After four and a half years at the helm of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, executive director Bree Denning is stepping down to take on a new role at the territorial level.
Denning starts next month as the Department of Health and Social Services’ senior advisor on problematic substance use. There, she will lead development of a territory-wide alcohol strategy.
“I’m pretty excited about that,” she told Cabin Radio. “That’s something that we’ve been advocating for.”
As senior advisor, Denning will oversee a whole-of-government approach to addressing problematic substance use, as well as the implementation of a multi-departmental committee and working groups on the issue. Overall, she said, it’s about looking at how to best address problematic substance use in the territory.
“I think most people in the NWT will say there are gaps in our services for individuals with problematic substance use and there’s a lot we could be doing,” she said.
“There’s a lot of room for doing that creatively and really looking at empowering communities to do that kind of work.”
In her time at the women’s society, its work expanded from three programs based in one building to eight programs operating from four sites.
Denning selected as highlights the creation of the Common Ground program, which helps provide work to people experiencing homelessness, renovations at the shelter, and converting the former Arnica Inn into a Covid-19 isolation centre.
“It was an incredible experience to be part of the Yellowknife Women’s Society and I’m not going anywhere. I intend to help support their work going forward,” she said.
Neesha Rao in a submitted photo.
Neesha Rao becomes the interim executive director of the women’s society.
She said her goal over the next year is to “steer the ship” and build relationships with staff and clients.
Rao brings to the role her experience working in family and child protection law with the Legal Aid Commission of the Northwest Territories, as well as her passion for trauma healing.
“What I saw from my work with my clients is that so many families were struggling to care for their children because they were homeless or because their housing was precarious,” she said. “I’m excited about having a chance to be an advocate in that area.”
Rao said trauma healing is important as many families have been affected by the trauma of the residential school system.
“The two and a half years that I have been here in Yellowknife have been really healing for me personally with the community and the access to the land,” she said. “I just hope to have a chance to be able to give back to this community.”