When working in an office with multiple personalities trying to work as one to get the big (and the little) things done, nothing is more important than patience and positivity. Even an unrivaled work ethic won’t get one too far without these things. Leading a team and juggling these variables, along with trying to be the example that a leader wishes their team to strive for, all while doing so with fairness and kind assertion, is a tricky art and a constant work in progress for any great leader. Melissa Jones, CEO of Alberta Foster and Kinship Association, has seemingly mastered this artistry.
The above words are spoken by a trusted colleague of Melissa who truly believes in her leadership skills and prowess. Melissa is a natural leader. She is wise, thoughtful, and intentional in everything she does, from her decisions for the association to her everyday conversations with her team. Her intuition and insight, both situationally and in long-term planning, create opportunities she works diligently to see through to the end. Incredibly, she executes it all with grace and kindness, accomplishing it all by lifting her team and empowering them so that everyone feels valued, heard, skilled, and an essential part of the whole.
Over the past two years at the Alberta Foster and Kinship Association, during Melissa’s tenure as Executive Director – then her transition to Chief Executive Officer- the association has seen immense growth, change, possibilities, and genuine excitement build both in the team and the community they serve. Her ability to recognize the community’s needs, followed by her tenacity to get it done, is remarkable. She is adept at communicating with whomever she speaks, doing so with fairness, wisdom, thoughtful consideration, and an ability to hear what people are saying.
“Above all, I believe it’s these character traits that have propelled Alberta Foster and Kinship Association into a future that will impact our community of caregivers in a meaningful way, heading steadfast into an era of growth and exciting change,” says another team member of Alberta Foster and Kinship Association. “Through her past teaching experience to her current role, I can think of no one that has more compassion and empathy than she has for the people and communities she serves.”
Whether it be advocating the Ministry for support for the caregiver community, strategic development of the Board of Directors, empowering her team’s personal and professional growth, launching the Alberta Foster and Kinship Association into the future, or simply becoming the backbone of help in the community, Melissa has always been a strong leader and an example for her team.
For Melissa, her inspiration comes from her parents who have taught her to stay true to who she is and always remember why she is on her present path, no matter how the situation arises to always believe the right and achieve great heights. “They have faced many challenges themselves, and demonstrated if you believe in what you are doing and know it is the best you can do within what you know and are given, then you need to keep going,” says Melissa. “My most current inspiration has come from the President of our association board, who has solidly stood by me the last two years and encouraged me when challenges arose, reminding me of the importance to continue doing what I do well and focus on what we can do within our capacity; she has been the rock solid leader for me that I try to be for my team. I combined observations of their experiences, my own experiences, educational opportunities, and reflections to know that not only myself, but everyone can have an impact on what is presented to them; how we impact is up to us individually through mindset, language, determination, and relationships.”
Using her Strengths to Create Something Bigger
Throughout her career, Melissa has been given many opportunities to develop her leadership skills through education, training, and many experiences. Melissa believes in personal continuous education and improvement. In order to be her best and contribute her best to all her relationships and professional environments, she continuously seeks out information and opportunities to better herself. Completing a combination of two certifications in the last 5 years has been Melissa’s latest biggest achievements that have helped her develop skills and a mindset to have positive, strength-based ways of engaging with others, as well as opportunities to lead the Board of Directors and team members through change, and to celebrate achievements no matter how small they may be. (These two certifications are “Appreciative Inquiry Facilitator” through The Center for Appreciative Inquiry, and “Certified Professional Coach” through the College of Executive Coaching.)
Working for the Alberta Foster and Kinship Association in many capacities over the years allowed Melissa to use her strengths and build relationships with various stakeholders within the association’s work. “I’ve always had a vision that more could be done for the families we support; no matter what role I held, I always tried to support change and growth in various areas of the work done by the association,” explains Melissa. “Presented with the opportunity to lead Alberta Foster and Kinship Association into the future, I took my time in making an intentional decision to accept the role based on what I could offer the AFKA and its future.”
Melissa knew Alberta Foster and Kinship Association was already doing good things that worked, and she knew that with the right motivation, the team could grow and implement even more excellent support for the families with the most challenging jobs in the province, taking care of vulnerable children and youth. “I believed my training, experience, and strengths could take Alberta Foster and Kinship Association further and implement the transformational change required to ensure the viability of this provincial association and do the important work that continues to be needed,” elucidates Melissa. “I believe everyone we encounter plays a role in the work we do and that of the association. We all have a story to share and experiences that make us who we are and contribute to the knowledge we share and use to evolve.”
Two years ago, taking on this role allowed Melissa to begin transforming the association and the people supporting the work within. They started with a reflection of the team’s beliefs, visiting their visions for a desired state, and began to work from a hopeful point of view. Within the association’s growing team, they focus on appreciation of what is, what they can do more of, everyone’s strengths, supporting one another, celebration of growth, and development of goals to move them closer to a desired way of supporting one another as well as the provincial membership they serve.
The team gathers periodically to celebrate the evolved changes and the continued movement toward the larger visions. Melissa and her team see challenges as opportunities to grow individually and as a team. These opportunities open doors for learning, supporting one another, engaging with others, and creating spaces for the creative generation of ideas to continue their movement toward what needs to happen to do their work to the best of their abilities. “I am always reminding the team that we continue to grow because of the combination of our strengths; not any one of us is better than the other, we are amazing because of the knowledge, experience, and skills each of us brings to the work we do toward the vision we have as a team,” she adds.
Taking a combined appreciative inquiry and coaching approach to navigate through her team, Melissa understands that her strength-based approaches, ones that support encouragement, motivation, goal setting, and celebration are for the company’s productivity It is also a way to look at what challenges exist impacting performance and growth within their roles. From these conversations, shehears their perception of their own successes and where they need more in either knowledge, experience, or support to perform to the best of their ability. Some examples include supporting growth in their roles through third party training, growth in their role and mentoring to develop new skills, or to hire additional support within the team to provide mentorship in well-being and awareness of their own self-care. “I work to create a culture where we all feel acknowledged, appreciated, and supported as a team; we are not in our roles working in isolation, as we all have many great qualities and skills to offer the work being done, and together we are even greater,” adds Melissa.
Building A Successful Organization
Melissa’s goals within Alberta Foster and Kinship Association are to continue growing a passionate team, supporting their growth and ability to become leaders in their work. It is also important to her to continue building relationships with external stakeholders who have a vested interest in the well-being of children and young people and who are responsible for working as a team with Alberta’s foster and kinship caregivers; without these relationships, they have little impact. “Professionally, within our AFKA team, we are working toward a rebranding of our provincial association to reach more foster and kinship caregivers,” states Melissa. This rebranding includes another important aspect, one of rebranding the face of foster and kinship care; providing an explanation to communities across the province of what it means to be a foster or kinship caregiver, and how support for these families is so important for them to build safe, nurturing foundations for the children and youth in their care to thrive. “Personally, I look forward to continued learning and connection with like-minded visionaries to make positive transformations and increase the amount of recognition for amazing work being done,” she adds. “With this, I hope to have a positive impact by bridging communities, sharing stories, in order create lasting positive impact on the lives of people everywhere trying to do what they believe is best.”
The Alberta Foster and Kinship Association is currently going through a rebranding, including a new website and messaging, which will be launched on December 2023.“We are very proud of the new look, logo, and especially the messaging we are sharing through the website. We are also releasing a “Heartbeat Video” being developed to share at the same time, which speaks to the heart of why our association exists,” states Melissa. “The work done toward this rebranding is a result of bringing together our Board of Directors to help with providing a focus on the next 1-2 years of our strategic planning; from this came the need to rebrand our association and the world of foster and kinship caregiver, to support wide-spread awareness of our association for the community of caregivers we are trying to reach.” It is also to increase awareness with the wider community of individuals, formal organizations, community organizations, and businesses who need to have a greater degree of understanding of the realities of foster and kinship care; to better support and have a positive impact on these families, especially the children and youth in their care.
There are currently many changes within the Alberta child intervention system, and with these changes, one needs to remember those impacted by these changes. “We need to hear the stories, we need to be flexible, and we need to have strength-based conversations to support moving in a positive direction. Collaborative, transparent relationships are so vital to creating constructive transformative change,” concludes Melissa.