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An Interview with Catherine Broomfield (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/11/02


Catherine Broomfield is the Executive Director of iHuman Youth Society. She discusses: family and personal background; mentors; first work in the non-profit world; touching stories in the non-profit world; situations and difficulties of youth; finding; iHuman Youth Society; reasons for lack of purpose in youth; big negative effects happening to some vulnerable youth; and self-efficacy and self-esteem concerns manifesting in youth.

Keywords: Catherine Broomfield, Executive Director, iHuman Youth Society, Indigenous, youth.

An Interview with Catherine Broomfield: Executive Director, iHuman Youth Society (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was family background? What was personal background?

Catherine Broomfield: I was born in England and immigrated to Canada in the mid-1970s. My parents, younger siblings, and I arrived in the dead of a winter snowstorm. It was a big transition, to a new country.

2. Jacobsen: When it comes to community-oriented work? Were there pivotal mentors who inspired you?

Broomfield: Not specifically that I can think of, except, I had the experience of leaving family, being adrift in terms of having no family network other than my own immediate one, e.g., no aunties and uncles. It made me more in tune with the needs of others, more in need of the community, and always being someone who is a helper and a doer.

It led its way into the non-profit world.

3. Jacobsen: What was some of the first work while in the non-profit world?

Broomfield: My first job was as an executive director for a boys and girls club in Alberta. I have been involved in non-profit activities through sports events like Winter Games, Alberta Summer Games.

These were community engagement roles I had been involved in. Then I stepped away from them for quite a few years. I did some GIS mapping work, marketing. Working at the university, I coordinated international exchanges and worked with international students and post-secondary schools.

4. Jacobsen: In the experience in the non-profit world, what were some of the stories that you found touching?

Broomfield: In my experience with the girls and boys club as the first non-profit, there was a lot of interest and need by the young people in the community in which I was working, to have opportunity, to be introduced to new things, which they, otherwise, would not have been able to experience.

Given the economic situation of their families, it was an opportunity to introduce those young people to experiences, which they wouldn’t have otherwise.  Secondly, to support a community/sense of belonging for the young people who came regularly, who shared learning and opportunities with one another?

I do not have a specific story from back then other than what many of the young people expressed about how they felt coming to the Club every day.

Now at iHuman, there are similarities to that earlier experience though there are 25 years between them.  Young people still looking to fit in and belong somewhere.  Still need a sense of purpose, identity and self-worth.

I’ve had many touching experiences of young people sharing their realizations and successes like getting their children back from out of children’s services care, anniversaries for sobriety, getting the first place or finding out they’re going to be parents for the first time, getting accepted for school or job.

These are everyday milestones in life and what is touching is that the youth identify iHuman as the place where they come first to share their news.  This tells me we’ve created a space where a young person feels valued and witnessed and that’s about as touching as it can get.

5. Jacobsen: When it comes to some of the statistical data about parenting, internationally, we rank high in terms of single parent homes. Those kids have a harder time. What are some of the situations and difficulties for some of the kids coming into it?

Broomfield: I was, myself, a teenager mother. At the time, going through university, I was a single parent with a 2-year-old. I was working 2 jobs.  After I graduated, I was still working and parenting alone.  When my son was7-8 I had to make a difficult decision to take a contract job in the North and send my son to his auntie’s while I did that job.  Single parents and their children make a lot of sacrifices in order to survive.

Certainly, I can appreciate the experience from both sides. Because my son was in daycare while I was running a program for other youngsters whose parents were also working full time and could not afford daycare.

There were times during that job when my son came with me.

He participated alongside the other children. We did things over the summer months, where we were doing camping trips and outings around Alberta, Drumheller for example. There is and continues to be a dilemma for parents who are needing to work but also wanting their children to have meaningful, safe activities for their children to participate in.  Single parenting is not an easy situation.  I think most people are trying to make the best of it that they can.

That experience [single parenting] certainly lends itself to the work that I do with iHuman. The youth that are here. They have experienced a lot of trauma, whether that be primarily because of the youth being Indigenous people or otherwise such as familial or high-risk situations.

Indigenous intergenerational trauma is based on the erasure of culture. For the youth, it is a loss of identity and sense of belonging and sense of purpose and self-worth.  This is why these are the outcomes we’re trying to support youth through iHuman to achieve and reconnect the young person to those things.

I am not saying the experience of all single-parent families is why young people end up needing a place like iHuman for support. It is common, however, that there is a breakdown of a relationship in the family.

For the Indigenous youth, there is intergenerational legacies; addiction, gang affiliation, and so on. It is really complex. It sets people feeling as if they have no place to be.

No sense of place. Therefore, a person becomes more attracted to [belongingness]. They go to where they can find it, e.g., drugs, affiliation with gangs. They are looking to fill a need.

And unfortunately, there are people who are there who will fill it, even if it is not healthy.

6. Jacobsen: How did you find yourself iHuman?

Broomfield: It is a combination of the universe [Laughing]…

Jacobsen: …[Laughing]…

Broomfield: …I had a crisis in my personal life, “What am I doing? What am I working for?” I heard about an organization that needed an executive director who could make a commitment for several years. Someone who desired to help and support young people who do not have services and supports.

I realized have those skills. It seemed like a good fit. My values align with the values of the youth and the agency. Being on board, being a leader for this organization is a natural alignment for me.

7. Jacobsen: In connection to some of the difficulties some of the youth face, one experience stands out to me. The purpose void of youth. That’s key to unlocking the door to meaning in life, to get some meaning from life.

What are the factors that building into the lack of purpose?

Broomfield: I am speaking as an observer, obviously. It is not my experience. It is the youths’ experience. So, it is my interpretation of what I see or what they express. I think the key factor is the erasure of Indigenous culture.

The young people here have nothing to tether to. Because of factors stemming from policies such as Residential schools, ‘60s scoop. Those activities of the government have eroded or outright devastated the community.

So, the current generation of young people are seeing their parents and grandparents struggle with addiction, mental health, poverty, lack of employment, lack of education or skills.

Then that is what they observe; if you don’t see others having a purpose or being able to work towards a goal and accomplish a goal, then approaching life this way is something foreign to you. That is an experience of the many of the youth to not have the role modelling.

Then they don’t even know that it is something that is missing, or even know how to describe it. At iHuman, we ask, “What is your purpose? Why do you think you’re here? What is a path for you?” It is often something the youth have not thought of.

Thinking about these things requires being vulnerable.  And for iHuman youth to be vulnerable is dangerous because it means you’ll probably end up being exploited in some way.

They have the same dreams as other young people, “I want a car, job, children. I want a family. I want a house with a fence,” but it is not something that they have seen modelled for them.

To have that [purpose] identified for them to see, it is an unknown to them.

8. Jacobsen: What are some of the other big effects on some of the youth?

Broomfield: Many have not been in school for a long time. Their experiences within any institutional structure tend to be critical and traumatic. They may have struggled with reading, literacy, numeracy, and so on.

They may be at the principal’s office or in the hallway, or at the desk doing little, because the engagement isn’t there. People talk about them.  Being critical against them. They feel stupid. This is how they speak about their experience in school.

So, the opportunity or chance to leave school becomes a relief, I think. A sad byproduct though is it also fractures the opportunity to dream or think, “What can I do with this subject for my life? I really like that subject in school. Maybe, I will be a marine biologist.”

The environment where that stimulation can happen, is gone. You have one less environment where the young person is reinforced as being valuable, or as having done something good. The lack of that; they will seek this in some other way.

It tends to be the ripe environment for people waiting to take advantage of them in some way or other. It is “here, I will befriend you.” The youth are looking for it, the connection. All of our human needs are based on the connection; it is hardwired into us.

If we do not find this in good environments, then we will seek this out in unhealthy ones.

9. Jacobsen: Not only the education gap but these kids will also have self-efficacy and self-esteem concerns. How will those manifest?

Broomfield: I think, again, because of the environment that many of the youth have been experiencing. Those histories and legacies of trauma passed from generation to generation. They could be seen scientifically in terms of attachment theory.

If a young person does not attach healthily with a parent or caregiver, the strategies that they’ve used as an infant in order to get their needs met; those strategies carry forward in life. If you have not been able to have a safe and caring bond as a child, when you find those, it can feel foreign.

“This person wants something from me”; you can also feel not good enough. Even if you have goals and dreams, you can feel, “I am not good enough to have those.” It is common to see self-sabotage when youth find those opportunities or opportunities come their way.

The identity, purpose, and belonging, they are so innately tied to what the youth need. That they do not even know it. We’re trying to support them, encourage them, and show the youth that those are things that they can find in themselves and use the capacity to then go where they want to go in life.

It is not necessarily something that they have in life. You can find a sense of belonging at iHuman and elsewhere. You can find a sense of purpose. You can explore. You can gain strength and power.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Executive Director, iHuman Youth Society.

[2] Individual Publication Date: November 1, 2018:; Full Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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