FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Jerilyn Dressler
August 26, 2019
She has been ‘in the business’ a long time for someone still so youngearly in her careeer ... .
Jerilyn Dressler has been at the Calgary Distress Centre since 2001 as a volunteer, then for her first job in 2007. She was named Executive Director in 2017. I’ve heard about her through her Director of Fund Development, Diane Jones Konihowski who made the introduction and set up the meeting for this interview. Her story, her roots in Saskatchewan – she’s made Calgary her education and career home in very deliberate ways …
Born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, she grew up in Langenburg. Mom stayed home with kids, then returned to school for a nursing career. Dad farmed and worked as a musician playing in bands. Mom and dad divorced when Jerilyn was 22. Mom remarried. Middle child between two boys, Jerilyn was, and needed to be, very competitive. She excelled in school academically and loved sports in middle school until distracted by boyfriends and jobs. And she was valedictorian. She admits to having worked hard, played hard and she partied a bit … .
After high school she entered the University of Saskatchewan in pursuit of a Psychology degree – starting in Yorkton, then Saskatoon where she, “put a lot of pressure on myself”. Dealing with high anxiety and chaotic family life, she took a break at 19, moved to Calgary to pursue a social work degree at University of Calgary but learned that move would put her a year behind. Before heading back to Saskatoon she spent fun times in Calgary as an Earl’s girl waitressing. Returning to Saskatoon she earned her B.A. (Psych) with Distinction from the University of Saskatchewan in 2007 and, later on, got her Masters in Social Work (2015) from the University of Calgary. Along the way she and husband Mike (they met at Earls) have a daughter.
In her early days as a Distress Centre volunteer she found that she connected well with people; “we do really well in crisis”, and she stands by that statement for the organization today.
Why are you successful? “My ability to persevere is #1. Success doesn’t define me. It’s more important for me to grow.”
What has held you back? “My limiting self-belief. Imposter syndrome … doubting my ability to make the leap when others had so much confidence in me and were convinced of my capability. Turns out they were right!”
How do you see your business – ‘supporting people who are in crisis’ – going forward over the next quarter?
… for context, you should know that our organization began as the city’s Drug Information Centre in 1970; we’ve come a long way since then. We are a 24/7 service. We have a two ways for people to reach us; 403-266-HELP or 211. Last year we were ‘doing more with less. Things are better. We’ve got better measures in place than ever. We are on track, on budget – with call volumes stable … and a bit down, so that indicates good things. Technology is helping us manage better.
And over the next five years?
… I see us doing a better job on prevention, expanding our training programs for volunteers and counsellors, integrating our chat and text communications.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I’m endlessly practical. We make team decisions. Getting value out of money we are spending, and leveraging our relationships so we are getting new perspectives from people we deal with … .
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Jerilyn, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I was young, but they saw potential and placed trust in me, because that trust had been earned.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… very transparent. I often have trouble describing my emotions around this issue. I would say genuine, warm, connecting with people; but sometimes we have to “support people out the door”. I have a very steady team and, mostly, we make decisions together.
… Yes, I have it. Not having it is ‘not an option’ when you have kids.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… about the future of this work – our ability to think differently. Funding! Meeting needs of people we serve, people we employ – to be more effective.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… mom going back to school when I was 11 taught me it is never too late to take charge of your life; my former Executive Director here, Joan Roy. She believed in me before I believed in me.; I had a prof who counselled me to pursue a management role in this field rather than a clinical career – that has been huge and valuable for me.
… things seven yr-olds like to do. Biking. Rollerblading. Camping, trips to Maui, quality time with my daughter.
What do you read?
… anything I can get my hands on. For fiction I read on a device, but ‘real books’ otherwise. I’m a big Brene Brown fan. I love memoirs. I read lots about addiction … .
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