Two female graduates of Okanagan College have earned the highest honours from the Okanagan College Alumni Association (OCAA) for their outstanding contributions within their communities and industries.
Vernon’s Bree Cawley was honoured with the Distinguished Alumni Award.
A graduate of the Bachelor of Business Administration program in 1999, Cawley has made her mark in communications, marketing and non-profit leadership for a host of organizations.
In August 2017, after realizing the lack of support there was for her daughter who was born with a brain abnormality, Cawley founded the Okanagan chapter of GIRLS CLUB, a group for girls with autism and neuro-developmental differences formed to give girls a place to be themselves and connect with others who share in their experience. It is 100 percent volunteer-run and relies on donations to operate.
“We offer regularly scheduled free meetups and activities for these girls, as often these kiddos are the ones that go from therapy to therapy, but don’t get the chance to connect with other like-minded kids to make friends,” said Cawley who, initially, was funding the club’s activities out of her own pocket before receiving essential grants to continue the program. Since the club’s inception, activities have been free for members, which creates increased access for families that may not be able to afford club registration fees.
“Through GIRLS CLUB, Bree provides families in the Okanagan with an opportunity to connect, have friendships and form community,” says Vicky Ryan, Founder, GIRLS CLUB. “The work that Bree is doing is affecting hundreds of families.”
Cawley, current communications officer for the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation, was humbled by the award.
“I am still not sure how I deserve to stand up here and accept this award, but I am incredibly grateful for the chance to do so,” she said. “I extend my gratitude to my fellow BBA grads who became lifelong friends (one of which even became my husband), my amazing instructors, and the Okanagan College Alumni Association, who have all supported me in my career, in my life, and allowed me to be exactly where I was meant to be right now.”
Christina Fast is the recipient of this year’s Young Alumni Award.
“I was a careless 19-year-old with no clear direction in life when a neighbour recommended I register for the Continuing Studies Sterile Processing Certificate program at OC,” said Kamloops’ Fast, now residing in Calgary. “I was fortunate to have had a number of inspiring instructors and preceptors throughout the program who imparted their knowledge and passion for a field of healthcare that deserves much more recognition for its essential role in patient safety.”
Since graduating from the program (which has since been renamed Medical Device Reprocessing Certificate) in 2006, Fast became an International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM) certificated educator and began teaching internationally trained health care workers, unable to be licensed in Canada, how to sterilize surgical instruments.
In 2011 she volunteered to work as a sterile processor on the Africa Mercy ship, stationed in Sierra Leone. Not only did she improve sterile processing practices on the ship and ran education sessions in the evenings to ensure staff were appropriately trained, but she also visited local hospitals. Finding no organization that worked to address the obvious need for proper sterilization, Fast founded SPECT, a Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust.
Over the last eight years, SPECT has worked with staff from more than 100 hospitals and 60 clinics in African Nations. Fast has educated and mentored more than 500 workers as well as advocated with local and national governments to address standards to improve sterile processing.
“I would have never dreamt that a sterile processing certificate would lead me to starting a charitable organization that has now gone on to impact thousands of lives in 14 low-income countries,” said Fast. “I’m so proud to have begun this rewarding career at Okanagan College.”
Vernon’s Kara Kazimer, president of the board of the alumni association, said both women have done outstanding work.
“Their commitment to their communities and industries is remarkable,” said Kazimer. “We congratulate both of them on their accomplishments and can honestly say we are excited to see what they do next – our community is a better place because of people like them.”