Program Details

OMSSA Exchange | May 11-14 | Online




9:00 to 9:10 a.m.

Welcome and Opening Remarks

9:10 to 10:10 a.m.

Stand Up For Mental Health Comedy Show: The Lighter Side of Mental Health

Comedians: David Granirer, Dr. Alexandra Chauran, Tara Clark, Clive Hanuschak, Stella Panagiotidis, April Soon, Joan Stone

OMSSA 2020 Awards Presentation

10:10 to 10:30 a.m.

Lifetime Achievement Award
Rick Farrell, York Region

Local Municipal Champion Awards

  BREAK    10:30 to 11:00 a.m.


11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

 A  Bridging the Digital Divide

 B  Play Therapy: Tools for Helping Children and Youth

 C  Medicine Wheel: Self-Care from an Indigenous Wholistic Perspective



9:00 to 9:35 a.m.

Reconciliation: Where Things Stand

  BREAK    9:35 to 9:45 a.m.


Confronting Anti-Black Racism

9:45 to 10:30 a.m.

Equity, Privilege and Difficult Dialogues: Creating Psychologically Safe Spaces

  BREAK    10:30 to 10:40 a.m.


10:40 to 11:25 a.m.

Race and Representation

  BREAK    11:25 to 11:35 a.m.


11:35 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. 

Equity and Inclusion Strategies across Sectors



9:00 to 9:15 a.m.

OMSSA 2020 Awards Presentation

Patti Moore Human Services Integration Award
Douglas Bartholomew-Saunders, Waterloo Region

Young Leader Award
Phillip Mock, CK Prosperity Roundtable

9:15 to 10:30 a.m. 

The Next Chapter in Social Assistance Recovery and Renewal: Co-designing a Renewed Social Assistance Operating Model

  BREAK    10:30 to 11:00 a.m.


11:00 to 12:15 p.m. 

 A  What is Life Stablization?

 B  Gathering Data on Housing Insecurity: Innovative Methods in a Post-pandemic World

 C  Children's Services Think Tank: Defining the Post-Pandemic Pivot

  FRIDAY, MAY 14  


9:00 to 10:15 a.m.

 A  How to Rock the Boat, Without Ending Up in the Water

 B  Habitat for Humanity: Innovative Affordable Housing Partnerships

  BREAK    10:15 to 10:30 a.m.


10:30 to 10:45 a.m. 

OMSSA 2020 Awards Presentation

Champion of Human Services Award
Dr. Gary Bloch, St. Michael's Hospital

10:45 to 12:15 p.m. 

Closing Plenary: Client Success Stories

Session Descriptions & Speakers 



  OPENING PLENARY    Stand Up for Mental Health Comedy Show: The Lighter Side of Mental Health!

What‘s so funny about mental health? As far as Stand Up For Mental Health (SMH) is concerned – everything! Founded by award-winning counsellor and stand-up comic David Granirer who himself suffers from bipolar, SMH teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental health issues as a way of building confidence and fighting stigma. Come laugh your head off as David and his comics explore the lighter side of mental health! 

Comedians: David Granirer, Dr. Alexandra Chauran, Tara Clark, Clive Hanuschak, Stella Panagiotidis, April Soon, Joan Stone

David Granirer, RPC, MPCC, M.S.M. is a counselor, stand-up comic, author, and founder of Stand Up For Mental Health (SMH), a program teaching stand-up comedy to people with mental health issues. David who himself has depression, is featured in the VOICE Award winning documentary Cracking Up. He also received a Life Unlimited Award from Depression Bipolar Support Alliance, an Award of Excellence from the National Council of Behavioral Health, a Champion of Mental Health Award, and a Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada, and was recognized as one of the 150 Canadian Difference Makers in mental health. A sought after keynote speaker, he also works with mental health organizations in Canada, the U.S., and Australia to train and perform with SMH groups in dozens of cities.


 A   Bridging the Digital Divide

The fact that certain demographics and regions do not have adequate access to technology, or the infrastructure and skills to benefit from technology, was a growing problem before COVID-19. However, when the pandemic hit, those on the wrong side of the digital divide faced an unprecedented level of exclusion, leading to a better understanding of the role that technology and digital literacy play in life stabilization, and in the achievement of more inclusive, equitable communities.  

The presenters in this session will discuss new initiatives, partnerships and pilot projects that facilitate access to technology or address the digital divide. Economic Development Researcher and PhD student Catherine Chambers will provide an overview of government initiatives to increase Internet access, both within Canada and internationally, and unpack how these initiatives are creating more opportunity for social assistance clients but also increasing their needs. Speakers from the Region of York will discuss a partnership that connects vulnerable seniors in social housing with the equipment and skills to join online activities that ease feelings of isolation; the pilot’s next phase will include a mentoring component where technologically-savvy seniors teach their less experienced peers. The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board will also discuss a program that equips clients, social housing tenants and unsheltered individuals with smart phones, and a ‘laptop loaner’ program that enables Ontario Works clients to continue with academic and employment training at home. Finally, the City of Toronto will share details of the evaluation results of eight successful pilot programs that tested virtual approaches to serving Ontario Works, Shelter, and Children’s Services clients while ensuring the broadest equity impact by providing spaces for individuals to access technology as well as supports for differing levels of literacy.


  • Catherine Chambers, Economic Development Researcher and PhD Student 

  • Christina Vettese, Community Development Coordinator, Regional Municipality of York

  • Ken Ranta, Director, Integrated Social Services, The District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board

  • George Okurapa, Manager, Community & Labour Market, City of Toronto, Toronto Employment & Social Services

  • John Erra, Project Lead, City of Toronto, Toronto Employment & Social Services

     B   Play Therapy: Tools for Helping Children and Youth

    Children express themselves, learn about their world, and feel most at ease when playing. This introductory to intermediate level workshop for social services professionals focuses on how to use play therapy strategies to help children and youth positively cope and work through stressful life experiences. Participants will become familiar with Play Therapy theory, clinical guiding principles, and various directive and non-directive creative interventions to use with a wide age range of children and youth.

    Facilitator: Kelly Smith, MSW, RSW 

    Kelly is a Registered Social Worker and holds a Master of Social Work degree. She has also completed six levels of training in Sandtray-Worldplay with Gisela Schubach De Domenico and three levels of training with the Canadian Association of Play Therapy. In addition to training with CTRI, Kelly has an eclectic private practice where she incorporates play therapy, sandtray therapy, DBT, emotion-focused therapy, dance, somatic work, and mindfulness into her work with children, teens, adults, couples, and families. She specializes in providing trauma-informed counselling for motor vehicle accident victims and their families. Kelly believes that everyone can access their own self-healing abilities and feels honoured when asked to be a part of the journey. As a trainer, she is both passionate and engaging. 

     C   Medicine Wheel: Self-Care from an Indigenous Wholistic Perspective

    It is imperative to ensure that we as spiritual beings in physical bodies, acknowledge all four parts of self, so that we may live healthy and balanced lives. In western society, we often find ourselves looking at how we think and how we behave. Through an Indigenous medicine wheel framework and teachings that go along with this framework, we will discover these four parts of self and how and why we need to keep ourselves in balance as a daily practice. Through this workshop you will discover useful tools to ensure your well-being is cared for while caring for others in the social services field.

    Facilitator: Trish Nadjiwon Meekins, MSW RSW CYW CCH

    Trish is a registered social worker and holds a master‘s degree in social work in the Indigenous Field of Study.  Trish uses various methods of healing such as energy healing and hypnotherapy to assist with bringing all four parts of self together, providing a newfound perspective that can be practised daily.  Trish currently has her own practice as a wholistic therapist, as well as a trainer in Indigenous cultural awareness.  She is a teacher, trainer, facilitator, and mediator.  Most recently Trish has completed her Human Resources certificate from York University and uses her wholistic approach combined with organizational policy to assist with running businesses and programs effectively.

      WEDNESDAY, MAY 12  

      PLENARY    Reconciliation: Where Things Stand

    The speakers in this session will discuss the state of Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. They will highlight examples of progress and lack of progress, and discuss setbacks and how to move forward in the aftermath of COVID-19.


    • Sheila McMahon, Executive Director, United Native Friendship Centre (Fort Frances) 

    • Henry Wall, Chief Administrative Officer, Kenora District Services Board

    • Isadore Day, Founder and CEO, Bimaadzwin

      PLENARY SERIES    Confronting Anti-Black Racism

    The events of the pandemic have led to a long overdue awakening about the need to confront the realities of anti-Black racism in Canada. The work of human services directly impacts the Black community and it is essential for both management and staff to understand they have the power to create lasting and impactful change in their workplaces and communities. This three-part interactive session is an opportunity to learn from seasoned experts about anti-Black racism and racial equity, in order to promote understanding and facilitate the coming together of individuals who want to begin to make a difference. 

    Equity, Privilege and Difficult Dialogues: Creating Psychologically Safe Spaces

    Social Worker and Psychotherapist Marci Gray will discuss the history of anti-Black racism in Canada and break down the meanings of bias, prejudice, discrimination and anti-Black racism through an interactive exercise. Participants will have an opportunity to contemplate how each of these concepts have shown up in history, and still impact our clients today. The idea of privilege and systemic advantage will be explored as it relates to human services in the Canadian context. An in-depth understanding of the three pillars of empathy will be examined along with strategies individuals can adopt to combat anti-Black racism and contribute to establishing psychological safety for Black people in Canada.

    Marci Gray is a Psychotherapist, Social Worker, and Speaker who has worked in the Municipal Human Services for over 20 years. She is the founder of Gray Matter Health a counselling and psychotherapy firm and author of The Empowerment Planner, a Mental Health and Wellness tool. Marci‘s clinical work in the black community over the years has equipped her with a comprehensive perspective on anti-racism. She continues to do specialized work in this area and provides expert advice for media appearing on Global, CTV and Your Morning.

    Race and Representation 

    Using a range of visual examples, the artist behind 27 years of Black History Month posters Robert Small will discuss the importance of representation in our educational and social settings. Using his illustrations, historical references and images in pop culture, Small will discuss how negative stereotypes of Black people continue to permeate the media, education and society causing great harm by perpetuating racism. Entrepreneur, teacher, speaker and artist Robert Small has advanced the education of African history through his annual poster LEGACY. For 27 years, Small has worked with schools and educators across the country to advance awareness of African-Canadians history. Through his company, LEGACY Enterprises, Small creates various educational afrocentric products and provides workshops that discuss racism, white privilege and stereotypes in both media and society.

    Equity and Inclusion Strategies across Sectors

    In this presentation by seasoned equity and inclusion professional Catherine Chambers, participants will gain an understanding of how evidence-based equity and inclusion strategies have been successfully implemented in a variety of sectors. While many complex challenges lie ahead, these examples will demonstrate it‘s possible to learn from a range of contemporary practices and move forward with knowledge. Catherine Chambers is an Ontario Certified Teacher and a PhD student in the Social Justice Department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in education. She works with organizations across Canada and the United States on economic development and Equity and Inclusion initiatives. She is currently researching post-capitalist employment models for members of minoritized groups.

      THURSDAY, MAY 13  

      PLENARY    The Next Chapter in Social Assistance Recovery and Renewal: Co-designing a Renewed Social Assistance Operating Model

    The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services has worked with municipal partners to co-design a new provincial-municipal transformation vision of a social assistance system that is modern, sustainable, connects people to the supports they need and helps them on a path to greater independence and employment. Social assistance transformation is intended to set the foundation for the broader future vision and goal of integrated human services. Provincial and municipal delivery partners are now co-designing the new social assistance program and how it will be delivered, mapping how we will collectively move from the current state to the future state. Co-design will define:

    • The objectives, processes, technologies, and resources for each element of the value chain

    • How the system will function as a whole to achieve strategic outcomes, adhering to key design principles Using a service delivery blueprint, the process will include refining provincial-municipal roles and responsibilities, prototyping key elements and implementation phasing and sequencing


    • Nelson Loureiro, Assistant Deputy Minister, Social Assistance Program, Policy and Innovation Division,  Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
    • Lindsay Jones, Director, Social Assistance Strategy and Transformation, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
    • Karen Nesbitt, Senior Manager, Strategy and Integration Unit, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services


     A   What is Life Stabilization?

    A key vision for a new system involves a model that enables staff to focus on high impact activities that produce positive outcomes for those who rely on social assistance. This means shifting case management to focus on life stabilizing supports and services. This session will outline how life stabilization fits in with the provincial-municipal co-design process and will include:

    • What is life stabilization: what do we mean by life stabilization?

    • How have we developed the provincial life stabilization framework?


    • Laura Belfie, Director, Social Assistance Program Policy Branch, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services 
    • Cam MacMillan, Manager, First Nations & Employment Readiness Unit, Social Assistance Program Policy Branch, Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services 

     B   Gathering Data on Housing Insecurity: Innovative Methods in a Post-pandemic World

    Rural communities outside large city centres lack adequate tools to gather data about those homeless, or at-risk of losing their housing. Capacity is often a limiting factor, especially during a pandemic where resources are stretched thin, and service agencies may have closed their doors. Point-in-Time counts are powerful tools to assess how many individuals are unsheltered, but they fall short of gathering information from residents who may be living in inadequate, unaffordable, or insufficient housing. Consequently, data on homelessness and housing in rural areas is extremely limited. It is difficult without data to understand the issues a community might be facing, and advocating for projects or policies cannot be backed with quantitative data.

    The Rural Development Network has developed a methodology to estimate rural homelessness and housing needs that does not rely on open service agencies, large numbers of volunteers, or time-consuming tasks from front line staff. We have implemented this method in over 40 communities across Canada, providing capacity and support for local coordinators to be able to gather data to inform policy or advocate for housing projects. The methodology is freely available, and we will present our findings comparing 2018 to 2020, along with customized approaches that can be used in remote areas.

    The Rural Development Network has led Rural Homelessness and Housing Estimations in over 40 communities. We are a not-for-profit whose mandate is to help rural communities across Canada to thrive. To this end, we develop innovative methods to gather data and overcome the challenges of data gathering in remote geography.


    • Azam Khattak, Analyst, Research and Programs, Rural Development Network 

    • Scott Travis, Director, Research and Programs, Rural Development Network

     C   Children's Services Think Tank: Defining the Post-Pandemic Pivot

    This session is an opportunity for service system managers to come together and collectively discuss how service delivery models changed during the pandemic. Speakers from the City of Toronto and City of Greater Sudbury will share their own experiences and lead a group conversation about what worked, what didn’t, and what’s needed to maintain and build on positive change in the sector. 


    • Ashley Burger, Program Manager, EarlyON Child and Family Centres, Toronto Children’s Services
    • Abi Jeyaratnam, EarlyON Consultant, Toronto Children’s Services 
    • Monique Poirier, Manager, Children Services, City of Greater Sudbury
    • Laura Urso, Children Services, Coordinator of Quality & Early Years Programs, City of Greater Sudbury

      FRIDAY, MAY 14  


     A   How to Rock the Boat, Without Ending up in the Water

    Twenty years ago, Stanford University professor Debra Meyerson published the first edition of her book, Tempered Radicals: How Everyday Leaders Inspire Change at Work. The book was about people who feel different from the environments in which they work, and quietly push back against the status quo to affect slow but cumulative organizational change. Using this concept as a way of framing the discussion, our panel of 'tempered radicals' will discuss how to become change agents within the confines of bureaucratic or inequitable systems. 

    Moderator: Najma Kahiye, Policy Development Officer, Toronto Children’s Services 


    • Kelly Brown, Social Worker, Primary Care Outreach Program, Regional Municipality of Durham

    • Tanya Hall, Supervisor, Program Integrity, Human Services Planning & Program Support, Social and Community Services, Halton Region

    • Heather Tillock, Manager Community Partnerships and Support Services, Housing, Community and Health Services, York Region

    • Michael Simon, Chair, OMSSA Life Stabilization Committee & Ontario Works Manager, County of Wellington

     B   Habitat for Humanity: Innovative Affordable Housing Partnerships

    Local Habitat for Humanity organizations have turned to innovative community partnerships and solutions to help address the growing affordable housing crisis across Ontario. This session explores three projects that are not only creating more affordable housing, but also assisting communities in broader ways, from addressing issues of racism and equity to encouraging high school students to learn more about the skilled trades by building Tiny Homes. The first partnership between Habitat-GTA, BlackNorth and all three levels of government is culminating in a pilot project to deliver 200 units of housing. The second explores how the local Habitat in Peterborough moved from the traditional Habitat build of single-family homes to construction of a 41-unit condominium of affordable housing through a partnership with the City of Peterborough and the federal government. And finally, the local Habitat in Halton is piloting a project to build Tiny Homes for the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nations through a partnership with the local Habitat in Grey Bruce.


    • Ene Underwood, CEO of Habitat for Humanity – GTA Mwarigha, Member of the BlackNorth Housing Committee and Vice President of Housing and Homelessness Services at Woodgreen
    • Jackie Isada, Director of Government & Community Stakeholder Relations, Habitat for Humanity - Halton-Mississauga-Dufferin
    • Mwarigha, Member of the BlackNorth Housing Committee and Vice President of Housing and Homelessness Services at Woodgreen
    • Sarah Budd, CEO of Habitat for Humanity - Peterborough & Kawartha Region Melissa Foley, Senior Manager of Team Experiences & Corporate Partnerships, Habitat for Humanity - Halton-Mississauga-Dufferin
    • Melissa Foley, Senior Manager of Team Experiences & Corporate Partnerships, Habitat for Humanity - Halton-Mississauga-Dufferin
    • Rebecca Morgan Quin, Housing Services Manager, Social Services Division, City of Peterborough

      PLENARY    Closing Plenary: Client Success Stories

    During this special session, four remarkable people will recount how they found the strength and determination to escape from homelessness and/or poverty, followed by a moderated panel discussion about what social services staff did to support them that made a significant difference in their lives and helped them succeed. 

    Moderator: Michael Simon, Chair, OMSSA Life Stabilization Committee & Ontario Works Manager, County of Wellington


    • Kyle Arnold, Peer Support and Harm Reduction Outreach Worker, Norwest Community Health Centre 

    Kyle Arnold is a Harm Reduction Outreach Worker and Peer Support Worker at Norwest Community Health Centre. Kyle also works for People Advocating for Change and Empowerment and provides public relations services through Narcotics Anonymous. He has come a long way in his journey and is proud of the life he has built. 

    • Daniel Cullen, Peer Support Worker, Backdoor Mission

    Daniel Cullen is a Peer Support Worker at the Backdoor Mission and the founder of the HOPE Coalition, which works to bring attention to homelessness and the need for affordable housing and poverty reduction. 

    • Karen Girard, Youth Justice Services Coordinator, John Howard Society of Waterloo-Wellington

    Karen Girard has a Degree in Psychology and is a Youth Justice Services Coordinator with the John Howard Society of Waterloo-Wellington.  Her role includes developing, implementing, administrating and evaluating programming for youth involved in the justice system. She is passionate about working with youth, and helping to mitigate the factors that prevent them from meeting pro-social goals. She has spent 20 years in the Criminal Justice field and loves the work she does.

    • Stephanie Vandevenne, Director of Quality & Accountability, Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre

    Stephanie Vandevenne is a Master’s prepared Registered Nurse and is the Director of Quality and Accountability for the Southwestern Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centres.  Her role includes work with quality, accountability for data reporting, privacy, health records, and working with community partners.  She is extremely passionate about improving health care for Indigenous populations in Ontario and is happy that her career has led her to this role.