A recent publication released by the Saskatchewan Children’s Advocate emphasized a stark and concerning reality: suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24, and transgender and gender-diverse youth are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers. This is particularly significant, as previous suicide attempts are a major indicator for death by suicide.

Distressing trends

The report paints a distressing picture of the mental health challenges faced by these young people, revealing that nearly two-thirds of transgender and non-binary youth in Canada have either self-harmed and/or seriously considered suicide within the past year. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a staggering 94 per cent of transgender and non-binary youth have reported experiencing emotional or mental health concerns lasting at least 12 months.

“I’ve seen a startling increase in suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in queer people in general,” says social worker Emily Ritenburg (she/they) BSW’18. “There’s a sense of hopelessness in the current climate. They are navigating profound hate and damaged relationships from transphobia. There is a lot of grieving in the queer community right now.”

Jacq Brasseur (they/them) CSW'13, BSW'15 says of Ritenberg's past research that it aligns with their own critical thinking about approaches to social work. Photo by Trevor Hopkin
Jacq Brasseur (they/them) CSW'13, BSW'15 says of Ritenberg's past research that it aligns with their own critical thinking about approaches to social work. Photo by Trevor Hopkin

Mental health care can be difficult for many people to access due to lack of capacity, cost and geography. 2SLGBTQIAP+ folks face additional barriers, because not all counsellors understand their unique lived experiences. Jacq Brasseur (they/them) CSW'13, BSW'15, has accessed mental health supports in the past and says, “It can be really frustrating when you can’t find a practitioner who shares your understanding of the world, your values and what it’s like to be queer in a place like Saskatchewan.” They mention that many of their friends have gone outside the province for care, hiring virtual counsellors from Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal. “It’s great that’s an option, but those practitioners don’t understand the reality of queer rights and queer issues in Saskatchewan.”

Fortunately, there is Aroha Pride Counselling & Consulting, a Saskatchewan-based anti-oppressive, anti-racist, queer affirming, sex positive mental health services provider. Their social workers provide virtual mental health services to youth, adults and families, reaching people in areas like rural Saskatchewan, where mental health care can be harder to find. Ritenburg started Aroha in 2021. The firm’s name means “love” in Māori, an homage to Ritenburg’s maternal Ngāruahine lineage and an indication of the spirit in which care is provided.

Ritenburg’s expertise stems from both lived experience and formal training. “As a queer person who has both navigated mental health systems and provided services as a social worker, I have extra knowledge of how to offer compassion and empathy in treatment,” she says.

Meeting the needs of the community

Starting her own firm was important in order to have the freedom to work in a way that aligns with her values. “We’re a fully virtual counselling practice. There is a lack of mental health services for rural queer people, particularly rural queer youth,” she explains. “Many of my clients say it’s the first time they’ve accessed counselling that meets their needs, because services are so scarce where they’re from, or they’re afraid to access them due to attitudes in the community.” Ritenburg mentions that many queer people in rural areas are not able to come out or have to be secretive about their identities due to queerphobia and transphobia: “They may risk alienation and ostracization in their communities if they’re openly queer.”

Aroha (pronounced similarly to the Hawaiian word, aloha) also recognizes that 2SLGBTQIAP+ people disproportionately live in poverty. “As with all marginalized groups, the likelihood of struggling financially is higher, and many are living from paycheque to paycheque,” Ritenburg acknowledges. In response, Aroha offers reduced rates and sliding scale services as much as possible, while still keeping the business sustainable.

The counselling practice was founded independently, but when an overwhelming number of people began reaching out for services, Ritenburg approached other social workers to avoid turning clients away. Now Aroha has five counsellors serving Saskatchewan. With team members holding addition licensing, they’ve expanded their reach to Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia.

“We take the quality of service we provide very seriously,” Ritenburg explains. “When I seek out people to work on our team, I give consideration to the identities and skills they bring and balance that with their education. The people I work with need to be able to demonstrate the quality and competency needed to work with queer people.” Being a virtual practice also makes it easier to find practitioners that align with Aroha’s values and opens the opportunity to work with clients beyond Saskatchewan’s borders.

Strength in numbers

Ritenburg is also involved in a group of queer mental health professionals across Saskatchewan who connect every other month to ensure she’s keeping on top of the climate of queer mental health in the province. “There are a lot of people­­—queer people and allies—who are really dedicated to this work,” she says.

She began exploring her interest in serving the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community during her bachelor of social work practicum at UR Pride in 2018. Many undergrad social work practicums involve shadowing or doing work practicing social workers don’t have time for. Brasseur, Ritenburg’s advisor and a social work grad themselves, had different ideas: “When I made the choice to take on practicum students, I wanted it to be meaningful. I invited the practicum students to develop their own kinds of projects.”

Ritenburg’s project evaluated how well the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Regina was preparing students to work with the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community and on 2SLGBTQIAP+ issues. She found that the faculty, at the time, could be doing a better job. “It was an opportunity to open up important dialogue with the faculty on how to strategize and move forward on better preparing students to work with these demographics,” she explains.

Brasseur was impressed. “Emily’s research project was really phenomenal. It takes a lot of guts to be in a faculty and work on a project that potentially challenges the way it is doing things,” they remark. “It was one of the first times that I can remember meeting an aspiring social worker who was willing to think critically about social work in the same way as me. It made me feel less alone, professionally.”

Emily Ritenburg BSW’18 founded Aroha (pronounced similarly to the Hawaiian word, aloha), a remote counselling and consulting service that is providing meaningful help for the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community. Photo by Trevor Hopkin
Emily Ritenburg BSW’18 founded Aroha (pronounced similarly to the Hawaiian word, aloha), a remote counselling and consulting service that is providing meaningful help for the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community. Photo by Trevor Hopkin

The master’s touch

UR Pride published Ritenburg’s report and used her findings to inform the way the organization educates professionals such as social workers, teachers, child welfare workers on 22SLGBTQIAP+ issues. Ritenburg also presented her research at the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences at the U of R and was awarded the Outstanding Student Proposal Award from the Canadian Association of Social Work Education, the organization that accredits the Faculty of Social Work. Presenting at Congress was a unique experience for an undergrad—her research was ethics approved—and it gave her a foot in the door to the master’s of social work program, a degree she is currently pursuing at the University alongside her clinical work.

Given what a good fit social work is for Ritenburg, some may be surprised to find out that it wasn’t her original professional goal. She started out in arts education, following in their mother’s footsteps. “I really value integrating the arts into education and everything that we do,” Ritenburg says. She soon realized that it wasn’t sustainable for her, though the experience deepened her respect for the work teachers do. She switched to social work because it is so broadly applicable. “You can start in one area and then change it up five years later. There is so much diversity of opportunities,” she explains, going on to say, “Social work aligns with my values of showing up for people who lack resources and whom others take for granted.”

As her practicum topic illustrated, Ritenburg is able to be critical of the profession she is devoted to, particularly due to its history of enabling the Residential School system and the 60s Scoop. “It’s important for us to challenge our history and work on reconciliation in our profession,” she asserts.

The power of community

As much as Ritenburg loves her work, it can be demanding and emotional. On the hard days, she reflects on the power of the queer community. “Queer people don’t have a lot of elders to look up to because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the lack of response to it. A lot of 2SLGBTQIAP+ people don’t make it to adulthood. We lose others to mental health issues and addictions. On the other side, there is resilience rooted in our chosen family and community. No matter what’s going on, whether it’s legislation or clients struggling, that’s one thing that can never be taken from us: the lineage we have in leaning on our community,” she explains, her voice breaking with emotion.

To decompress, Ritenburg likes to sew, build miniatures and do any kind of crafting or do-it-yourself project that involves a lot of problem solving. She also collects vinyl—80s hardcore punk, 80s and 90s alternative music, new wave and proto punk music. “Nerdy stuff,” she laughs.

Family is an important priority for Ritenburg as well. She has a close relationship with her parents, who have always been supportive of her identity and ambitions. “Growing up, my mom instilled in me that it’s important to be authentic and show up for people who lack access to resources or aren’t being advocated for. I pride myself in bringing authenticity to the work I do,” she explains. “My dad instilled in me a way to do that work sustainably. I learned that if I lean too much on that work and the passion that goes into it, it may not be sustainable. I take a little from each parent. Then there’s Ritenburg’s kitty, Lenny, whom she helps on his journey to become accustomed to life with only three legs.

Ritenburg concludes, “I place a lot of value in community. I recognize that it’s not reasonable or possible to be the change I want to see in the world without people in my life who make me feel I can do that, and without me supporting others in doing that. We need to lean into collaboration with others.”

Brasseur recognizes Ritenburg’s role in creating that community: “I met Emily in her role as a student, but I’ve never felt that she’s learning more from me than I am from her. She has really addressed that gap in meaningful 2SLGBTQIAP+ counselling in a way that’s by and for queer and trans people. I think that’s really special. I am confident that Emily has saved people’s lives in our province.”

About the Author

Sabrina Cataldo (she/her) is an award-winning writer and communications consultant who lives in Regina.

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                     Charlene Gavel BAdmin'94

                     Penny McCune BAdmin'86

How would you describe your leadership style?
I consider myself to be a supportive leader. What I mean by that is that I trust in my team's ability and my role is to support them and ensure they have the tools and information needed to accomplish our objectives. By being a supportive leader, I am able to confidently delegate important items to my team, which in turn will ultimately help them grow. What advice do you have for women looking to grow either their own business or within the organization they work for?
There are a few pieces of advice I would give anyone looking to build a successful career.
First, do not shy away from a challenge and instead embrace them. In terms of your career, challenges are simply opportunities to develop your skills and showcase your talent. Take advantage of them.
I would also encourage everyone to take pride in their career and do not apologize for wanting to advance it. The only person responsible for your career, is you so do not be afraid go out and chase your goals. I would also suggest that you make it known to others that you are looking to advance your career.  I would also say that it is important to build a supportive network. Surround yourself with people that you can learn from. How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?
There are a few things that have helped me to build confidence in myself throughout my career. First, I have embraced the challenges that have been presented to me over the course of my career. There are very few things that can help you build as much confidence in yourself as overcoming a challenge, especially a challenge you were not certain you could overcome when you first began sizing it up.
Related to that, the next thing that has helped me build confidence is being accountable to myself by acknowledging and learning from the mistakes I have made in my career.
The last thing I would say that has helped me build confidence over my career is having a high degree of self-awareness. By this I mean, I recognize the areas where I am strongest and areas where I need more development. When you know yourself, it is much easier to focus on your strengths and develop the other areas. How do you balance career, personal life, and passions?
For me, it is about making time for the important things in my life outside of work. At the office I am fully engaged in what I am doing, but away from work I try to be fully engaged with my family and the other things in life that help me destress and recharge my batteries. What are the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?
Selfcare is important for everyone. For me, I try to spend as much time as possible with my family. This is not always easy because we all have busy schedules, but when there is an opening I love to spend time with my family and be active in their lives.
You will also find me out on a golf course on the weekends in summer. While golf is not known for being the most relaxing sport in the world, it is a fantastic opportunity to be active and spend a few hours connecting with my friends and loved ones. What was the most valuable lesson you learned from your time at the University of Regina?
The most valuable lesson I learned in University is to never underestimate the value of hard work. While natural talent and/or luck may help you achieve success to some degree if you are truly ambitious and want to fulfill your life's goals, you need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Is there anything you would like to add?
It is a tremendous honour to be appointed President and CEO of SaskTel. As I step into this new role I am excited to take on the challenges facing our company and to ensure SaskTel remains the best communications provider in the province and one of the most successful companies in the country.


How would you describe your leadership style?
SGI as an organization has adopted an intentional culture. We strive to create a safe environment where we can all show up as our authentic selves.
As CEO it's my job to model the behaviour that we want employees to bring to work every day. I want people to be real, open and comfortable to share their ideas and concerns, so that's what I strive for every day. My style is very collaborative - two heads are better than one, and different perspectives always add value. What advice do you have for women looking to grow either their own business or within the organization they work for?
I would offer this advice to anyone: When opportunity knocks, answer the door.
I've had 13 different jobs at SGI. I looked for opportunities and I applied for jobs even if I didn't have direct experience. If it was a new department, I came in with the mindset that I would learn.
If you're remembered as a person who is good in a crisis, or good with change, you'll be top of mind when someone with your skill set is needed for another project. I truly believe it's about how you show up.
If you can show that you're willing to work hard, that you're humble enough to listen to your customers, your colleagues and the people you lead, and you can persevere through challenging times, you'll be successful. How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?
One way is by looking at problems as opportunities to make things better. Throughout the course of my career at SGI, whenever I moved into a new role, there would be new problems to solve. And when you pull together with your colleagues and staff and manage to solve that problem, it gives you the confidence to know that you can solve the next problem that comes around. And once you've done that a few times, people start to think of you as someone who gets stuff done, which leads to more opportunities.
I've been thinking a lot about resiliency lately. I remember that old quote, "Tough times don't last. Tough people do."
But resiliency isn't just about how much you can endure. It's about having the ability to acknowledge how you're really doing, and to understand what you're able to control. How do you balance career, personal life, and passions?
Finding balance takes a conscious effort because I'm passionate about my career and the work I get to do. It makes each day very fulfilling, but it also makes it easy to get too caught up in work at times. I'm deliberate about setting aside time for myself to nurture my personal relationships and passions - and to get some rest when I need it. What are the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?One of the things I wish I had learned earlier was that you need to find those things that fill you up outside of work so you can be the best version of yourself when you're at work.
Work is important, but it can't be your whole life.
For me, that's spending time with friends and family, cheering on the Riders, recharging at my cabin and travelling when I can. What was the most valuable lesson you learned from your time at the University of Regina?
My time at the University of Regina really set me up for success. I graduated with a Bachelor of Administration, with a major in accounting. That helped me to better understand the foundational principles that are important to running any business. It helped me know how to measure success, and how to keep focused on the big picture, which helps ensure I'm always prepared for changes that are emerging. That's very valuable for anyone in a leadership position, and especially in a rapidly evolving industry like insurance.   Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I believe there's real strength in vulnerability. I'm not going to have all the answers all the time, and that's ok. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
I also think it's important to celebrate the wins - big and small, especially during challenging times. It helps keep morale up and it's an acknowledgment that you're one step closer to meeting your goal. [post_title] => Making their way to the top [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => making-their-way-to-the-top [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-11-08 16:17:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-11-08 22:17:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.degreesmagazine.ca/?p=7699 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 7749 [post_author] => 12 [post_date] => 2023-11-01 10:53:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-11-01 16:53:28 [post_content] => [post_title] => Spot Light on Liam Nystuen BAdmin’17 and Nish Jain BAdmin’17 [post_excerpt] => Nish Jain BAdmin’17 and Liam Nystuen BAdmin’17 (pictured) have been friends for nearly 25 years, growing up just a few blocks away from each other in Regina. It’s hard to know exactly when the two met, but photo evidence shows the two attended pre-school together. Since then, the two have attended the same elementary and high school, even attending the University of Regina together. The dynamic duo recently founded Alchømy Alternatives, a beverage company that produces non-alcoholic drinks. We asked Nish about being in business with his long-time friend. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 5144-2-copy-copy-copy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-11-08 10:28:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-11-08 16:28:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.degreesmagazine.ca/?p=7749 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )