A Committee That Changes A Community

How do we make the world a better place for more people? I ask myself a variation of that question mid-morning commute every day. Often, that broader question leads to these questions – how can we better serve the children and families of Vista Del Mar? How do we make the world a more accepting place for the residents on campus? How do we provide more opportunities for Vista students? I know what you’re thinking, ‘Lena, maybe try a mindfulness podcast or a zen Spotify playlist instead of trying to solve all of the world’s problems on the 405.’ Well, you’re right that the answers I seek never present themselves in a traffic jam, but they do show up when I arrive on Vista’s campus. In short, the answer resides in enacting agency-wide inclusive practices.

Each day I see a campus and staff dedicated to ensuring every child feels a sense of belonging on our campus. When a sense of belonging is provided to a child facing severe challenges, you are affirming that their community cares deeply about them and their outcome. This mission has taken form on campus thanks to Family Service of Santa Monica Program Director, Chantilly Wijayasinha’s establishment of the Diversity Equity Inclusion Justice, and Belonging Committee (DEIJB).

The DEIJB committee’s mission is to inspire an entire agency to become a brave space. To form a community banded together to promote equity, justice, belonging, and inclusion and refusing to settle for the aspirational quality of these words. Chantilly acknowledges that nationally- “there is a lack of spaces to discuss these topics and address them. Her goal is to create these brave and ensure practices that support this goal become policies.

When Chantilly began at Vista in the Adoptions and Foster Care Division, she immediately identified an opportunity to educate the staff on applying a racial justice lens to clients considering transracial adoption. Chantilly shares- “I always had a lens around classism and racism, now throughout my career, that lens has expanded so that I’m prepared to confront and dismantle oppressive structures.” Chantilly continues to offer training for prospective adoptive parents on transracial adoption and LGBTQ+ youth in systems of care to ensure their readiness to provide an affirming home and community for an adoptee.

As Director of our Mental Health Division – FSSM, Chantilly has formed the DEIJB committee to make an even broader impact on the entire Vista workforce. Chantilly knows that “as a social worker, social justice is folded into our values and mission” but that it requires the involvement of Vista leadership to make it a priority rather than an after-thought.

The committee meets monthly and aims to effect change through her platform and its collaboration between Senior Leadership Members. Chantilly wants to ensure that “this committee elicits change through upholding leadership accountability where the results demonstrate broader representation in leadership roles, equitable pay, and increased staff retention.”

Yes. I am inspired by our division-wide promotion of inclusive practices and our LA community’s response to these issues. My incessant inquiries about making the world may never subside, but knowing that they will be answered by meaningful action is what gives me peace without complacency.