been trying to pedal but can’t get anywhere. Bridges has been a way to help them push through the fear, and to do that you need support. That could include giving someone the tools to complete projects from beginning to end, or simply showing them how to budget and manage their money better.
Roraph says her goal has always been to make women feel comfortable and safe in an environment that values confidentiality and mutual respect.
“Absolutely everyone who comes into our life has something to teach us and I don’t think any of the women who have come to our program hasn’t made some kind of shift.” — Vickie Roraph
“Absolutely everyone who comes into our life has something to teach us and I don’t think any of the women who have come to our program hasn’t made some kind of shift,” says Roraph, pointing to one of the butterflies on her wall.
“I use the analogy of the butterfly… When they come in, they are like a cocoon. If you try to pull the cocoon off before they are ready, they won’t be able to fly and be that beautiful butterfly.
“We let the women know that we are no different from them. Everything is on an even playing field. If you think someone is better than you, or if you are feel lesser than, then it feeds the fear. We want everyone to know that we have different gifts to offer. We can learn from everyone.”
Not only has Roraph learned from her years at Bridges, she is grateful for the support she has received from everyone at CFNO and in the community.
“The Vernon community is so supportive. We don’t have a problem referring a client to CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) or the Family Resource Centre or to counselling,” she said.
While Roraph retires on the same day as those in the current Bridges program graduate, she says she is not averse to returning for the odd consultation. In the meantime, she is looking forward to summer and spending time with her three grandchildren and husband, whom she has been married to for the past 52 years.
But first she has to get packing.
“Everything in this room feeds me and reminds me there was a success. And it has helped me move ahead in my own life. That’s a gift.”
To find out more information on the next intake of the Bridges program, contact Community Futures North Okanagan at 250-545-2215 ext. 230
Bridges is part of the Employment Program of British Columbia and is funded by the Government of Canada and the Province of BC.