Sprott Shaw Hero Highlight: Maria Zarina

This week’s Sprott Shaw Hero, Maria Zarina, was inspired to pursue a career in social services when her good friend, Rhea, expressed how supportive and helpful Maria was when she going through Family Court for the custody and child support of her daughter at the time. Ever since then, Maria has been inspired and moved to make a difference in the lives of other people and help them become better versions of themselves.  

community support worker at st pauls hospital and mental health group sprott shaw hero

In 2015, Maria graduated from the Community Support Worker – Social Services (CSWSS) Program at our East Vancouver campus. After graduating from the program, Maria worked in a number of different agencies as a Support Worker in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Recently, she stepped into a new role as a Supervisor for a group home in Richmond for mental health with the Greater Vancouver Community Services Society.

Working Double Shifts as a Community Support Worker

As someone who devotes her life to supporting those in need, Maria works two jobs at the same time to maximize her efforts of helping others. In the morning on Mondays to Fridays from 8 AM to 4 PM, she works at the Greater Vancouver Community Services Society, and at night on Mondays to Thursdays from 6:45 PM to 11 PM, she works at the Thomas Donaghy Overdose Prevention Site operated by RainCity Housing in St. Paul’s Hospital.

At the group home with the Greater Vancouver Community Services Society, Maria is a Supervisor where her main responsibilities are making sure that care plans for clients can be carried out and incorporating activities best suited to their individual capabilities.

At the Thomas Donaghy Overdose Prevention Site, since it is a peer-led environment, Maria’s role as a Support Worker is to support the peer workers. As part of her job, she makes sure the site is a safe environment for community members to safely inject and access harm reduction supplies.   

As a community support worker, Maria’s favourite part of the job is building rapport with the clients and everyone who comes to access the services. Throughout her years of working, she still holds many fond memories of those she has interacted with.

The Community Support Field During COVID-19

Since the start of the global pandemic, the way Maria works has changed. At the beginning of this year, she was working at the Vancouver Police Foundation Transitional Care Centre (VPF TCC) at St. Paul’s Hospital, and she had to quickly adapt to the COVID-19 guidelines of providing care to clients, which was difficult because of the PPE she was wearing. Her job at the care centre was to provide support to the vulnerable individuals in the Downtown Eastside, but this was difficult to do so as the clients couldn’t see her face because of the PPE, hindering the rapport-building process. 

As a social services worker on the frontlines during the pandemic, this time was especially difficult for her as the community surrounding the overdose prevention site was not supportive of their work, which was heartbreaking for her.

Starting a Career in Community Support Work

As someone who has taken the Community Support Worker – Social Services (CSWSS) Program at Sprott Shaw and has worked in the field for 5 years now, Maria has and would recommend “those interested in working in [the] social service field [to] enroll in the CSWSS Program as the program highlights before birth to end-of-life stages and all the mental health issues people face on a daily. [Her] instructor at Sprott Shaw drilled into [her] that ‘all behaviour is purposeful,’ and [that she should] dig deep into that behaviour that was shown … From learning that, [she] was able to build that fundamental rapport with individuals because [she] was able to specifically relay that emotion they were feeling at the time of their crisis.” As Maria says, the community support field is for those who would like to end the stigma and normalize the issues that people face in our society.  

Thank you, Maria, for all of your efforts! We are proud to have such motivated and selfless alumni like you who devote their lives to helping other people.

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