FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Deb Hymers
June 19, 2018
Eat better. Walk more. Live longer.
Fitness, food, focused … these seem like three legs of the stool, but person, personality and perseverance are just as literal – Deb Hymers is a driven tour de force when it comes to advocating for the value of her work. She’s changing the world. One child at a time, one teacher at a time, one school at a time – it’s quite a story. Teacher who strayed from her path – or maybe she’s charted a path with a passion for taking teachers along for the ride. Her mission seems to be simple - to change the world by changing parents - and children are her tools, her messengers and her cause. Pretty simple, pretty hard …
Meet Deb Hymers, Founder and CEO of NSTEP; this Calgarian has built a national organization on a shoestring.
Born in Vancouver, the adopted first child (of three) of dental hygienist mom and mechanical engineer dad, she excelled in school academically, and athletically. A self-described over-achiever she focused on track and field, tennis and on her boyfriend Ron. They married, have two children and three grandchildren.
Deb’s post-secondary focus was to earn her B. Home Economics degree from UBC with a view to being a dietitian. In her 4th year she realized, “I don’t want to do this”, so she took a year off. Ron’s job took him to Salmon Arm where she worked in a daycare. A drug store job as a pharmacist assistant, then back to Vancouver, Diploma in Education at UBC, then to Kamloops (she taught high school foods and nutrition, and science – “I loved it”) , back to Vancouver – then to Salmon Arm again, to Canoe, Vancouver and they settled in Richmond – which made her next teaching gig in North Vancouver a commuting challenge but she thrived there.
She thrived in her core area, but more so in teaching drama, producing seven musicals (“it was good for me”). She was there for ten years in all (maternity leaves and job sharing) before Ron’s job took them across the Rockies to Calgary. She taught in Calgary schools – high school and junior high from 1989 to 2002. Along that path she earned her MBA from Nova South Eastern University (a program through SAIT), Sigma Cum Laude.
In February 2003 she read some remarkable statistics put out by the World Health Organization about the influence of food and health, particularly in childhood but throughout life, and the role nutrition can play in preventing disease. She said, “I can do something about that”, and the foundation of NSTEP followed, registered charity in 2006 – she’d become a social-preneur. In 2009, a shift to a ‘train the trainer' model. Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary … with growth eastward. A goal to help children in Calgary has not changed, she’s just substituted ‘Canada’ for Calgary. Her current mission – to influence health promotion in public policy, focus on education starting in pre-school and kindergarten. Her Four Pillars approach has gained a lot of traction. More money, more influence on government and educators – she seems tireless, or rather relentless.
Why are you successful? “I’m driven. I’m a perfectionist and passionate about children’s health.”
What has held you back? “Finding different, newer ways of getting things done, of raising money.”
How do you see your business – a social-preneur investing in children’s health – going forward over the next quarter?
… we have so many opportunities working with several organizations – but we need the funding to make them happen – that is a constant struggle; you can donate to bring NSTEP to more children. https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/nstep/
And over the next five years?
… lots of work to do! I’ll be doing more knowledge transfer – to younger professionals, educators in health and nursing. We’re starting to see collective impact on obesity reduction – we’ll be doing what we are doing smarter and better …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I’m thrifty!. I want to get $1.50 out of every dollar – but I appreciate quality. I like to support ‘local’. I’m loyal.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Deb Hymers, and why do they do business with you, why have they worked with you and your organization?
… I always have a smile on my face. I’m a people person – open and transparent. I believe in the good in people and that people are basically good.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… shared leadership. I look for a diversity of skills and an ability to reach more people.
… very bad! I try really hard. I try to stay off the computer after 6PM, take one day off every week . OK, I try.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… that we won’t have enough money to run our programs.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… being asked to take on drama teaching and producing musicals – proved to myself that I can do anything, made me stronger. My husband Ron – he’s always been supportive and believed in what I’ve been doing. 38,000 kids we’ve helped in three provinces …
… running for fun, for half-marathons, tennis, swimming, walking, hiking …
What do you read?
… I like to read science books! I like Wilber Smith fiction – books about history, culture and adventure.
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