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CHS AGM Keynote Address

June 26, 2010
CHS New President and CEO Chris Kenopic

Thank you every one for attending today: CHS colleagues, friends, family, my mother, and the board. I feel honoured standing in front of you here today as the President and CEO of The Canadian Hearing Society.  

The day that I was offered this position, I felt humbled, however deserving. I had worked extremely hard up until that point and had endured two very in-depth interviews. They were going through a rigorous process to ensure they selected the right person.  The day I received the offer, I had to pinch myself several times to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I am very happy to be here with you today.  I want to thank everyone for making their way here today in the midst of the G20 and all of the anticipated traffic headaches.  I also thank you for giving up your time and spending it with us this morning. 

This is my opportunity to say thank you. Thank you to the community and thank you to those who have really supported and helped me come to the position I am in standing in front of you today, because without you I wouldn't be here. I have to thank the CHS Hamilton region staff.  They have worked extremely hard to make sure that we have achieved the goals that we have set out to do, including the expansion of the HCC, GSS, and OIS programs. The staff has been very diligent, working very hard, and even though they have faced a number of challenges, they have really taken them on.  

When I was hired as the Hamilton region’s Regional Director, the staff didn’t know what to expect: Chris Kenopic, a Deaf Regional Director, what will his expectations be? At the first meeting I sat down with them and I said, “I'm always open to your feedback; I look forward to all of your ideas.  But it is important for you to know that my expectations are very, very high.  It is important that we work together, collegially and as a team.  I want to thank Natalie McAlonen, the Regional Program Manager, who has offered me a great deal of support over the years.  She unfortunately wasn't able to be here today due to health reasons.  She has worked tirelessly in supporting the work we do, in supporting my vision of making improvements necessary for the community and for the region, and has helped us to realize that vision.  The realization was achieved by understanding our consumer groups - culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing - by always having them involved assisting us to identify gaps in services. I remember my first day like it was just yesterday, the staff said, “Chris I know you are one to really get in there, to make waves, and to fight for consumers' rights, but remember you are in Hamilton now.  Hamilton is different”.   

I asked, “Different how?” 

They replied, “Nobody listens to us.  It is like we are in another country completely”.  I thought, alright, it is a challenge for us, but one we can take on and move forward with. Now six and a half years later we have almost the full range of services within the Hamilton region.  We have audiology; we have expanded HCC, GSS, and OIS.  I hope you would agree this indicates success. We started out with 9 staff members and we now have a total staff compliment of 23. 

I look back to when I graduated university in 1993 at Gallaudet. I actually wasn't too keen on going to Gallaudet University.  I grew up on a farm. I’m a farm boy. I loved cutting down trees and milking cows; that was my path in life.  Until I met Laureen Baskerville.  She wanted to be a teacher, and she wanted to go to Gallaudet.  I asked her how long she would be at Gallaudet and she said it depended on when you complete your courses.  I thought about us in a long-distance relationship and knew this would be quite difficult, so I decided that I too would go to Gallaudet.  I have to thank my wife, because she gave me the opportunity and truly led me on to a different path. Unfortunately, my wife was not able to attend the AGM today, she is at my sister's wedding up north, but her mom is here, Maureen. Thank you for being here, Maureen. 

I am Deaf and my ultimate priority is to ensure our consumers should always come first; we are here for the consumers: culturally Deaf, deafened, oral deaf, and hard of hearing people.  They are why we are here.  CHS is celebrating 70 years of service.  It is quite an accomplishment to reach the 70-year milestone, and I think we all need to recognize and celebrate each other for our longevity and strong representation of consumers over those years.  CHS has supported consumers and you as consumers have continued to support us.

I have been involved in a number of different organizations, boards, and on various levels, in various positions as well as held management positions. Over the years I have witnessed many different issues and from those experiences I have been able to adapt my strategies and approaches. Now having been appointed to the position of President and CEO, and as I consider the future, I hope you will agree with me when I say the outlook is amazing. 

The first initiative I would like to undertake is to have a consumer coalition established that would consist of culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing consumers. They will be from consumer organizations or individuals and the coalition's purpose will be to have an understanding of all of the different viewpoints that we bring as consumers. As you are well aware, we are often told by others that certain groups are more heavily focused on only one agenda or viewpoint: “That person is focused on Deaf issues only.” “That person is pro hard of hearing or pro oral deaf.” But based on my experiences, I don’t see that at all. I think that has become a myth. I believe we, as consumers, know our issues; each consumer group knows its issues as well as the issues of the other consumer groups. Working together, collaboratively, and being able to support each other, I think that is what I would like to see more of.  That is where I would like to see all of us come together. 

Throughout the course of today we have discussed issues and barriers which are not new.  These are ongoing issues and ongoing barriers that we have been confronted with.  And whether it is thirty years or a hundred years later, we'll look back and be able to say, those issues and barriers no longer exist; they ended a long time ago. But we will face new challenges.

In my capacity as a Regional Director, I really appreciated the relationships I had with the provincial office, and was very impressed with the relationships, teamwork and dialogue that occurred between the provincial office and regional offices, the staff and managers.  Everyone works together so well as a team but I think we can do even better. The community and consumers do not know who holds which role and who has which function at CHS. I think it is time for us to get out more in the community. The community will be better able to recognize the name and the face and have a better sense of connection. Provincial managers often visit regional offices for meetings, but they are often pressed for time and have to rush back out of town. I think that should change.  There should be a shift in how we do our business.  When we have managers go out to regional offices, they do meet with the staff; they meet with the local managers, but they don’t meet with funders, stakeholders, community agencies, hard of hearing and Deaf clubs. I don't believe that has happened much in the past, but that is definitely a shift I would like to see moving forward, so that consumers are engaged and truly feel as though they have the opportunity to be involved and to really offer their support to CHS. At the same time, there are challenges. We know that managers are dealing with a number of different issues, one being accreditation: assessing the qualifications of staff. This is a new requirement. Accreditation will hold management accountable to monitoring the processes.  Managers are also ensuring that everything is available in French, our website and all of our materials. 

There are now more issues in terms of privacy and the privacy legislation and being more accountable in that area as well. And of course everybody is familiar with the AODA, the Accessibility Act. That is another huge component of the responsibilities that managers have. Naturally, they have already been delving into what that legislation means and making sure that we are compliant. There are a lot of responsibilities ahead. 

With each of you here today, we are a small number representing culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing poeple. We are just a small piece of our communities, and we need to consider how many others are out there.  There are thousands and thousands of community members and we really need to think of them.  They need us.  They need our support.  They need our direction and for us to do what we can so they can enjoy equality. 

Just a few nights ago I was putting my 7-year-old Deaf son, Braden to bed.  And he said to me, “Dad, I'm very proud of you.  You are now the CEO.  Wow!” 

I said, “Well, thank you!  It is going to be a lot of work, but I am excited”. 

He continued, “Dad, you being a CEO, does that mean now that more Deaf people are going to have better jobs?”  

This really hit home for me and I thought about it: I am now the CEO, and we need to consider the impact and the message that this sends - that culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people can be successful. If anybody was to say that we are not ready or if anyone was to say that we can't, then we need to prove them wrong.  

That is why I am here today. I hope that I can become a role model, that we can become a model for everyone else.  It wasn't an easy journey to get here.  There was a lot of learning, barriers, various positions, involvement in boards, but again, if we have a dream we want to realize and aspire to reach, it is up to us to make that first move and continue moving towards it.

I would like to thank the board for the confidence you have instilled in me by appointing me as the President and CEO.  You have my full, utmost commitment that I will do a good job. I want to thank Denis in his capacity as the interim president and CEO.  

When it was announced that he was coming back to CHS as the interim President and CEO, staff felt very comfortable. It was as if he had never left.  He is very open. He has an open door policy at all times; he is always right in there, chatting and meeting with all of the staff and staff felt inspired by that type of leadership.  I really want to thank you, Denis, for the time that you have shared with us at CHS.  

I believe in open communication and ensuring that there is a transparent approach in our operations, and in no way am I saying that CHS hasn't been transparent in the past, but I would like to increase it, with both consumers and funders, so that more people know what we are doing. This also means staff and management at different levels will know what one another is doing. It is important that we all have the same understanding of what is happening so that we can progress towards success. 

Yesterday was my first day as the President and CEO and actually, I have to admit it was a bit awkward.  I worked at home. The office was closed due to the G20.  I said to my kids, “Everybody, get up it is time to go to school.” And they looked at me and said, “Dad, you are wearing that for your first day of work?” And then I had to explain that in fact the office was closed and I was staying home to work.

I hope that you will join with me in this commitment, making the necessary changes so we can continue the momentum in moving forward.  The perfect example of this is Terry, who just received the Eugene Fowler award.  With the contribution of his time, he knew that he would make a difference and has made a difference in improving the quality of people's lives. We have thousands of those people around us. We need to get more people involved. I'm calling on this audience to participate and to get involved in recruiting more people as well. And when we, or most of us, are standing here on our hundredth anniversary, we will be able to look back on the many more success stories we will be able to share. Thank you.

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