Adrienne Vienneau doesn’t consider her new role as executive director of Christie Lake Kids to be so much a job as much as she does “a calling”.
“I’m over the moon,” the 49-year-old communications expert said in a phone interview Wednesday, shortly after the non-profit organization made its hiring announcement. “I feel like I just won a lottery. It’s such an honour — and I really mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
Vienneau, who officially joins the 100-year-old charity on April 25, got her career start working in the high-tech sector during the dot-com boom, most notably at IBM (Cognos). Once she became a mom, her focus shifted toward kids and, before long, the PR professional decided to join CHEO. “Having the opportunity to work with CHEO was a dream come true.”
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Since 2017, Vienneau has been chief communications officer at the largest pediatric research hospital in the region, in charge of internal and external communications, the creative services team and the volunteer department. Prior to that, she served as director of communications and public relations for CHEO Research Institute.
Vienneau is now taking her passion for kids in a new direction by helping to improve the lives of and opportunities for hundreds of economically disadvantaged children and youth in Ottawa. Christie Lake Kids (CLK) runs year-around programming, both after-school and on weekends, as well as a summer camp near Perth. There’s no cost to participate for CLK families, 80 per cent of whom have an annual income of less than $25,000.
Vienneau learned about the job vacancy at CLK after a friend flipped her a posting about it. While she was very happy with her “incredible” team and the work she was doing at CHEO, something about CLK resonated with her. “It just felt like a really great fit.”
Said Vienneau: “The ability to still serve children and to help kids and youth and their families and to just do it in a different frame was the attractive part for me.
“I look at their programming and I see words like ‘camp’ and ‘arts and recreation’ and ‘leadership training’ and my heart just swells with every single word.”
The married mom of a 14-year-old daughter also liked the idea of being able to expand her own leadership. “I think that’s part of what’s really exciting for me.”
Vienneau, originally from Halifax, holds a degree in psychology from the University of Ottawa and a diploma in public relations from Algonquin College.
One of the things that’s most impressed her about CLK is the way it found creative solutions to deliver its programming during the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It hosted a wildly successful summer camp program, called Camp in a Box, that took place entirely online, and also redesigned its leadership programs and after-school and weekend activities so that kids could participate virtually, she pointed out.
“I think they really have a lot to be proud of. What they’ve done during COVID is exceptional. Their ability to take creativity to the next level is a core value that we share.”
Christie Lake Kids hired Lupiano Executive Search to fill the executive director position, which opened up after Jeff Burry retired. The “exhaustive” process saw more than 100 candidates progressively whittled down until the committee unanimously agreed on Vienneau, said Owen Mahaffy, president of the board of directors at CLK and a retired director with Hydro Ottawa.
“We were thrilled to be able to attract Adrienne to come to Christie Lake Kids,” said Mahaffy. “We’re just so thankful that she feels called to this role because I think she’s going to hit it out of the park. I really do.”
Vienneau is just the energetic and dynamic leader that CLK was looking for to boost its profile, attract new donors and connect with the community, he said. “Christie Lake Kids has been around for a century but it’s probably one of Ottawa’s best kept secrets as an important charity. It’s small but we’ve always been able to punch above our weight, we think.”
CLK currently employs 14 full-time staff. It also has a large summer camp staff that’s paid with modest honorariums.
“I think Adrienne is interested in making a real impact on the lives of kids, as a front-end investment,” said Mahaffy. “That’s what Christie Lake is good at. We pride ourselves on establishing really solid relationships through our programs and by connecting with these kids. These kids grow up with us and develop relationships with our counsellors and the people who run the programs.”
The non-profit is bracing for its most challenging year, however. The rising costs of food and transportation have pushed its budget needs to $2.2 million (prior to the pandemic, it was around $1.9 million). Because the programs are offered free of charge, the organization raises money through fundraisers, corporate giving and grants. It’s still too early to say whether fundraising events will return to pre-pandemic levels this year, said Natalie Benson, director of fundraising and communications.
CLK serves kids in the Overbrook, Caldwell, Somerset West, Heatherington, Strathcona Heights and Van Lang neighbourhoods. It expects to return soon to Russell Heights.
“The mental health issue is a big deal now and some of these kids are coming from environments that are very challenging,” Mahaffy pointed out. “We bring some special skills to the table to help these kids and to create a more nurturing environment around them. We remain connected to them throughout the year and that is a really important aspect of what we do.”