(Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

Heart of Our City: Kaps off to Colleen Hermanson

Colleen Hermanson began working in social services as early as 1968

It’s a quiet sunny Sunday afternoon on McKay Street. Not a soul can be seen around the townhouses at the end of the street. Residents must either be tucked away inside, having a lazy afternoon or out and about enjoying the weather.

A red vehicle suddenly pulls into the parking lot and out comes a woman holding a box full of supplies, scurrying into 369 McKay.

The woman is Colleen Hermanson and the housing unit is rented by the Kaien Anti-Poverty Society (KAPS). Hermanson has been the executive director of the society for the past twelve years. And on a day that is normally reserved as a break for most individuals, Hermanson was out and about working.

Hermanson was meeting a colleague to go over the earnings from Friday’s bingo night. Bingo night is part of the latest fundraising project KAPS is working on.

The society is trying to raise enough money to purchase a vehicle for their food share program which is currently in expansion. Partnerships with local grocers will now allow KAPS to receive unsold food and donate them to families and individuals in need of a meal.

Colleen Hermanson is working on a Sunday afternoon, counting the money raised from the Kaien Anti-Poverty Society’s bingo fundraiser, to raise money for a new vehicle that can transport food to those in need. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

READ MORE: KAPS hopes to get hands on handhelds under Save-On program

READ AND WATCH MORE: Kaien Anti-Poverty Society hoping to raise $20K in 50/50 community bingo nights

Before Hermanson started at KAPS twelve years ago it was an informal group who wanted to get the ball rolling. Eventually, they came together to actually formalize the society.

Hermanson was not part of that original group but has carried on their work since with a team of dedicated workers and volunteers.

Over the years, under the guidance of Hermanson, four other paid employees, and a handful of volunteers whom she refers to as “angels,” KAPS grew. Currently, they host an after school program, taking in eight to 10 kids per day, while also opening up a free store where they receive donations and distribute them back to the community.

Although KAPS is a part-time job for Hermanson, work is non-stop. A typical day begins with the at 10 a.m. phone calls, followed by a drive around town to pick up and sort donations until it ends when the after school program settles down for the day.

What brought Hermanson to KAPS was all her previous engagement in social services and children.

“I had originally wanted to deal with just children. I’ve always had children in my home. I’ve always been involved with children and their families. But it seemed as though there were other things that needed to be done as well. So things just grew and expanded and here I am in the society,” she said.

Hermanson, who is now 71, has been a foster parent since 1968, taking in children takes 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes for the short term and sometimes for the long term, until a family is ready to provide for their child.

“Too many children have come through my door to count. But I’ve probably had thousands. In the past I had upwards of eight people at once,” she said.

“You take care of them the same as you would for any child of your own. You know, there’s feeding them, clothing them, wiping their noses, making sure the doctor, the dentist and whoever needs to be involved in their life is there, making sure that family has a connection with them one way or the other, making sure school is taken care of and all of their social and recreational activities. And hug them when you need to.”

Hermanson also ran 12 group homes, four of which were in Prince Rupert, while working as program manager down at the former Community Enrichment Society.

Colleen Hermanson has worked at the Kaien Anti-Poverty Society for 12 years. Now they host an after-school program for kids, run a food-share program, and open a free store where they collect donations and distribute them back into the community. (Jenna Cocullo / The Northern View)

READ MORE: Heart of Our City: Behind the lens of Rupert’s volunteer extraordinaire

Eventually, the province stopped funding the group homes in favour of having children placed in smaller situations with fewer kids involved because large institutional-like settings were not home-like, according to Hermanson who often butts heads with the ministry’s decision.

“There are some situations where a 24-hour a day adult with no support or any type of relief can keep that up long term. And if you have a group home setting — when you’ve got the additional support in the home to help care for those numbers — it works a lot better and a lot easier,” she said.

Currently, Hermanson is also a home care provider for two persons with mental disabilities who she cares for 24/7 in her own home. She said she houses one lady who will be turning 69 years old in a couple of days and another male who has been with her since infancy, who is now almost 42 years old.

“You just get up in the morning you do it,” Hermanson said when asked how she manages. “I’d have to say having families come back and be united is one of the best parts.”

Hermanson, who is a mother of three, said her words of wisdom to anyone thinking about getting involved with social services is to “make sure you take care of yourself and your family if you’re going to bring people into your home.”

Some of her favourite self-care regiment is to take a bath, relax, read a book and go to bed before she starts a day of caring for others all over again.

READ MORE: Heart of Our City: Cay Hülsen is integrating health care into the community

Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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