Get to Know Distress Centre’s CEO, Robyn Romano
Please note that answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What was your journey to becoming CEO like? How did you get started?
Robyn: I’ve actually been at Distress Centre for about 15 years. I came as a social work practicum student, and long story short, I did not intend to be a social worker. I really wanted to be a nurse. I realized I do not have a science brain. And while I was at Mount Royal and doing some courses and trying to upgrade science, I really looked at what was the essence of what I wanted to get out of nursing and what other programs might be able to fit my more artsy brain than my lack of science brain.
I explored getting into the social work program and started at Mount Royal, came to the Distress Centre as a practicum student, and I fell in love with the organization, absolutely fell in love with the work that we do here and the impact that we get to make on community by being a part of Distress Centre. And so I’ve been here 15 years and I think I have gone through about 12 different positions in the organization, starting as a practicum student.
Between my first and second year of my diploma at Mount Royal I got hired on here as a summer student, and that just opened up door after door after door for me within the organization to continue growing myself in my professional capacity. Being here also helps you grow in your personal capacity and just continue to see other avenues.
When people reflect on social work, they really think of the clinical aspect of social work. So counselling, child and family services, street outreach. And I really got introduced quickly to the whole leadership and administrative side of social work. Everything that I do within my role here at Distress Centre as CEO is bringing that social work lens matched with the leadership and business skills that I’ve learned and developed over time.
Getting to see different outlets and ways to bring my skills and build myself and get to be just part of an organization that has such an impact in community has kept me around and has allowed me to just continue moving through.
Q: How did you get to CEO?
Robyn: It took having really good mentorship and leadership and being in a really supportive organization. When I came for my diploma practicum interview, I was nervous. I’d never worked in the sector before. All my experience had really been in retail and in customer service. And so, I was so nervous about what they were going to ask and how I was going to able to really be able to present my skills. And this will always stand out as one of the key factors that has helped me feel comfortable to grow and develop at Distress Centre and that growth and development as much led me into the role that I‘m in today.
I don’t think you can move through an organization and get to a place of moving into those levels of leadership without having a safe environment for that growth and development, because nobody’s perfect. And so to be in an environment that really focused on that growth, really focused on opening up doors, really focused on building up social worker psychologists, it really allowed me to hone in on who I wanted to be as a social worker.
The difference I wanted to make in the community, what I wanted to be a part of, got to the point where I now get the honour and privilege of getting to be the CEO of Distress Centre. But it’s about getting to be a part of something so special within this organization and within this community, and really having the passion for the work that that we do.
So when the position on the role opened up and I thought long and hard about whether I was going to apply for it or not, I was really happy to put my name forward and get to lead some absolutely incredible people and incredible work.
Ultimately, what it is, is leading and guiding the organization and really working within the community.
Robyn: I get the honor and privilege of getting to lead a team of 150 staff and 300 volunteers at the organization.
That’s one of the things that I love about this position, and I do love getting to be out there in the community, being a voice for the people using our services.
Robyn: It is tough out there in the world right now, and we hear that every day on the lines.
When we look at the housing market, when we look at rental vacancy, when we look at inflation, when we look at the state of mental health, when we look at youth mental health, there is so much going on in our community and often for our most vulnerable and marginalized populations, there’s not always that voice out there.
How can we come together across the different systems to be able to meet these community needs? And I would say if there’s anything that drives me and my passion as CEO at Distress Centre, it’s getting to be out there and work collaboratively within the sector to create change for the people that we serve over time.