Director of Kelowna Women’s Shelter moves focus to UBC Okanagan research

Karen Mason to leave role with shelter to research brain injuries in survivors of intimate violence

The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is seeking a new leader to take the organization to the next level as the current executive director, Karen Mason, is redirecting her attention to a collaborative research project with UBC Okanagan.

Mason will take her seven years of experience working with the shelter and continue her efforts researching the effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) sustained through intimate violence. She said one in three Canadian women experience intimate violence and around 250,000 of those women sustain a concussion or brain injury each year.

She started at the shelter as a volunteer, managing social media for the organization, but quickly moved into the role as executive director where she served for five and a half years.

“I feel like I was the opening act,” she said. “The headliner act is going to come in to take the women’s shelter to the next stage.”

That next stage, she said, will include turning the keys on housing projects in collaboration with BC Housing. Two housing projects are in the pipeline. These units will provide second-stage supportive housing for women and children escaping violence.

READ MORE: Kelowna Women’s Shelter and UBC Okanagan team up to study brain injuries in women abused by partners

READ MORE: Over half of Kelowna homeless suffer from brain injuries: BrainTrust

The shelter will also be relocating its head office, Mason said.

She said the shelter would be nothing without the incredible collaborative efforts of all the staff, volunteers and community partners.

“We have really grown and expanded the role we play in the community,” she said.”Every person plays a critical role in ending violence and moving our goal forward—whether they are working directly with clients or not, they are a key part in our mission.”

Although Mason is stepping down from her position with the shelter, her work with the organization will continue through her ongoing research project with UBC Okanagan: Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury through Research (SOAR).

Led by Paul van Donkelaar, UBC Okanagan’s health and exercise professor, Mason and several organizations throughout the province, including BrainTrust Canada, researchers are seeing to better understand the effects of TBIs as a result of intimate violence.

In June, SOAR was granted $1 million by the Government of Canada to continue the research and produce training and education materials to disseminate to businesses providing women’s services across British Columbia.

For each NHL player who suffers a concussion during the hockey season, approximately 7,000 Canadian women suffer a concussion from intimate violence, Mason’s partner in research—and in life—van Donkelaar said.

Van Donkelaar had previously been studying sports concussions, but the focus changed after Mason entered his life and brought the topic of concussions and intimate violence forward after reading an article.

“The universe saw fit to bring us together as a couple in this most incredible personal relationship that has flourished and sparked into a professional relationship,” Mason said.

READ MORE: She Shed for sale in support of Kelowna Women’s Shelter

But her work with the Kelowna Women’s Shelter isn’t done yet.

“They will get the first opportunity to pilot test any training and workshop materials we create,” Mason said, noting this transition is a win-win for her.

Now, the couple will continue their research efforts and in the fall they will bring some of their findings to the World Congress of Women’s Shelters in Taiwan, where 120 countries will send 1,500 delegates to discuss topics affecting women’s shelters. They have also been asked to speak in Australia at a brain injury conference.

“The issue is gaining traction, as it should,” Mason said. “And we have an incredible opportunity to create awareness, not just within women’s shelters, but in other service areas.”


@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@kelownacapnews.com

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