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Two female graduates of Okanagan College have earned the highest honours from the Okanagan College Alumni Association (OCAA) for their outstanding contributions within their communities and industries.
The OCAA has been conferring the Distinguished and Young Alumni Awards since 2002 to honour the extraordinary contributions and recognize the positive impact that OC’s graduates have in improving the lives of those around them.
Christina Fast is the recipient of this year’s Young Alumni Award.
“I was a careless 19-year-old with no clear direction in life when a neighbour recommended I register for the Continuing Studies Sterile Processing Certificate program at OC,” said Fast. “I was fortunate to have had a number of inspiring instructors and preceptors throughout the program who imparted their knowledge and passion for a field of healthcare that deserves much more recognition for its essential role in patient safety.”
Since graduating from the program (which has since been renamed Medical Device Reprocessing Certificate) in 2006, Fast became an International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM) certificated educator and began teaching internationally trained health care workers, unable to be licensed in Canada, how to sterilize surgical instruments.
In 2011 she volunteered to work as a sterile processor on the Africa Mercy ship, stationed in Sierra Leone. Not only did she improve sterile processing practices on the ship and ran education sessions in the evenings to ensure staff were appropriately trained, but she also visited local hospitals. Finding no organization that worked to address the obvious need for proper sterilization, Fast founded SPECT, a Sterile Processing Education Charitable Trust.
Over the last eight years, SPECT has worked with staff from more than 248 health care facilities in 14 countries in Africa. Fast has educated and mentored over 700 workers as well as advocated with local and national governments to address standards to improve sterile processing.
“We were a part of a larger initiative and we did a study in Tanzania with Harvard University collecting the overall data. Initial findings indicated that there was a 50 per cent reduction in surgical infection rates because of the collaborative work that was done with other organizations,” says Olive Fast, Chair, SPECT.
“I would have never dreamt that a sterile processing certificate would lead me to starting a charitable organization that has now gone on to impact thousands of lives in 14 low-income countries,” adds Fast. “I’m so proud to have begun this rewarding career at Okanagan College.”
Fast received her award Thursday night at the OCAA’s annual awards ceremony at the College’s Kelowna campus.
Bree Cawley was honoured with the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Cawley graduated from the Bachelor of Business Administration program in 1999 since then has made her mark in communications, marketing and non-profit leadership for a host of organizations.
In August 2017, after realizing the lack of support there was for her daughter who was born with a brain abnormality, Bree founded the Okanagan chapter of GIRLS CLUB. GIRLS CLUB is a club for girls with autism and neuro-developmental differences and was formed to give girls a place to be themselves and connect with others who share in their experience. It is 100 per cent volunteer run and relies on donations to operate.
“We offer regularly scheduled free meet ups and activities for these girls, as often these kiddos are the ones that go from therapy to therapy, but don’t get the chance to connect with other likeminded kids to make friends,” says Cawley.
Initially, Cawley was funding the club’s activities out of her own pocket before receiving essential grants to continue the program. Since the club’s inception, activities have been free for members, which creates increased access for families that may not be able to afford club registration fees.
“Through GIRLS CLUB, Bree provides families in the Okanagan with an opportunity to connect, have friendships and form community,” says Vicky Ryan, Founder, GIRLS CLUB. “The work that Bree is doing is affecting hundreds of families.”
Cawley was humbled by the award.
“I am still not sure how I deserve to stand up here and accept this award, but I am incredibly grateful for the chance to do so,” said Cawley. “I extend my gratitude to my fellow BBA grads who became lifelong friends (one of which even became my husband), my amazing instructors, and the Okanagan College Alumni Association, who have all supported me in my career, in my life, and allowed me to be exactly where I was meant to be right now.”
“Both Bree and Christina have done outstanding work. Their commitment to their communities and industries is remarkable,” says Kara Kazimer, President of the Board, OCAA. “We congratulate both of them on their accomplishments and can honestly say we are excited to see what they do next – our community is a better place because of people like them.”
Videos were shown to further broadcast Fast and Cawley’s achievements.
For more information on the awards and previous recipients, visit alumni.okanagan.bc.ca/alumni-awards.