Behind the Scenes: The Vital Role of a SNAP Coordinator

headshot of SNAP Coordinator, Liz Oldridge

We recently took the time to conduct an in-depth interview with Liz Oldridge, a SNAP Coordinator from KW Habilitation, part of the SNR Collaborative. Read this article to get the inside scoop about the important role of a SNAP Coordinator and how Liz and the team are making a difference in the lives of the children we support in the Waterloo Region.


What does the day in the life of a SNAP Coordinator at KW Habilitation look like?

Liz: Every day is different. I never have one day that is exactly the same. My day can get totally turned around and focused on a specific family or a referral to ensure that they’re feeling supported and getting their needs met. Sometimes my days are fairly consistent with processing and reviewing referrals that come from the Early Learning and Child Care Centres, and then sending off the referrals to the appropriate agencies and disciplines.

My phone is always ringing. I will be answering questions from people in the community, Family Children Services would be a big one, the school board, just looking for how we can support the families that they’re supporting and what types of things we can do together to support them.

In regards to the SNAP position, there are only two of us in our whole region – it’s just Chris Beck and I – and we are a very specialized program. Not every community has a SNAP coordinator where referrals come through or parents can connect. There’s always different versions of it, but Chris and I really take on all of the families. Any child that has any concern, if it be cognitive, learning, physical, social, emotional, behavioural, and are interested in child care, we would support them fully.

We’re not looking for a big checklist of red flags. If a child needs support and the family needs support, we will help them. If they come to our door and it’s not the right door, we make sure that they go to the right place by using the “no wrong door” philosophy. Sometimes we do get phone calls from families, from doctors, from community members, and we’re not the best support for that family, we would then make sure that we’re referring them over to the best spot for them. This way, we’re not leaving them without a place to go because if we think about how vulnerable a parent might be to make that first phone call, and then to realize, “oh I made the wrong phone call,” can be pretty disheartening. So, we want to make sure that we’re really connecting them back into our community where they belong.


When you first meet a family, how do you approach their unique situation, needs, and which benefits they’re eligible for when navigating the SNAP program?

Liz: Our contact with a family is always through a phone call first so I get a sense of what level of support they might need from me. Sometimes a family might just need me to guide them to the referral pages or to the applications that need to be completed. Then there are often other times where the families need full support to complete the applications together, to gather all the appropriate documentation, and then just help to understand what the Region has to offer in terms of services.

The big barrier right now is that there are limited child care spaces in the Waterloo Region, so I am trying to help families come up with creative solutions on things to do with their children when they’re not in child care. With the summer season coming, I am looking at summer care and trying to problem solve different options for when their children are home from school all summer.

So, that can all be a way of how I know how I need to proceed with the family. I usually can get a good sense of what level of support they need fairly quickly into the phone call and then I offer to meet in person or virtually or just over the phone and we’re able to get most things organized and completed efficiently.


How does the opportunity to interact one on one with families make a difference in the level of support you are able to provide?

Liz: I can see more of the areas that might be of need that they don’t necessarily know that there are supports for and available.

When working with families that are English language learners, I often find myself helping them work through the barriers. Doing a quick google search is not as easy for a person learning English. I have helped families call their Ontario Works Caseworkers, find locations to do their taxes, how to get a birth certificate, sign up for English classes etc.

I look to see what is the barrier that this family might have to accessing services, and then as SNAP we have to look at what the barriers are and then find ways to go over them, or through them!

For example, we might go into a home and we might see there’s no toys or they don’t have a lot of extra clothes. In this case we can connect them to Bridges/House of Friendship etc. where they can get access to clothes and/or toys. Then also helping them access the Food Bank which is where they can access diapers, as well. But it’s not even as simple as saying, “here, go to the Food Bank,” it’s looking up the address for the Food Bank, what hours are they open and how do they get there? Do they walk? Giving them a Google Maps so if they have to take a bus then they know they have to walk to this spot to take the bus to get there. Sometimes, we really have to break it down so that they can get to those areas of need.


How do you accommodate families who may require translation services? Can you share any impactful experiences you’ve had?

Liz: If a family identifies that they need a translator, sometimes they don’t and then when I’m trying to communicate what my job is, the message is not clear. So, then I will ask, “do you have someone that can translate for you?” If they say “no,” then I will reach out to the KW Multicultural Centre and request a translator for their language. The benefit of doing this is recognizing how much some people really aren’t understanding things in our culture and things we need to do in order to get into child care.

With one of my families that needed an interpreter, this family in particular came from a shelter and they had just moved into their new home. So, I really had to do a lot of support with helping them making sure they had the things they need in their home and I found them an opening at a home child care, and then we were able to figure out how to get transportation there and things like that. With a translator, all of that was made possible in a quicker way.

This one family, I had worked with them for quite a while making sure they had all their things and that they got into child care. It was my wrap up meeting and I was transitioning the family over to a Resource Consultant to provide further and ongoing support and the translator translated to me that mom felt like I was her sister and she was very happy with all of the support that she had.



What are some things you do as a SNAP Coordinator  to ensure families feel safe and supported when discussing potentially sensitive topics?

Liz: On our referral currently we have questions about drug and alcohol use during pregnancy. These can lead to some uncomfortable conversations. I always like to preface my conversations with, “I’m going to ask you some questions, they are very personal, and if you choose not to answer them that’s okay. I am just trying to gather information to best support you.”  That’s my approach, and then I have found that most families are open to sharing their information with me. Then I ask, “Do you feel safe in your home? Do you have food in the house?” Those kind of questions start to open up more dialogue of, “You know what, I could use some milk, I could use a box of diapers.”

I think when we come at it with a non-judgemental viewpoint, they’re more willing to open up and share what they actually might need to be successful.  And if a family were to say I don’t want to talk about it, then it ends, it’s not a problem and it doesn’t affect our services. We ask those sensitive questions multiple times. It might be the first person to ask that question, but once they get to a Resource Consultant that question will come up again. The reason why we do that is because the first time you hear it you might be shocked that somebody would ask that question, and then if you hear it again it becomes more normalized so then people might become more comfortable disclosing any of that personal information. That’s why we want to do it in a sensitive way so that people feel like “I can share my whole story”.



Can you provide an example of an experience where you were able to make difference in a family’s life through your work as a SNAP Coordinator?

Liz: It happens more frequently than I think people would imagine. When a child needs subsidy, it has to be renewed every year, sometimes I get parents coming back the next year. They’ll call me and they’ll say things like, “you really helped me last year I was at my lowest and you helped me get my child into child care now my child is thriving and I’m able to parent better,” all because of the supports and services that we were able to offer that family.

Another situation would be, a mother was going to lose custody of her child if we weren’t able to get a child care placement secured. That was part of the protection plan, so he needed to be in a child care program in order for mom to obtain custody. So, that was something that we really had to work on, make lots and lots of phone calls, and found a spot for this little one, so he remained with his mother, rather than going into foster care. So, those are the stories that I think, “oh yeah, it’s really good that our services are out there for families”.


What motivates you and what is your favourite part about being a SNAP Coordinator?

Liz: I think my favourite part is supporting the families and helping them or making them feel empowered that they can make the right choices for their child. And helping them  navigate a system that is not friendly for people who have lower reading levels, that are English language learners, or they just don’t have access to a computer, those are all really cool things to be able to support a family to overcome. Seeing the children is also amazing.


Is there anything else you want to share?

Liz: Our partnerships with our community members are extremely important. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without all of our community members. I’m just one piece of the puzzle, but I often put the puzzle together with our community members.


Your SNAP Coordinators:

Liz Oldridge and Chris Beck


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