By Mark Vander Vennen
I don’t need to tell anyone that we live in unusual times. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major adjustments in the details of how we live our daily lives—even as we grapple with new forms of risk, vulnerability, suffering and loss. I am proud of how Shalem has adjusted in order to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Declared an “essential service” at the beginning of the pandemic, we have pivoted dramatically, but scarcely missed a beat. For example, based on current usage, we are projecting a 22% increase in our counselling activity in 2020 compared to 2019.
I am also proud of our community partners, especially our Congregational Assistance Plan (CAP) churches and Counselling Assistance Plan for Students (CAPS) schools, who have engaged even more in the work of supporting the mental health needs of their members in these extraordinary times, despite the extraordinary challenges that they themselves continue to face. Their resilience and creativity take my breath away!
While it may seem counterintuitive, I am convinced that during these unusual times Shalem is also in a strong position to embrace a different kind of adjustment this Fall.
This coming December I turn 65 years of age. A number of months ago (well before COVID-19 struck) I informed Shalem’s Board of Directors of my intention to retire from the position of Executive Director effective the end of 2020, after over 16 years of service in the position. Since then, I have been pleased and grateful for the Board’s diligent, thoughtful, thorough and professional approach to finding a new Executive Director. The Board hired Nelson/Kraft and Associates, a consulting agency that specializes in Executive Director Succession Planning in Christian organizations. Under the Board’s direction, Nelson/Kraft has engaged in a thorough cross-Canada search for a new Executive Director, one who would not just carry on and strengthen the mission of Shalem but also dream big dreams and see extraordinary visions.
I am pleased to report that the Board is now close to announcing a new Executive Director. Watch for the announcement soon! The hope is that the new person will be in place by October 15, 2020, thereby creating a healthy 10-week period of overlap between myself and the new Executive Director. I relish the opportunity to help equip and hand over the reins to a new leader.
Not surprisingly, personally I have mixed feelings about this transition. I love the work of Shalem. I wish I had another 15 years—there is so much more to do in the field of mental health. I will miss a lot of people I care about—staff, Board, community partners and supporters. But the time is right in my personal life for this transition to take place.
The time is also right for Shalem. The bottom line: now—even because of the pandemic crisis—is the time to dream big dreams and to see startling, beautiful visions, rooted in the power of the Gospel. I am convinced that through this transition Shalem will emerge stronger, more robust, and even more engaged in the grace-filled ministry of delivering Gospel-driven mental health supports and services. I invite you to support the new Executive Director as you have supported me.
After a rest, I plan to join the Board of Directors of the Shalem Mental Health Foundation, in order to keep my relationships with various large donors and further support the quest for more stable long-term financial stability for Shalem. I intend to increase my own personal donations to Shalem—and I encourage you to do the same! I will be Shalem’s biggest fan from a distance.
Stay tuned—more to come!
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W., is Executive Director of the Shalem Mental Health Network