Every month, we are privileged to recognize the demonstration of Brilliance, Inspiration, and Greatness (B.I.G.) of the individuals we work with. These qualities are evident through their work with our teams, families, and schools. Visit this page each month to read about our remarkable team!
Would you like to nominate someone for the B.I.G. Award? Email your nomination(s) to Lori before the last day of each month for the following month's awards. Please include the name of the person, their role, and tell us why they deserve the B.I.G. Award. Those who are nominated for the B.I.G. award will demonstrate “Brilliance, Inspiration, and Greatness” (B.I.G.) through the work that they do on our teams, with our families, and in our schools.
Each nominee will also have their name entered into our monthly B.I.G. awards draw for B.I.G. (our Big PLANS Stuffed Elephant). If a nominee's name is not drawn, it will continue to remain entered in the monthly draw until we draw our final name in June!
The winner of the April draw for B.I.G. is Tara Rossiter-Exall! Congratulations!
April 2018 B.I.G. Awards
Susanne Williams – Occupational Therapist
Susanne Williams exemplifies all the acronyms of B.I.G. Susanne is innovative in the strategies she uses with the children she works with and you can be guaranteed each child has a smile on their face after they have spent time with her! Whether she is providing individual instruction, or teaching social thinking strategies in a classroom setting, each child responds to her positive, creative and respectful approach. Susanne is a valuable member of our team. She is always available and ready to collaborate with any of her team members, often jointly working together with the speech therapist to ensure our services are effective and goals are being achieved. Susanne inspires our team with her positivity! She is caring, professional and understanding with the families we work with and they have the utmost respect for her. It is a privilege to have Susanne on our team and she is truly deserving of this award.
Susanne had a connection to Occupational Therapy from an early age as her uncle, who has Down Syndrome, was always excited to give everyone gifts he had made in OT. Not only did he inspire her as a child, but at age 70 he still continues to do so.
Susanne grew up in Markham, Ontario, and obtained her B Sc. in OT from Queen’s University in 1990. She moved to Calgary after graduation, with the intention of trying it out for a year but never left. With a calm nature and talent for problem-solving, Susanne loves Occupational Therapy because she is able to look at the “whole child”. She also describes herself as a "brain nerd," having previously worked for many years in adult neurology.
Hearing fantastic things from friends and colleagues, Susanne joined the Big PLANS team three years ago and is confident that she made a very wise choice. She was even invited for a sleepover by one of her sweet kiddos during her first year with Big PLANS!
Happily married to Mitch Williams; and a proud mom of three (Lindsay - 18, Abby - 16, Gavin – 14), Susanne can often be found walking or hiking with her family and dog, spending time with family and friends, or hanging out at the hockey arena or the pool watching her son compete! Their young Golden Retriever named Hazel comes from a line of therapy/assistance dogs, so Susanne and her daughter hope to complete this training with the aim of Hazel joining Susanne on therapy visits when appropriate.
On a Sunday, Susanne loves to go hiking or curl up with a great book, attend her favourite yoga class and then prepare a tasty family meal. Desserts are her specialty! She started painting in the last few years, and is hooked! Passionate about reading and books, Susanne has been an active volunteer in children's reading programs for many years. She and her family love to travel, and a trip to Kenya in 2014 (with Free the Children/Me to We) was unforgettable and life changing!
Lisa MacDonald – Child Development Specialist
Lisa was nominated in April for the incredible support she provides. Not only does she support her families and her schools on a daily basis, but also her fellow Child Development Specialists. Lisa is always available to lend a hand in her quiet, supportive manner and is there to offer encouraging words when needed. Lisa consistently puts the needs of others before her own and genuinely cares for everyone lucky enough to meet her.
Born and raised in St. John's, Newfoundland, Lisa moved to Calgary in 1997 in search of employment as she also had family living here. After working as an administrative assistant for seven years, she was introduced to Big PLANS while volunteering at her daughters’ school. The flexibility of hours worked perfectly, allowing Lisa the opportunity to be home before and after school with her own children. After seven years with Big PLANS, Lisa feels fortunate to work alongside therapists, teachers and women who bring so much experience and knowledge to the organization. Lisa loves working with children and has a special way of connecting with them, finding their big and small successes to be the most rewarding part of her job.
When Lisa is not at work, you will find her spending time with her family on the weekends, playing board games and in the summertime, she enjoys camping, hiking and biking in the mountains. Lisa also loves baking. In fact, if she wasn’t working for Big PLANS today she would probably own her own cake decorating business! Married for 18 years this coming July, Lisa and Don have two daughters (Hailey 16 and Kayla 14). Lisa admits that she would find it impossible to give up chocolate and coffee and still lives by a lesson her mom taught her: "No matter what happens in life, Do What Makes You Happy!"
March 2018 B.I.G. Awards
Kim Collins – Child Development Specialist
Kim Collins was nominated in March for being an outstanding Child Development Specialist and a very respected and valued member of the Big PLANS team. She is an advocate for her PUF children and takes her role very seriously which helps her strive for excellence. Kim has a genuine love for children and the families that are fortunate enough to work with her. Her intuition and calming nature benefit those children she engages with. Kim has excellent verbal and written communication skills which is an asset not only on a daily basis, but especially at IPP meetings. Brilliant, inspiring and great describe the work Kim does for Big PLANS.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Kim grew up using sign language as her primary form of communication as her parents were hearing impaired. After high school, she volunteered at the Manitoba School for the Deaf and loved it! This positive experience helped Kim decide on her career path, to work with people with disabilities.
Kim came to Big PLANS in October, with a wealth of experience after working for over seventeen years in the field. After obtaining her Disability Support Worker Diploma from Manitoba, Kim moved to Calgary. She soon began working at Renfrew Educational Services and over a 15 year period, held multiple positions including: Child Development Facilitator, Therapy Assistant, Program Manager and In-Home Programming Coordinator for Children with Autism.
Today, Kim still loves to find new strategies to help children succeed and is willing to try almost anything! After working with a child, it is a major highlight for her to watch them make progress in the classroom and begin to interact with their classmates.
When Kim is not working, you can find her staying busy volunteering at her kids’ school (Dew 14 yr, Ayla 12 year). When she finds spare time, she really enjoys crafts and cardmaking. Kim also spends a lot of time with her husband, Vaughan, and kids. As a family they enjoy camping, skiing, biking and hiking. Her favorite book is Be Frank With Me and when asked what would be impossible for her to give up, she has no doubt it would be COFFEE!
Jackie Bennett – Educational Coordinator/Common Approach Lead
Jackie was nominated in March for being such a hardworking, organized, helpful, knowledgeable, and caring Educational Coordinator - all of the time. She makes sure everything is perfect, spending the time she needs to ensure her job is done to the best of her ability. Jackie can always be counted on when help is needed and is such a pleasure to work with.
After completing four years of statistics, economics, finance, and accounting at Simon Fraser University (Bachelor of BA 1994), Jackie realized business was not the place for her. So, when her husband Dave had a career move from Vancouver to Calgary, Jackie applied to the After Degree Program at the U of C. She completed her B. Ed in 1997 and went on to work at Dr. J.K. Mulloy Elementary School for over three years in the various positions of a kindergarten, grades one and two, and an early reading intervention teacher.
When Jackie and Dave became parents in 2000, Jackie realized that having a family and being a mom was the most important thing so made the decision to stay home with her three daughters (Emily – 17, Hannah – 15, and Claire – 12). After twelve years at home, Jackie was just exploring possibilities of looking for work when she was presented the opportunity to work at Big PLANS.
Highly organized, with a desire to work hard and help others, Jackie has been an asset to the Big PLANS team and loves working with children in their homes. In fact, she has always loved the preschool age group since her university days as a preschool swim instructor. Working to find new activities and resources for parents to help them with their child, keeps her job incredibly interesting. Watching the various emotions of happiness, relief, and excitement on the faces' of parents at the various stages of intervention makes it all worthwhile. Jackie realizes that working with others, she really can make a significant difference in the lives of preschool teachers and families.
On the weekends, Jackie can usually be found cooking, doing things for her family, or going on long road trips with them. She is often busy watching her girls swim (they are in the University Swim Club), ski, bike and grow! In her spare time she enjoys gardening, reading, watching movies, entertaining, biking, skiing, and exercising outside with friends and family. In fact, her family completed the hike to Conrad Kain Hut in Bugaboo Provincial Park (700 meters of elevation gain in 3.5 km). When asked what job she would pick if she was not in the position she was today, Jackie thinks she would run a bed and breakfast with Dave in the Okanagan Valley!
Shelley Horn - Educational Coordinator
Shelley is one of the most kind, caring and understanding colleagues you will meet. Not only is she always willing to help, listen, and offer suggestions/ideas, she is thoughtful and goes above and beyond when she can tell someone needs extra! Shelley works so hard and never gives up until everyone has been helped or the problem is solved. Shelley is the perfect example of a person exemplifying Brilliance, Inspiration, and Greatness, and those that have spent time with her all agree!
Ever since she was a little girl, Shelley knew she wanted to be a teacher . . . and she never deviated from that dream. A native Calgarian, Shelley graduated with her Bachelor of Education with a Major in Special Education and a Minor in Early Childhood. Although she took a few years off to spend time with her daughters, (Michelle, MacKenzie and Kennedy) she has been in the teaching profession for over 20 years.
Shelley was introduced to Big PLANS four years ago and knew it would be an excellent fit. Organized, compassionate and creative in nature, Shelley loves doing things for others and helping people in any way that she can. Not only did this position mean she would be working with passionate and skilled colleagues who were committed to early intervention and providing outstanding services to pre-school children; but she would also reap the rewards of seeing the smile on a child's face when they experience success. Over the years, Shelley has held many different positions in the education field and with this experience she has gained the understanding necessary to work compassionately with children and their families. Knowing she has made a difference so that a child can have a positive start to their school experience makes it all worthwhile.
When she isn’t at work or volunteering with causes that are dear to her heart, the majority of Shelley’s time is spent watching her children's sports activities and spending time with her girls and husband David. On a Sunday afternoon Shelley loves to curl up with a good book or magazine. She is a passionate reader, likes going for long walks, and travelling. On the weekend she often entertains friends and family as Shelley likes to cook. She is most happy when the house is full of her kids and their friends!
Sarah Degnen – Child Development Specialist
Sarah was nominated for the March BIG Award for taking on a new challenge and doing a fantastic job at it. This year Sarah expanded her role to include being a Parent Coach for a common approach family. The family and child are greatly benefiting from her strong communication skills and knowledge base, and her genuine concern for the family is evident in all she does.
When Sarah first came to Canada, from the Midlands in England, she volunteered at her son’s kindergarten class. It was apparent that Sarah had an affinity with children and she was soon entrusted to complete work with special education children outside of the classroom. Soon after, with a recommendation from the principal, Sarah began her work with early intervention children.
Three years ago, Sarah joined Big PLANS as a Child Development Specialist. If you watch Sarah work in a preschool classroom, you will soon realize that her caring demeanor is infectious with both adults and children alike. Understanding what is needed to help people, from both a professional and parenting perspective; Sarah has an innate sense of judgment and can clearly communicate with people on any level
Sarah feels blessed to be able to work with such an amazing team that help to bring out the best in her and the children they work with. Her personable nature and love of children is a definite asset to the Big PLANS organization. Sarah enjoys building lasting relationships with parents, specialists and schools; as well as watching her young people become as ready for kindergarten as possible. Although she loves working with all children, Sarah’s passion is in helping behaviour, severe ASD and severe SLP children. Witnessing these children turn small steps turn into huge leaps is extremely exciting, whether it is simply an understanding and correct pronunciation of a word or a successful day at preschool. Sarah hopes she can make the contribution necessary to give children the skills and means to communicate verbally and non-verbally.
Sarah also appreciates the continuous learning opportunities the work provides, and her love of learning is evident as she holds a Diploma in Child Development Psychology (with honours), a Teacher’s Aide Diploma, an English speaking Diploma, and a Legal Secretary Diploma.
Although many do not know this, Sarah was once a world champion Disco/Ballroom dancer. She is also a proud mom to her ten year old son Louis (and a Bizon Shih Tzu named Tito), and believes Sunday afternoons are best spent relaxing with food and wine. When asked about her greatest life lessons, Sarah said they have come from her mom. Not only did her mom face challenges, but she did it while bringing up two children on her own and continuing her career as a registered nurse. Sarah watched her mom be the best single parent she could, even when times were hard. She always gave Sarah the strength to believe in herself, to never give up, and taught her that everyone is different but still in need of understanding. Most importantly, Sarah continues to follow her mom’s life mantra, " if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got!”
Chantal Aussant-Huhn - Speech-Language Pathologist
Chantal is a knowledgeable SLP who has an amazing rapport with her kiddos and families. Not only does she “push” kids to reach their goals, but she has so much fun along the way that the kids do not even realize how hard they are working! Chantal is always prepared for each session or IPP and goes above and beyond what is expected. It is a pleasure working with Chantal and she is much deserving of the B.I.G. Award.
Chantal always knew she wanted to work with children but was not convinced that she wanted to be a teacher. She first heard about Speech-Language Pathology from her aunt that was an SLP assistant but it wasn’t until after high school when she was traveling around Europe with friends that she realized she wanted to be a SLP. Chantal applied to University while she was away travelling and was accepted. Chantal completed her Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology at Minot State University 20 years ago. Since that time, traveling, university and work have taken Chantal to many places away from her childhood home in Saskatoon. She currently resides in Airdrie with her husband, Mark, and two children (Ayla -12 yrs and Jakob -10 yrs), where she has been for almost ten years (the longest she has lived in one place since high school).
Chantal first met Carmen many years ago when they worked together for Alberta Health Services. Carmen and Chantal reconnected the summer before Big PLANS became operational and Chantal has been with the team ever since.
Chantal’s incredible patience and her passion to empower parents to support their children in their communication journey have been an asset to the organization. Not only does Chantal love watching the change parents see and the role they have played in that change but admits it is impossible to have a bad day when faced with little smiles each and every day.
Years ago, a colleague told Chantal that children are just like us but they haven’t yet experienced all that we have. She now uses this guiding principle in her work as an SLP and as a mom. She has found this principle provides perspective on the expectations we have for little people because they just haven’t lived all of their experiences yet.
Chantal truly loves the work she does and cannot imagine doing anything else. In fact, her passion shines so brightly as she works with children that many parents have remarked that they can see Chantal really loves her work.
With a son that plays hockey and baseball, and a daughter that swims competitively, Chantal and Mark are usually found at a pool, an arena or sitting at a ball diamond – and Chantal loves every minute! When she isn’t working or watching sports, Chantal escapes from the busyness through running (especially with their rescue dog Hugo) and reading. Travel is also a big part of their family, and they love to explore new places each summer. In fact, three years ago Chantal’s family participated in their first Home Exchange. They spent three weeks in Aruba, living in another family’s home while that family lived in Chantal and Mark’s home in Airdrie. They have since done a second home exchange with a family from Alabama. They truly love this type of travel, where they can immerse themselves in local culture and find hidden treasures. Their next goal is to do an exchange with a family in Iceland
Jennifer Cross - Child Development Specialist
Jennifer is a dream team player! Her skills, devotion to her clients and "go get 'em" attitude, surpass all CDS job requirements. Jenn is very goal oriented and when she sees something that needs to be done, she's on it! It is not unusual for a team member to mention something and then very next day Jenn has created (and laminated!!) the material needed so that it is ready for implementation! She is passionate about her students and the love she has for them shines through all her connections with them. Her kids adore her and it is touching to see the way they look to their "school mum" for reassurance and confirmation that they are on the right track. But... best of all, Jenn is a blast to work with! Her dry sense of humour has us all giggling and she has a way of keeping things fun - such a breath of fresh air when things are hard and heavy. It is such a pleasure to work with Jenn and we look forward to working together for many more years to come!
An Alberta native, Jennifer, or Ms. Jenn as the kids call her, lived in Edmonton until she was ten years old and has been in the Calgary area ever since. Jennifer first met her future husband, Graham, in the 8th grade and they were married in 2004. Ten years ago, they moved their family to Langdon and love the small town atmosphere where they raise their two daughters, Hannah (11) and Linnea (8).
After filling in as a teacher's aide at her daughter's preschool in Langdon, the teacher recommended Jennifer to Big Plans and she joined the team in December 2014. Jennifer definitely has the experience in helping Big PLANS children to be successful at home and in school, as she is able to use her experience gained by working with her own daughter who has ADD. Jennifer truly feels the best part of her job is learning from all the different teachers and therapists on the Big PLANS team. She also really enjoys working with speech kids as she has an ear for understanding them.
In addition to working for Big PLANS, Jennifer has been a Girl Guides leader for six years (Five years with Sparks -5&6 year olds and this year with Brownies - 7&8 year olds). When she isn’t working or volunteering, Jennifer enjoys camping, boating and fishing with her family during the summer and playing board games with her family, friends and neighbors. Jennifer admits that hers is a “dog family” (right now with a little yellow lab mix named Jovie) and they love everything Marvel. Jennifer also revealed that she LOVES everything about Christmas – from the decorating, the movies, and the music to the baking and the magic of the holidays! She also loves reading, is a FB junky, and has a twin sister!
February 2018 B.I.G. Awards
Rachael Hinz - Educational Coordinator, Project Lead for FSCD Common Approach
Rachael was nominated this month going ABOVE and BEYOND for her team and families she works with. Rachael is very kind, approachable, supportive and always willing to help. It is a pleasure to be on a team with Rachael and her team always looks forward to meeting with her to hear her ideas or comments.
Holding a B. Ed. from the University of Saskatchewan and an M. Ed. from Gonzaga University, Rachael taught high school math for ten years in both California and Calgary. She also tutored math independently for over ten years. But Rachael jokes that she received her greatest education for this work through her own son, who was diagnosed with a language delay at his preschool and was supported by an amazing Big PLANS for Little Kids team. At the time, Rachael learned as much as she could about speech-language therapy and then she designed natural play moments at home that would support her son. Rachael became passionate about the value of early intervention and, soon after, she began coordinating programs for Big PLANS. She has found the work immensely rewarding when she witnesses the growth in competence and confidence in both kids and their parents.
Rachael loves learning herself. One of the highlights of her work is the open-minded collaboration she has with her brilliant colleagues from various disciplines. Teachers, therapists, parents, and Child Development Specialists have so much talent, perspective and knowledge to give. The result is “out of the box” thinking and solutions that could not have been arrived at individually. Rachael believes that effective teams encourage amazing results in children. We can ‘change the world’ by giving children important skills that will support their success at school. And ironically, the kids we work with will teach us too!
When she is not working, Rachael loves spending time with her husband (of 20 years this May!) and her two kids (10 and 13 years old), who continually remind her how to stop and have fun. She is always eager to leave the city in order to snowboard, mountain bike, hike, and camp. She loves having family or friends over and live music events are usually on her calendar. But if it is a quiet evening, you will likely find her curled up with a book.
Stacey Wee - Child Development Specialist
Stacey has been nominated for her absolutely amazing work as a CDS in the kindergarten class at Foothills. She is more like a full classroom assistant as she helps with classroom planning and routine, even coming in on her own time to help the teacher. In the fall, she volunteered in one of the other classes that had some difficult children we were looking at, just to help out the teachers. Stacey adopts all of the Big PLANS children with MM funding in the classroom . . . often sitting with them all at her table to help them. Stacey is a master at collecting resources and making her own materials. Not only does she gather items for her children on her PUF caseload, but for the MM children as well. In addition to writing notes for her Educational Coordinator, she makes up charts and information and keeps in constant contact with all therapists. She even made presents at Christmas for the whole class and makes materials for the teacher. Stacey constantly goes above and beyond and is very deserving of this award.
Born and raised in Calgary, Stacey married her high school sweetheart (in fact, Stacey and Bill will celebrate their 33rd wedding Anniversary in April), and worked as a Trust Officer with Royal Trust before having children. When her daughter was born, Stacey felt fortunate to have the choice of being a stay at home mom. While raising her children (daughter Ashley, now age 28 and works at Spruce Meadows; son Patrick, now age 24 – attends University of Calgary), she was able to do a lot of volunteering in both her daughter and son’s elementary grades. On top of this, Stacey volunteers with Reggaefest Calgary. the Kids Cancer Camp Friday BBQ lunch in the summer, at Spruce Meadows Horse Shows and recently at CBC Calgary Reads Book Sale. She also loves to play games; preferably with other people, but she has also been known to challenge the computer at a serious game of crib. Those who know her, agree that Stacey always has a song in her head and a smile on her face. In fact, Stacey admits that her sense of humor has broken down many barriers for her over the years. When fear or apprehension comes knocking, the first question Stacey asks herself is, “What is the worst thing that could happen?”.
January 2018 B.I.G. Awards
Meagan Marriott – Educational Coordinator
Meagan was nominated this month for all of the hard work, time, and effort she puts forth to help the families that we work with. Recently, we had a little guy referred to us that has hearing challenges. Although this child may not end up on the Big PLANS caseload until after his hearing concerns are addressed, Meagan has worked tirelessly to help support this family and coach them in how to advocate for their child. In addition to this, Meagan is always a supportive team member, a great person to collaborate with, and a solver of problems. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with Meagan, and I truly feel that having someone like her on our team makes us all better at our professions.
Ever since she was a child, Meagan wanted to be a teacher. However, the year she applied to University, she found the process had changed. Because of this, Meagan ended up going into Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies on a bit of a whim, majoring in children with severe emotional and behavioural disturbances. It was a blessing in disguise as Meagan found out that she loved learning about how to work with marginalized populations.
It wasn’t until she completed her education degree and actually started teaching that Meagan realized “teaching”, in the general sense, was not what she wanted to do after all. Then, during an incredible teaching experience at William Roper Hull (a CBE school offering specialized and individualized programs for students with severe behavioral and emotional difficulties), Meagan learned a tremendous amount about the treatment of behaviours and discovered she could blend her love for psychology with her teaching background.
Work has an important place in Meagan's life and she is driven to always push to do more, do better, and be better. One of Meagan's strongest values is to be of service and she feels blessed that her career allows her the opportunity to serve every day. Working for so many years in early intervention continually strengthens her belief that this work is absolutely vital to not only the children and their families directly but to our society as a whole.
Meagan's strongest passion in her life is her family. She is blessed with two incredible children and an amazing husband who shares her fire for life. Together the family especially loves to camp, study Spanish (the family is bilingual), play games, read and travel! Travel is especially exciting to Meagan and her husband as together, they have traveled to over 15 different countries and made the most incredible memories on these trips! Next year they are planning their first backpacking trip with the children and planning to go to Costa Rica for a month!
December 2017 B.I.G. Awards
Melissa Rotzien – Child Development Specialist
Melissa Rotzien was nominated in December for her incredible work with Big PLANS. Melissa is always prepared for each day or session, very knowledgeable about her client and their needs and creates an amazing relationship with her kiddo and families.
With her diploma in Social Work and Disability Studies from Mount Royal University, Melissa was originally interested in pursuing a career focused on addictions and mental health. However; after working in a daycare program with children age 0-12 whose mothers were receiving support for sexual exploitation, her focus shifted. Melissa quickly realized she had a passion and talent for working with small children. After her little brother received early intervention support through Big PLANS a few years ago, Melissa inquired about opportunities available. Now, in her fifth year with Big PLANS, Melissa finds it refreshing to be a part of a team that exudes professionalism, knowledge and support. She feels very grateful to have had the opportunities over the last few years to learn from other team members, and the children and families that she serves.
The oldest of six siblings (including six year old twin sisters), Melissa has an innate ability to connect and establish good rapport with children. Her ability to be honest and firm, yet empathetic and understanding, helps her in working with children and families. In addition, her personal and professional experience with individuals living with Autism Spectrum Disorder has, and continues to, assist her in her practice building relationships and teaching skills not only with kiddos on the spectrum but with all of the children in her life. Melissa treats everyone with compassion and respect, and hopes her work can positively touch and influence the lives of children and families.
When she isn’t working, Melissa can be found spending time with those she cares about. Whether it's having coffee dates with her grandparents, BBQ gatherings with friends, or having a sibling come for a sleep over, she likes to stay connected and involved with those she is close to. If it's summer time, you'll likely find Melissa at a campground, or on a beach. Melissa has also given her time to volunteer at events with Pride Calgary and in fundraising events for The Doorway, a non-profit that provides a space for young people to plan their way off the streets and into mainstream society (where she is presently also working until June). Born on Halloween, Melissa likes spooky things. She could not live without music, her favorite color is yellow and she loves yoga. She also still lives by a lesson taught from her mom, “Don't worry so much about today, because in 6 months from now your life could look completely different.”
Melissa Plante- Occupational Therapist
Melissa was nominated for being an incredible Occupational Therapist who pours so much of herself into her work. Despite having her own family, when Melissa is working with a child, she is focussed and thoughtful about what is happening in the moment and what that child needs to be successful. Melissa is a dedicated team player and is often looking for ways our team can collaborate to increase the effectiveness of our services. She is the first to suggest joint goals with the SLP and to send helpful OT tools and tricks to the other members of the team to help make their sessions more successful. A favourite thing about Melissa is her positivity! She is the one you can turn to whenever you need a positive boost or need help seeing the silver lining. Melissa’s compassion and understanding of others always shines through even the most trying of times. Melissa definitely deserves to be recognized for her contribution to Big Plans and to the children she works with every day!
Occupational therapy kind of snuck up on Melissa. Like most people, she had no idea what it really was. When Melissa was 19 years old, she knew she wanted to be in a profession that helped people but teaching and nursing did not quite seem to fit. Melissa originally started to volunteer at a Rehabilitation Clinic that had several physical therapists and one occupational therapist. Once accepted to the U of A program, Melissa met the other students in OT and immediately knew she was where she was meant to be! With her Bachelors of Science in Rehabilitation Medicine, Melissa started working as a full time OT in 2002 at the Grande Prairie Hospital primarily with adults; knowing she eventually wanted to work with children.
Melissa and her husband Chad were ready for a change (both born and raised in Grande Prairie) so found a fit in Calgary in 2004 near the mountains and then Okotoks for an even quieter pace and access to hikes and camping. It was at this time Melissa started her full time career in pediatrics. In 2011, a friend introduced Melissa to Big PLANS and she has expanded her caseload with Big PLANS ever since. Compassionate and non-judgmental, Melissa is an asset to the Big PLANS team, understanding that there are many ways to approach different situations. She realizes that everyone has their own experiences, cultures, comfort level and that we truly have to meet the children, families and teachers where they are at. She finds it incredibly inspiring to help a child develop and to be welcomed into their home!
When she is not working, Melissa loves being in and near the mountains, camping, going for hikes, running, walks and bike rides with her family (Melissa and Chad have two beautiful children, Siena age 10 and Griffin age 8) and she loves her morning coffee! Melissa even has an adventurous side as she has been skydiving and rappelled off the Sunlife Tower (28 Storeys) as a volunteer for Easter Seals dropzone. Despite this, she also loves curling up with a good book and prefers quiet to loud crowds.
Jill Botelho - Occupational Therapist
Jill received nominations from two different co-workers this month:
Jill is wonderful to work with, having endless amounts of energy and always putting 110% effort into her programming. She is a great sounding board for her teammates, always offering a thoughtful and practical perspective. Jill really takes time to get to know her students and makes accommodations to best serve their individual needs. She creates innovative strategies to bring fine motor development into the classroom setting and received overwhelming positive feedback after her PD presentation last April on visual supports Those who were in attendance received many useful tools and ideas from her workshop. Her presentation is available on google docs for those who would like to take a look. It can be found in CDS PD Presentations for April 2017.
Jill is very professional and is always thinking of the children and coming up with new and exciting ways to implement ideas for them. When working with children, favorite goals are the ones set out by Jill. The children love when she involves the whole class and they are always listening attentively. Even when she is contacted on non-work hours, Jill is happy to help me and give advice. Jill has even came up with ideas and worked on them while in the car on a way to a family ski trip. Jill is an inspiration! If I were to go back to school and change careers, I would want to be an Occupational Therapist. When I'm at home thinking of an activity for my own child, I often think, “what would Jill do or use for this?”. Jill is such a hard worker and definitely deserves this award.
Holding her BKin from Acadia University 2001 (Wolfville, Nova Scotia) and her M Sc OT from McMaster University 2003 (Hamilton, Ontario), Jill has always been interested in the broad scope of OT. After graduation, Jill began working as an OT and has always held some form of a school health position. Growing up in Calgary, she moved away for ten years but is now back in Calgary with her husband Andy, living only ten minutes away from her childhood home.
In 2008, Jill began working part-time so her and Andy could begin a family. In 2015, after recommendations and encouragement from old colleagues from Renfrew, she joined the Big PLANS team. Jill feels privileged to work with an amazing team in Langdon. Not only are they flexible, eager to learn and available to help each other out, their support made Jill’s transition to Big PLANS seamless. Although she did not anticipate loving the "small town" therapy life, Jill actually finds it a highlight. Once in town, her longest commute is five minutes and the very quiet commute home on a sunny afternoon is fantastic.
A busy mom to three boys: Owen (9), Joshua (6), and Caleb (3), you will often find Jill in her minivan or at a hockey rink when she isn’t working. When you are really lucky you might even find her at the ski hill. When she has time to herself, Jill loves to run and enjoys running on trails in Fish Creek with her music on. In fact, Jill completed four half marathons in 2017, with her last run being the “Strip at Night” in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. She would highly recommend it and felt it was an honour to run with 30,000 other people for #Vegas Strong organizations. A very simple person, Jill enjoys travel and her hot cup of tea. Five years ago her husband, Andy, opened a physiotherapy clinic in Silverado which has been one of their great joys and largest learning experience of their lives.
As an OT and a mother, Jill is realizing how passionate she is about parent education. She understands how crazy life can be for so many families so she works hard to make sure parents feel empowered. Jill tries to show them therapeutic use of self and how using household items with the time they have, can make a lot of difference. In the last five years she has also developed a strong awareness for Paw Patrol, Thomas, and Ninjago characters – ha ha! With this, she has discovered a knack for individualizing any activity to make it fit a passion!
Tara Rossiter-Exall - Speech Language Pathologist
Tara was nominated this month for not only being a wonderful speech pathologist, but also for the wonderfully comprehensive reports she writes that paint a complete picture of a child’s abilities and area of need. Tara’s reports truly set the bar for what is necessary to get PUF/ELL kiddos approved to ensure children on her case load get the funding and support they need. Further, Tara’s approach to therapy attends to a child’s needs in all areas of development. Her organization and this attention to the whole child make her an incredible asset to the team. Most importantly, Tara’s therapy sessions are so much fun that children want to keep coming to see her despite having completed all their goals!
Tara has always loved working with children and knew that her career would involve them. Originally planning to become a French Immersion teacher, Tara was in Quebec on an immersion program during the summer between her 2nd and 3rd year of university when she met a woman in the program who was interested in becoming a speech language pathologist. Tara had never heard of an SLP before that but it sounded perfect so she went back to university in the fall and started taking all of the prerequisite courses required to apply to speech language pathology. Tara was accepted to the program the following year now holds a B.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Calgary (1995) and Masters of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Alberta (1997). Born and raised in Calgary, Tara and her husband Rainer have been married for 18 years, and are proud parents to two daughters, Ashley (12) and Lauren (9).
Tara brings a very unique perspective to her professional role, as she has first-hand experience being a parent of a child with special needs. Their daughter Lauren was born with a severe congenital heart defect which has required several open heart surgeries and months of hospitalizations as well as frequent follow-up appointments. As well as having medical issues, Lauren also has learning challenges.
After Lauren was born, Tara took two years off of work to care for her. Although she really missed her professional life, Tara knew she could not go back to a traditional job that would not allow the flexibility that she required. Knowing Carmen from their time at the U of A, Tara approached her about doing contract work for Big Plans. She began with a light caseload; however, as Lauren's health has improved, Tara has been able to take on more hours and is a valuable asset to the Big PLANS team! Tara loves being able to meld her experiences as a special needs parent with her knowledge as a professional to help parents navigate their own experiences. Tara acknowledges and is constantly reminded of a lesson her mom ever taught her: 'Not to judge people. You never know what battle they might be fighting.'
Tara truly has a knack for making things fun too! Parents will often tell her that they will try the same activity that she has done in therapy with their child and the child will say 'But it was more fun with Miss Tara!' Tara is not afraid to be silly and she loves to laugh!
Tara is also passionate about her work as a director of a local non-profit called Heart Beats. They provide financial, emotional and community support to children born with congenital heart defects and their families. Heart Beats organizes a fundraising Family Run every year and with the funds raised, they are able to provide financial support for families who are required to travel to Edmonton for their children's heart surgeries.
When she isn’t at work, Tara loves great food and wine, including trying new restaurants. It's a running joke with her friends and family that if anyone needs a recommendation for a good restaurant, they ask Tara, not Trip Advisor! Tara also loves to travel, read and has never found a sport that she didn’t love!
November 2017 B.I.G. Awards
Esther Carras - Child Development Specialist & ELL Therapist, FSCD Common Approach Team
Esther Carras was nominated in November for her incredible work with Big PLANS. "Brilliance, Inspiration and Greatness"-three words that embody who Esther Carras truly is. Esther's work is “brilliant”, whether it's as a CDS in the classroom, as an FSCD worker in the home or as an ELL therapist. She is creative, positive and enthusiastic in her approach with all the children she is involved with. The families and the children who are fortunate enough to have her in their lives continue to be grateful for her involvement. Esther expects "greatness" from herself but she also "inspires greatness" in other. She readily shares her wealth of materials and knowledge with her colleagues, always offering to mentor those who are new to Big PLANS. She is a team player and a collaborator, "inspiring" others to work together to be the best that they can be. Esther is one of the most positive people I know and her encouragement and genuine interest in others, whether they are her co-workers or the children she "inspires" is nothing short of "brilliant." Thank you for your Brilliance, Inspiration and Greatness Esther!
Being raised speaking Dutch and struggling to learn English as a little girl, Esther finds that she can easily relate to the ELL students she now works with. She still remembers how challenging it was to try to decipher between the languages and how scared she was to make a mistake. Esther is very passionate about her work with kids with behavioral struggles and needs, and those that require ELL support. Not only does she find it very rewarding to watch these children overcome challenging obstacles and accomplish small tasks, but she also considers it a very special privilege to walk alongside these children as they grow and change throughout the year.
Raised in Prince George, BC, Esther has worked with kids since the young age of 12, when she began babysitting. This continued through her teen years as she learned to micro-manage taking care of five kids under the age of six, while her friends were busy “hanging out”. After having two amazing girls of her own, she decided to stay home with them and open her own day home. At the same time, Esther took in at least three foreign exchange students at a time. The house was always buzzing with excitement and still is today, with her daughters Kaitlyn (13), Avalon (11) and four cats (Annabelle, Cookie, Oreo, and Princess Buttons). Esther has been happily remarried for two years to Steve who works at the science centre and she loves the extra life he brings to their home. Steve can be a big kid himself!
After moving to Calgary as a single mom, Esther began working part-time as an Aide at her daughter’s school and was soon introduced to Big PLANS. She joined the team as a Child Development Specialist in November 2013. Highly organized and a multi-tasker at heart, Esther enjoys a challenge and has fun finding creative solutions to problems. Her passion is evident and now in her fifth year with Big PLANS, Esther still cannot believe she gets paid to do the job she loves!
Popcorn is her favorite food group and Esther enjoys her COFFEE with real cream. She would even sacrifice cookies to have cream in her coffee! When she isn’t busy working, Esther loves to cheer on her girls as they play sports (Kaitlyn plays volleyball both girls play basketball), read, spend time with her family playing games or having movie nights, volunteer at her girl’s school and the youth drop-in centre (which has grown from 10 kids to over 50 some days) and re-purpose recyclable items (i.e. she turns old peanut butter jars, yogurt lids and more into fun activities for the kids she works with). Esther loves being creative and finding ways to save money. In fact, she has been cutting her own hair for six years now and has come to the conclusion that You Tube can teach her anything!
Shannon Kushniruk – Big PLANS Speech-Language Pathologist
Shannon was nominated in November as a fantastic team player who put an incredible amount of time into doing the best job she can. Not only does Shannon excel in organization, thoroughness, and attention to detail, but she is thoughtful about each child she sees and never presents cut and paste ideas, goals or strategies. Shannon always checks back to "what is the best plan for this child?" and continually adjusts accordingly. Thank you for your Brilliance, Inspiration, and Greatness!
“My mom always said that life is short and you should spend your days doing all the things that you love and that make you happy.” Shannon really took these words her mom said to heart, and she feels fortunate to be in a career where she is truly excited to go to work every day. Shannon wanted to become an SLP as long as she can remember. Growing up watching her mom run a private SLP practice in Red Deer, Shannon had the opportunity to watch her work, and help out with some of her clients in various capacities. This only further developed Shannon’s passion for Speech Pathology. Shannon received her Bachelor of Education from University of Alberta, working as a CDS with a number of children who had Autism. She then went on to earn her Master of Science in Speech Language Pathology from University of Utah. Currently, Shannon is a Registered Speech Language Pathologist in Alberta and Certified Member of Speech-Language and Audiology Canada. In the spring of 2016, Shannon was looking for a change and a colleague recommended working with Big PLANS. Sharing the same beliefs about early intervention and therapy styles as Big PLANS, Shannon was thrilled to join the team in April 2016. Her Education Degree has been an asset to the organization, allowing Shannon to work effectively with teachers and come up with creative ways to support children in the classroom. Her interpersonal skills have enabled Shannon to collaborate effectively with others, and develop positive relationships with families.
Working as an SLP for the past five and a half years, Shannon admits the most exciting part of her job is seeing children and families succeed. The most rewarding moments are when she is able to watch a child do something new that they couldn't do before, as well as sharing smiles and giggles with kids as they play and learn together. Shannon appreciates being able to experience the world through the eyes of the children she works with, as well as having the opportunity to learn from colleagues who are equally as passionate about helping children and families.
When she is not working, you can usually find Shannon at a yoga class, one of her favourite activities outside of work. She also enjoys spending time with her family and dog (miniature poodle mix that she rescued in July 2012), good food (especially perogies and pizza), wine, country music, and getting out to the mountains to hike, camp, and enjoy the outdoors. Her OT friends give her a hard time about her many sensory sensitivities, but despite that, Shannon is willing to try some new things. She once tried to learn how to ride a unicycle (but it ended in a chipped tooth!) and has completed both a half and full marathon (June 2015). Recently married to Brandan in October 2016, Shannon is excited to announce that they are expecting their first child due in April 2018!
October 2017 B.I.G. Awards
Heather Kinahan- Educational Coordinator
Heather was nominated in October for going above and beyond for her team, which includes her making them lunch and helping them figure out the new iPads! Heather is very approachable, easy to talk to, handles everything with her usual good humor, and is always willing to help out with a smile on her face. The way Heather organizes her invoicing and notes is also amazing and makes it so much easier for the office. Thank you for your Brilliance, Inspiration and Greatness Heather!
When you first meet Heather, you are sure to be greeted with her contagious smile and warm personality. You will also discover how passionate she is in supporting those around her. Whether it is through the sharing of ideas, knowledge, and strategies; or just being there to listen, lend a hand and pass along positive feedback; Heather believes that people can all be better versions of themselves when they feel supported. Heather gives freely of her time and is truly interested in the lives of the people she meets and has the privilege of getting to know.
Heather grew up in southern Alberta in the close-knit community of Rolling Hills. It was here she witnessed first hand how a strong sense of community can help support and improve the lives of everyone involved. When she was little, it was a huge treat to get books from the public library. She remembers her mom reminding her that she needed to be good if she wanted to go to the library to get new books. Heather is quite certain she never missed a trip to the library and it was in this small, one-room library, run by community volunteers, her love of books began to grow. Heather still loves books and will confess to be addicted to buying books, especially children's books. She is happy to have a job where she can put them to good use!
Heather graduated from the University of Lethbridge in the spring of 1996 with her B.Ed. and B.Sc. and that summer married her husband, Mike. In January 1997 she began teaching grade 2 in Carstairs, where she continued to teach (grades 1 and 2) until the birth of their first child in February 2000. Heather then had the privilege of staying home to raise their three children (Tyler: 17, Riley: 15, Amber:13) before re-entering the workforce with Big PLANS in the fall of 2010. Heather is grateful for her work with Big PLANS and all the talented professionals she has been fortunate to work with along the way. She feels each year her skills grow as the direct result of the people she is surrounded by.
On weekends you will likely find Heather spending time with her family watching basketball, playing board games or just hanging out laughing and being silly together. Heather also enjoys gardening, baking, entertaining, hiking and travelling. In the fall of 2015, Heather decided to try something new and started taking acrylic painting lessons. She has discovered a new love and if a chunk of spare time presents itself, you will find her in front of a canvas painting and creating.
Lindsey Phillips - Child Development Specialist / ELL Therapist
Lindsey Phillips was nominated in October for stepping up to help pilot the iPad project and for providing the office with useful feedback. In addition, she was able to do this without any actual training so put a lot of time and effort into helping develop the process. Thank you for your Brilliance, Inspiration and Greatness Lindsey!
After graduating five years ago from the University of Windsor with her Bachelors in Psychology, Lindsey left her hometown of Amherstburg, Ontario to move to Calgary. It wasn’t long before she started working for Big PLANS. Although she enjoys working with everyone on the the Big PLANS teams, Lindsey is most excited to work with Occupational Therapists. In fact, Lindsey would one day like to return to school to become an OT herself! When Lindsey is not at work, she enjoys playing floor hockey three times a week (and is captain of all three teams), reading mystery/suspense books, and hiking/exploring Banff and Lake Louise. She also admits to having a huge sweet tooth with chocolate bars and cookies being her favourites! One of Lindsey’s most memorable moments includes driving to California with her husband James and staying the whole summer to experience the laid-back California lifestyle. She found it amazing to wake up and spend every day on the beach! Recently married (April 2016), Lindsey and James decided to make a trip to Best Buy to look for a new TV. However, they first stopped in Petsmart, just to look around. The trip to Petsmart ended up with Lindsey and James adopting two older cats (Maurice and Griffin). They never did go to Best Buy for the new TV!
Carmen Souster - Director of Programming, Principal, and SLP for Big PLANS
Carmen Souster was nominated in October for her work as a speech therapist. Her nominee is so thankful for all she has learned and is still learning from Carmen’s speech therapy sessions. Carmen is patient, kind and knows when to “change gears,” to keep the child motivated. Carmen knows what she is doing and is able to execute it perfectly. Carmen’s passion for her work is evident just by watching her face when she is talking to a child or reading a book. Carmen is always happy to help, is a model speech therapist and an amazing person.
Carmen Souster grew up in a tiny farming community East of Big Valley, Alberta where she learned a lot about growing food, nature’s seasons, raising animals and taking care of neighbours. Carmen went to the University of Calgary to earn her first two degrees in Linguistics and Education. She taught for almost 6 months prior to accepting a position offered in the Masters of Speech-Language Pathology program at the University of Alberta. Carmen finished the latter half of her Master’s at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, where she experienced her first multi-disciplinary assessments in Autism Diagnosis. Carmen has lived in Calgary for the past 19 years and is now married with 3 wonderful girls. She works part-time as a speech-language pathologist and part-time as the Director of Big PLANS for Little Kids, Ltd.
If you were to ask Carmen what her favorite thing is about her career, she would say EVERYTHING! She loves the preschools and people she works with, she loves the constant encouragement to learn more about children’s learning, and she loves the challenge of providing successful outcomes in the face of unexpected challenges. In her spare time, she loves to be outside running, especially to notice the seasons changing, she enjoys walking her dogs, she is just beginning to recognize the many benefits of regularly practicing yoga and meditation, likes reading books, playing the piano and learning to play the cello. Her most treasured moments are those spent watching her girls play sports and moments with friends and family just enjoying time together.
Wendy Gundersen - Child Development Specialist
Wendy Gundersen was nominated in October for her incredible work with Big PLANS. "Brilliance, Inspiration and Greatness"-three words that epitomize Wendy Gundersen an absolutely incredible CDS with Big Plans