Celebrating Louise’s Legacy: Director of Operations Retires after 15+ years at Archway
“Louise could teach a master class in turning vision into action,” shared Archway CEO, Rod Santiago at a retirement party for Louise Smith.
As the CEO, Rod brings ideas and goals to the agency, which Louise as Director of Operations helped bring to life with an understanding of the behind-the-scenes work and resources required.
“It’s not that Louise has convinced me that we should cease creating opportunities to do more, or that she’s taught me to avoid risk altogether. Rather, Louise built Archway systems to ensure that we manage our risks and have mitigation strategies for initiatives we choose to take on so that we can most effectively pursue justice, opportunities, and equitable access,” said Rod.
With a journey spanning over more than 15 years, Louise’s dynamic role within Archway has left a lasting legacy with her ability to drive change and support a community.
Louise joined Archway (then known as Abbotsford Community Services) in 2004, as the Supervisor of New Beginnings and the associated Abby Dads program. The New Beginnings program provides support and resources for young parents completing or upgrading their Grade 12 education, while Abby Dads supports fathers in building healthy relationships.
Louise was working as a school-based sexual health educator for Planned Parenthood (Now known as Options for Sexual Health) on a contract basis when she was introduced to the New Beginnings program.
“I learnt about New Beginnings because part of my role was to visit and educate young women on sexual health and understanding their bodies,” remembers Louise.
When the time came that Louise could take on more full-time work, she applied for the supervisor position at New Beginnings.
“I applied because I really liked the program when I had been there, and I really liked the way that they would support and talk to the girls and women there.
“I didn’t think I had enough experience but was pleasantly surprised to be hired. It never occurred to me in 2004 that I was about to walk into the doors of the organization I was to spend the rest of my working life essentially.”
In the face of challenges, Louise’s leadership shone brightly. When school renovations forced the program to move, Louise orchestrated a seamless transition to its present location at W. J. Mouat Secondary School. This showcased her ability to bring stakeholders together, navigate change, and uphold Archway’s commitment to its community.
Louise and New Beginnings students first Amazing Race style competition in 2005.
Louise in a Amazing Race style competition
Career Break from Archway
But as the years rolled on, Louise found herself wanting more out of her career. After dedicating herself to Archway for seven years, she bid farewell to the organization in 2011.
“Looking back at it now, I was looking for more responsibility. Luckily, my boss at the time was very supportive in helping me move to the next level, even if that meant leaving the agency.”
Louise was hired as the Executive Director of the Mainland BC Military Family Resource Centre. Her experience as the Executive Director was a unique and challenging endeavor that allowed her to explore new horizons in leadership and organizational dynamics.
During her time as the Executive Director, Louise learned several valuable lessons. She recognized the importance of creating a collaborative and innovative environment, much like the culture she had experienced at Archway.
However, she found that the visionary leadership role wasn’t the best fit for her personal leadership approach. The experience also made her realize her strengths and leadership style – she thrived in supporting visionary thinking and operationalizing those big ideas. This self-awareness became a crucial factor in her decision to return to Archway.
“The other thing I really learned about myself and I would say definitely motivated my return here is, I realized as much as I am capable of leading and don’t mind leading, the kind of leader that I am best at is almost a second, which is exactly what has happened here,” said Louise reflecting on her decision to come back to Archway in 2014.
She also recognized the unique qualities of Archway, including a commitment to innovation, excellence, and client-centered approaches.
“We embrace innovation here, not just for the sake of innovation, but it’s moving towards excellence or an improvement that always has an endpoint around the client. There is something systemic about that here.”
Returning to Archway
Louise soon accepted a new role as Archway’s Manager of Quality Assurance, Privacy & Training where she used her leadership experience in managing projects and fostering collaboration. This turned into a director-level role in 2017 with “special projects” added to her title.
The concept of special projects came as Louise recognized a recurring challenge within the organization. New opportunities and programs required focused attention and short-term effort, which often strained existing resources. As Louise wasn’t directly overseeing staff, she had the flexibility to help in projects like the establishment of the Opioid Agonist Treatment Centre.
This role allowed her to play a vital part in implementing changes, facilitating communication, and ensuring smooth transitions within Archway. She worked to bridge the gap between visionary ideas and practical implementation.
“I have always been in awe of Louise’s ability to look at a situation, see the bigger picture, break it down and attack it accordingly,” said Jessica Rebagliati, Supervisor of Central Support & Facilities.
“She asks the questions that other people don’t think to ask, in a way that no one else thinks to ask them.”
Louise with fellow Archway directors Richard and Neil at a Staff Appreciation Event in 2022.
In 2019, Louise became the Director of Administrative Supports and oversaw the Information Technology, Marketing and Communications, and Central Support teams. Later in 2020, she took on her final role as Director of Operations and added oversight of the Philanthropy and People & Culture Teams to her portfolio.
“It’s been a real privilege to be part of us all growing and trying to understand what it is to be excellent and professional administrative supports to such critical community-facing work, to really help and to be representatives of people helping people.”
“What I’ve realized over this journey is that I’m a generalist at heart, I’m not a subject matter expert. But luckily Archway has subject matter experts where they need to be, and I can stay curious. There’s always something to try to understand a little bit more.”
Louise with the Directors Team in 2021
“When the organizations around us were contemplating shutting doors and literally stopping the flow of people, not just their services necessarily, but the physical ability for people to walk in, Rod was strongly saying that Archway has got to keep those doors open.”
Louise and two other Archway directors came together to develop a framework to systematically approach how the agency would keep doors open and deliver services in a way that was safe for staff and clients.
“I share that particular example of my most memorable moment at Archway because I remember feeling like the adrenaline was just going all the time,” reflects Louise.
“We have always appreciated Louise’s constant help and support, especially during times of crises, where she had provided calm and rational guidance,” said Neil Stark, Archway’s Director of Advocacy & Social Equity.
As Louise retires from her impactful role at Archway, her departure carries a mix of emotions.
“I grieve leaving in the sense that this has been really, quite honestly, the most amazing work experience I could possibly have had, when I think of who I am as a person and where my strengths are. I feel like I’m ending my career being celebrated for those strengths, which is so fun.”
At the same time, she is looking to joining her newly retired husband in saying “yes” to more things.
Retirement represents an opportunity to continue her commitment to physical well-being through tennis, hiking and cycling. She plans to contribute more substantially to her community through volunteering and political participation.
As Louise exits her role, her presence will be missed by both staff and the organization as a whole. Her remarkable capacity to instigate change, nurture collaboration, and guide the agency through times of uncertainty has left a lasting impression.
“It’s been my joy and privilege to co-labour with Louise on strategic planning, risk management, COVID resiliency, ensuring relevance and so many other areas where her many skillsets have allowed Archway to shine,” shared Rod.
“While we will all miss her presence, we’re grateful for the legacy she’s left us, the causes she championed, the systems she set in motion, and the people she’s mentored to be leaders. And we celebrate with Louise as she continues to pursue the many passions that drive her.”
Louise and Shairose at the Admin Team day in 2018.