The words of the OSNS written in the entry to their facility in Penticton. (Submitted)

Women in Business: At the heart of the job is always the kids

Manisha Willms is the executive director of OSNS

Included in the Wednesday, May 4 print edition is our Women in Business magazine where we highlight South Okanagan women who are making a difference in the community and in the business world. Below is a profile on Manisha Willms, who is featured in the magazine.

If you have a child, odds are you have at least heard of the Okanagan Similkameen Neurological Society, (OSNS) even if you haven’t needed their services yourself.

The OSNS provides support for children with early intervention programs like speech-language pathology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy as well as an Autism Treatment (ABA) program.

At the helm of this vital service is Manisha Willms.

As the executive director, among her responsibilities are coordinating the many teams that make up the OSNS, as well as working with the provincial government and Interior Health.

“It’s my job to just make sure that everything we do aligns with our mission and vision and values, and it’s our mission to provide a way forward for every kid, no matter what that child is struggling with,” said Willms. “And it’s my very happy job to get help from the 50 or so people working in this building.”

Helping children has been lifelong work for Willms. Before becoming the executive director at OSNS, she worked more directly with children as a speech-language pathologist, particularly with early intervention for children. With the OSNS, she has been able to continue her work even if she doesn’t always directly interact with children.

“I loved working with young kids, but also learning about leadership and community health care was really interesting to me, and I like the business end of it as well,” said Willms. “But at the end of the day, we want to improve the lives of children and we want to change the trajectory that kids are on to be as positive as it can be.”

Willms joined the OSNS in 2013, right around the time that the society was renovating its building next to Penticton Regional Hospital.

When the OSNS’s current facility opened in 1996, it served 180 children. Now it provides for around 1,600 children a year.

As a non-profit, the OSNS would not be able to function without the support of both the government and the community. That means many meetings, and plenty of work reaching out and coordinating fundraising.

“Like a lot of non-profits who are doing health care and community health care work, it’s hard to meet the budget, so part of my job is interfacing with the community to get their help and working hard with governments so that we don’t have the waiting lists where kids are not getting the services they need,” said Willms. “What is beautiful is this community really understands the value of what we do, and when it comes time for when we need something, people are just fantastic.”

That community generosity is seen at OSNS’ yearly Share-a-Smile Telethon which is the main fundraiser with hours of efforts by performers and volunteers. The OSNS also holds other fundraisers, such as the Colour Fun Run and golf tournament. They have also recently opened a new Legacy Foundation, which received a kickstart $250,000 donation from the local Tim Hortons family.

Community outreach is a key aspect of what the OSNS does to help both children and their families to feel supported.

“Our mission is also to have a more compassionate community, to help the community learn that when a child is having a meltdown in a store, it may not be about behaviour so not to judge but be helpful and kind when we can,” said Willms.

With a demanding schedule, it’s the kids and the team at OSNS that keeps Willms going.

“In this role I get to work with people who are passionate about the same thing, and you don’t get that in all jobs,” said Willms. “I think like everyone I’ve reflected on how I manage balance in my life, and it’s not always easy. I have built in breaks here at the center where I can take five minutes and hang out with a kid or join a bit of a treatment session or just chat with a parent about the real things that matter to them. I remind myself to take those moments and ground myself in the why we do what we do.”

“You know, it’s what binds us; we all love our [OSNS] children.”

READ MORE: Penticton Women in Business: The legacy of Tickleberry’s continues with Kelsey Hoy

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