Intelligence, Compassion and Leadership, just a few of the words that fellow staff, residents and families use to describe Canterbury Resident Experience Manager, Mbalia Kamara. Whether she’s taking on a new task or helping to bring smiles to faces, she’s a shining star and a critical component to what makes Canterbury so special for residents.
“I think for myself, the underlying root of everything that I do is really centered around cultivating connection and building relationships,” says Kamara.
“I try to look at every interaction as an opportunity to formulate a connection with that individual. That really guides how I talk to the person, how I answer a question, how I relate with them, how I am able to put myself in their shoes to try to understand what they are trying to convey.”
*Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic
It’s a philosophy developed after years of experience and educational background in the field. Working towards an undergrad Degree in Gerontology from 2007 to 2011, Kamara volunteered her time in an Ontario long-term care facility where her passion for senior care grew. She went on to complete her Recreational Therapy Diploma in Toronto before moving to Edmonton to be closer to family, coming on board at Canterbury in 2014 where she has brought her all to every single interaction.
“I think it’s important to see each individual as their own person, and we need to mold our programming to fit that, which means that things are always changing. We have to be agile. I think that is what I like most about the work - that agility.”
That ability to make changes quickly and effectively has served residents well, especially since the onset of COVID-19, having to adapt with constantly changing restrictions from Alberta Health in order to keep residents both safe and cared for.
“I think for me, personally, the secret to remaining resilient or positive has been the team that I work with,” says Kamara.
Mbalia Poses with Canterbury Staff at the 2019 Promise of Home Gala
“Working within a team where you feel that every single person is working towards the same goal to create an environment that is positive for the resident in light of everything that is happening."
It’s a sentiment mirrored by colleagues across the foundation, but particularly by members of the Life Enrichment Department. “Mbalia is one of the best people I’ve ever worked with, she has helped me learn and grow as a person in the best possible ways and I’ve always looked up to her,” says Life Enrichment Supervisor Leana Neilson.
“She has always been a thoughtful person and always thinks situations through with a calm and collected demeanor.”
*Photo taken prior to COVID-19 pandemic
It’s that calm and thoughtful energy that has provided comfort and support to Canterbury families over the years. “She’s very helpful but she’s also just very professional, and she’s very intelligent so I know I can totally trust her opinions and insights,” says Anne-Marie Link, who’s mother has called Canterbury home since 2018.
“I speak with her a few times each week to make arrangements for my mother and Mbalia is always very patient and takes the time to listen to me and answer any questions, she’s very good at what she does,” says Link.
Whether a resident is very socially involved or prefers time to themselves, Kamara takes special care to ensure the individual needs of everyone are met. “Mbalia has been very good at finding that balance.”
Whether she is launching the brand new BikeAround Program, giving residents the ability to virtually bike through any destination in the world, or taking on the management of PPE inventory during a pandemic, Kamara is always quick to step in to support and enhance the lives of Canterbury residents. Although she humbly acknowledges the big wins, for her it’s the small moments that will always stick with her.
“Just thinking back and remembering a conversation I may have had with a resident about their history or seeing somebody in programs who may not have been responsive prior. I think when we create the opportunities for residents to be able to really live life and seize the moment, and just be young again without thinking of their age or their limitations. I think those are the things that I can think back on and say - okay, yes, this is what I am supposed to be doing.”
Not only does Kamara give her all each day, she inspires the rest of the Canterbury staff to do the same. She smiles as she’s called on in the daily leadership meeting to bring a dose of positivity on a particularly tough morning. She takes a few moments to collect herself before she recites verses from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, her voice steady and guiding.
“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,” she says. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”