We interviewed Kathie Rodger, Director of the Portage Atlantic Centre for adolescents, to learn about her professional career and her role in our organization.
Q: Hi Kathie, can you tell us how you started your career?
Sure! I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was younger. After fantasizing about becoming a professional harpist, without knowing how to play the instrument, I thought about nursing. I knew I wanted to help people. But I chose to major in Sociology/Criminology at University and when I graduated, I became a Correctional Officer for the Department of Public Safety of New Brunswick.
Q: Did you like your first job?
I was supervising adult female offenders in a custodial setting, so I felt limited in what I could do to help. After two years as a Correctional Officer I became a Probation Officer which gave me the opportunity to supervise adults, men and women, and youth. It was a very interesting time to work with young offenders: before 1984, a 16 year old was considered an adult and punished accordingly. With the Young Offenders Act (1984-2003) and the Youth Criminal Justice Act (since 2003), Canada’s youth justice system changed for the better. From that point onwards, young offenders became youth under 18 years old and the goal of the changes in the law was to treat the cause that made them offend, not punish them like adults. So when Portage opened a centre at Cassidy Lake in 1996, I started referring young offenders who were struggling with drug addiction issues. The outcome was amazing: those young offenders changed their life around and adopted a positive lifestyle.
Q: So how did you end up working for Portage?
After a 35-year career at the Department of Public Safety, working as a Senior Policy and Program Advisor (Youth Services) for the last 15, I decided to retire. Since I was living close to Portage Atlantic, and I believed in their values and treatment approach, I started working there 3 days a week for the aftercare program. After six months, the director of the centre left on sick leave and I became the new director. As a Senior Policy and Program Advisor for Youth services, I used to plan, research, develop, implement, monitor and evaluate a range of community programs and services for adolescents while liaising with central governmental agencies, corporate services, other departments, first nations, federal government and external stakeholders, to ensure the department of Public Safety was meeting divisional strategic objectives. I was happy to bring my expertise to Portage, and now I’ve been here for 5 years.
Q: What are the responsibilities of a director at Portage?
The director has to ensure adequate human resources, budget, and schedule, do a number of administrative tasks and oversee the operations of the program, but more importantly, the director needs to be a leader and a role model encompassing the values of the organization. Portage is unique because of its treatment approach: the therapeutic community. It is a participative, supportive, group-based approach where the residents share their daily lives with a group of people who are experiencing similar struggles, helping each other to identify the causes of their problems, develop the social competencies that will help them face these issues, and carry out the necessary strategies to overcome them. So as the director of the centre, I am part of the Portage’s therapeutic community (read Counsellor at Portage: Belonging to a Therapeutic Community).
Portage Atlantic, Cassidy Lake, New Brunswick.
Q: What else is unique about Portage?
Since 1996, it is the only bilingual centre in New Brunswick helping adolescents aged 14-21 to overcome drug addiction while they pursue their mandatory school program. The centre is located in beautiful, picturesque Cassidy Lake, an environment where you can focus on your well-being. We just inaugurated our new fitness gymnasium, the Lewis Fitness Centre, and we also provide a safe, non-judgmental and transgender accommodating environment.
Lewis Fitness Centre
Q: And finally, how would you describe your interactions with the residents?
I see them daily and when I have time, I participate in the group meetings. I aim to be an empathetic mentor who has to lead by example and follow the 21 competencies. I also work with staff members, some of whom are past residents that successfully completed the program and became counselors (read From Pot Smoker to Lamplighter). I am amazed at the personal growth and transformations I witness at Portage. I always wanted to be part of the catalyst for change and I feel I have achieved that by devoting my career to helping adolescents reach their true potential.
Kathie Rodger, Director of Portage Atlantic Centre for adolescents.