“To me, it all comes down to the question: what are you going to do with the time and energy that you have to give?”
Jeff St. John is a thinker with a capital “T,” who relishes pondering life’s big questions and problems.
It’s a good thing, too, because through his work as vice-president of innovation and strategy at Aspen Family and Community Network Society – a non-profit agency serving more than 5,000 at-risk Calgarians each year – his brain is constantly spinning, trying to come up with strategies to tackle homelessness, mitigate poverty and improve child welfare.
“If you already have the answer to these problems, then I’m not needed,” he says. “I spend my time thinking about the next question.”
Take, for instance, one big question St. John tackled: Why can’t all of the programs and services within the social system for homeless families communicate and work with each other, rather than work separately?
Enter Integrated Services Assessment and Case Coordination (ISACC). Created as a pilot in 2007 that helped about 45 families, ISACC is now a permanent program that assists more than 160 families every year receive the help they need to stay off the streets.
ISACC is kind of like a one-stop shop where homeless Calgary families can turn to get help. Prior to its creation, every agency involved with providing a service to a family – be it job training, child welfare, financial assistance or providing shelter – worked in an insular way that usually didn’t coordinate with other agencies, let alone work together with the same goal. However, with ISACC, a family is helped efficiently and quickly, so their time spent homeless is minimal, and their housing and livelihood is sustainable.
“This way, one system isn’t saying, ‘You need to be at this meeting at 9 o’clock,’ when another says to get a full-time job and get an income,” St. John says. “That can be very difficult when you’re in a state of crisis.”
In 2009, after less than two years as a program manager for Aspen, St. John was promoted to his current role as vice-president of innovation and strategy.
Most days, his car and his BlackBerry are his office, as he scurries from meeting to meeting with groups such as the Calgary Homeless Foundation, talking about budgets, evaluation and how to design better social programs.
St. John calls himself a pragmatic hopeful. But even he admits homelessness and other social issues will always be around, as difficult as that is for him to acknowledge.
“The other difficult thing to think about is, ‘What else am I going to do? Am I going to ignore it, or act?'” he asks. “To me, it all comes down to the question: what are you going to do with the time and energy that you have to give?”
Why he’s the top: St. John creates social programs that help more than 5,000 Calgarians each year who face serious challenges such as homelessness and poverty.
The key to his success: “I love the challenge of making sense of the deep complexity of human psychology, spirituality and sociology, and discovering innovative ways to create better futures.”