2018 IW Winners

Executive of the Year - Nipigon

Coleen Kjellman

Kora Wilcox

First-hand experience sparked Colleen Kjellman’s commitment to child and family health.

The executive director of the Brass Bell Family Resource Centre in Dorion, Ont. — an hour northwest of Thunder Bay — has been a part of what she calls the “Brass Bell Family” for nearly 20 years, but it all began with her daughter six years earlier.

“It started with the impending birth of my first child, I started doing a lot of reading, and I just developed this really keen interest in natal health. I wanted to ensure an optimal pregnancy and the health of my infant,” said Kjellman. “It really kind of set me on the path I’ve been on since!”

In the years after her children were born, Kjellman worked from home creating educational resources and toys for children and spent her time volunteering. She started reaching out to the community to share her experiences with others, and that’s when her career took off.

“I was always busy, I began attending early years programs as a parent, especially the prenatal and postnatal part and breastfeeding support,” explained Kjellman. “I had a great deal of challenges myself, and I wanted to support others if they were having troubles.”

“I always say you are probably the best teacher if you’ve struggled with something yourself.”

In 1999, a relief staff opportunity arose with the Brass Bell Family Resource Centre, and Kjellman got the job.

She didn’t have a formal education but says she had “a degree in life,” that prepared her well.

The Brass Bell Family Resource Centre’s mandate is to provide high quality, family-centred programs and services to support families, and provide children with opportunities to achieve their potential. They offer a range of workshops, services and programming ranging from breastfeeding to nutrition to literacy.

In 2001, Kjellman became their first prenatal programmer and she continues to work on their prenatal steering committee today. A year later, in 2002, she became the program coordinator in Nipigon.

During these early years, Kjellman was mentored by her predecessor, Janet McKay. “She had a huge impact on me, guiding me, providing opportunities for me to move forward, I’ve learned so much from her, I feel I’m always learning from everyone around me,” said Kjellman.

When their program moved into schools and expanded in 2007, Kjellman spearheaded their Best Start Initiative in Nipigon, which included a design of the space and collaboration with other stakeholders like school boards, architects and school personnel.

Over the next few years, she took on more responsibility at the centre until in 2012 she took on the role of executive director, managing seven sites and a staff of around 40. It was a long way from where she’d started in 1999.

“Sometimes we find ourselves in places we didn’t see, but you rise to the occasion, and you learn,” said Kjellman. “It’s interesting because it’s going to be almost six years this September, I have grown tremendously, and I think I am much more confident and I trust myself.”

Over the past six years, Kjellman has committed herself not only to the children and families served by the Brass Bell Family Resource Centre but for the staff who keep it running: she’s advocated for improved working conditions, fair compensation and benefits.

“Wellbeing is what we try and create for our families, the whole link to overall health, but we do it for staff too,” said Kjellman. If you ask what drives her, she points to a quote she picked up somewhere over the years, “Learn more, do more, care more.”