2014 Winners

Sudbury | Executive of the Year

Shana Calixte

Shana Calixte

When Shana Calixte moved from Toronto to Sudbury she left behind a supportive group of friends and had to deal with the loneliness that often comes with the first few months in a new community.

To make matters more difficult, Calixte had trouble finding daycare for her 15-month-old and was diagnosed with postpartum depression. "I was watching movies and sewing basically every day," she said about that time.

Calixte came to Sudbury with her partner, who was pursuing her PhD.

When she spotted a job opening for executive director of the Northern Initiative for Social Action, an organization run by and for consumers of mental health services, she figured she had nothing to lose by applying.

Calixte was not very familiar with Sudbury's mental health system at the time, but did thorough research before her interview. She got the job.

She said the job marked a turning point for her own mental health and inclusion in the community.

Under her leadership since 2009, the Northern Initiative for Social Action, or NISA as it is more commonly called, has increased its annual operating budget from $200,000 to $1.1 million – a 550 per cent increase. When Calixte started in her leadership role, the organization had five full-time employees and three part-time workers.

Today, NISA has 12 full-time and 20 part-time employees.

Everyone who works for the organization has lived experience with a mental illness.

"We come at our work with a very different perspective," Calixte said.

Around 91 per cent of people with a severe mental illness in Ontario are unemployed. Calixte said NISA employees are better able to relate to their clients due to their own personal experiences with mental illness and navigating the health-care system.

When she started as NISA's executive director, Calixte said most people she spoke to had never heard of the organization. She said she is most proud of increasing the organization's visibility in the community.

"Our name recognition has really increased in the past five years," she said.

Calixte has been recognized as Influential Women's executive of the year, for northeastern Ontario.

She said she was surprised she won, because as the leader of a not-for-profit organization she does not see herself as an executive in the traditional sense.

But Calixte said she is thrilled about the recognition, and is especially excited to meet keynote speaker Margaret Trudeau at the award ceremony.

"She's an advocate for mental health with a lived experience with mental illness," Calixte said about Trudeau. "And that's that area I work in, so it seemed like a really great fit."

In addition to her role with NISA, Calixte also teaches women's studies at Laurentian University. She said awards like Influential Women are important to promote the contributions women make in Northern Ontario.

"We like to think that we've moved to a spot in society where sexism is no longer a concern, or the hardships that come with being a woman are somehow in the past," Calixte said. "And some of that is true. We have made a lot of progress, but women still make 80 cents on the dollar (compared to men)."

Calixte said she sees herself as a role model for her students and tries to show them they can be successful in the North.

But she said many of her students do end up leaving after they graduate, because they don't see a future for themselves in Northern Ontario.

She tells them opportunities for women in Sudbury and Northern Ontario are vast.

The list of Influential Women winners is a testament to those opportunities.

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