Voices of Impact — Accanto Health’s EDI Advisory Council
At Accanto Health, we are committed to fostering a culture of acceptance and respect for staff and clients alike. Our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Council, led by an EDI Advisory Council, guides us in upholding these values and enacting meaningful change within our organization and beyond.
Today, we are thrilled to highlight the passion of several members of our EDI Advisory Council. These staff, representing both The Emily Program and Veritas Collaborative brands, are at the forefront of the Council’s work to advocate for change, create safe spaces, amplify marginalized voices, and celebrate diversity and community. Their voices are a testament to the spirit of our EDI Council in action.
Advocating for Change
Accanto Health’s EDI Council seeks to create lasting and meaningful change through the power of advocacy. Leading the Council’s efforts is Sydney Brodeur-Johnson, Senior Director for Clinical Services and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Sydney describes her role as an honor and a responsibility: “I view my position within our organization as an opportunity to continually advocate for and uplift marginalized voices, as well as drive systemic change.”
Sydney has been a social justice warrior since a young age, influenced by her parents, who dedicated their careers to marginalized and underrepresented groups. They instilled in her values she still holds today:
- the belief that those with privileged identities have a responsibility to support and advocate for those with less power
- the understanding that true freedom requires freedom for all
- the recognition that achieving equity requires balancing systems
In her adolescence and early twenties, Sydney volunteered in various roles that exposed her to the disparities caused by inherent identities, including race, gender, geography, language, and socioeconomic status, resulting in unequal distribution of power, resources, and opportunities.
Sydney is dedicated to improving access to eating disorder care, influencing policy changes, and raising awareness to advance these goals.
Sydney’s commitment is shared by other EDI Advisory Council members. As Catherine Weiss, a yoga instructor at our Seattle Residential site, says, “We need a major culture shift, and I am determined to be on the side of positive change.” Being part of the EDI Advisory Council aligns with Catherine’s mission to deconstruct her own biases and privilege, enabling her to be a genuine ally and advocate for those who have not felt seen or heard.
The impact generated by the EDI Advisory Council extends beyond Accanto Health’s treatment services. For Katie McMahon, an Outpatient CBT/CBT-E Therapist and Clinical Trainer at our Cleveland, Ohio site, the Council has not only been a great opportunity to make real changes to how both staff and clients are served at Accanto, but also a “space for social justice issues to be elevated to the front of the priority list.”
Creating Safe Spaces
In addition to driving change, the EDI Council also holds steadfast to its commitment to creating spaces that foster inclusivity—a belief deeply ingrained in its members. Recognizing the significance of these spaces, multiple Advisory Council members emphasize how they strive to nurture a sense of belonging and support.
Emerald Smith, Clinical Director of our Charlotte site, draws on her past workplace experiences to underscore the critical need for safe spaces. She has seen the negative impact of microaggressions on staff and patients and is determined to foster an inclusive environment. “As a leader, I want to create a safe space for staff and patients to feel heard, understood, and supported. We all must feel safe to learn and grow,” she affirms.
Acknowledging the unique challenges faced by those with diverse intersectional identities, Mia Denuit, a Behavioral Health Specialist at the Anna Westin House West, also stresses the necessity of inclusivity. “I want to make sure that people from all walks of life are being seen, understood, and celebrated,” she shares. “My goals lie in uplifting those who have been excluded from the conversation.”
Robyn Brandstrom, Office Manager of our Spokane site, aligns with Emerald and Mia, as she stresses the importance of environments where people feel free to be themselves. “It’s important that people feel comfortable and can be their true authentic selves. I want to be part of ensuring that we provide that type of setting to our clients and employees alike,” Robyn says.
Striving for Continuous Growth
Robyn’s perspective aligns with another value of the EDI Council: continuous learning. Robyn voices the importance of engaging in ongoing work, saying, “I wanted to ensure that our site actively engages in the conversation, benefits from the available resources, and continues my own learning journey.”
Similarly, Jenna Daugherty, Nutrition and Culinary Manager at our Cleveland Outpatient site, sees being part of the Council as a way to enhance her own cultural competence and humility, personally and professionally. Jenna draws inspiration from her sister, who belongs to the LGBTQ+ community, and serves as a role model for her in this work.
Recognizing that the work of creating an equitable and inclusive environment is never complete, Jenna says, “I am dedicated to continuously learning and evolving in order to support my personal and professional communities in creating an equitable and inclusive environment.” She emphasizes her passion for ensuring that our treatment environments are places where staff, clients, and caregivers are respected and treated fairly, regardless of their differences.
Representing Marginalized Identities
Other Advisory Council members are motivated by their lived experiences as members of marginalized communities. This firsthand knowledge has driven them to advocate for increased representation and to confront biases and flawed systems.
Shamane McAdams, BHT Manager at our RTP site, finds motivation in giving voice to those usually silenced. Reflecting on the murder of George Floyd, Shamane recognized a lack of discussions surrounding systemic racism and the impact it had on people’s ability to be productive and feel a part of a work community. She explains, “In those moments, I did not feel validated or even acknowledged. I knew something had to change.”
For Shamane, joining the Council was a way to be a catalyst for change within our organization. She believes in the importance of representation from individuals who hold marginalized identities, especially those similar to hers. Shamane asserts, “I wanted to give a voice to those that are usually silenced because they deserve to be heard… even at work.”
Leanna Pai also draws on her own lived experiences in her involvement with the EDI Council. Leanna has a mixed-race background and has personally encountered the rigidity in systems that erase unique experiences and diminish the value of diversity in the human experience. “It is important to me that wherever I am, I am working to allow space for those that have gone unheard or have been actively oppressed by these systems,” she says.
As a program and art therapist, Leanna recognizes the importance of constantly examining her own biases in order to fully support her patients and colleagues in ways necessary to sustain positive, inclusive, accessible change. She explains, “If we don’t address our own biases and challenge broken systems, we are actively endorsing those systems.” Leanna views her position not only as an opportunity to raise awareness within our organization, but also as a crucial connection point to the events and values of our surrounding communities.
Celebrating Diversity and Community
Other members of the EDI Council are driven by their enthusiasm for promoting diversity and fostering a sense of community.
Maddie Koermer’s goal is to generate ideas that embrace and celebrate diversity among both staff and patients. Reflecting on her motivation for joining the Council, she explains, “I have a curiosity for other cultures and appreciate the opportunity to learn from individuals with life experiences and backgrounds different from my own.”
Maddie attributes her global perspective to her time living in Hong Kong during middle school, and she sees joining the EDI Council as a chance to actively contribute to the Council’s mission at her local site. Bringing her passion for embracing diversity to her workplace in a more formal capacity is something Maddie highly values, and she hopes to inspire others as well. She particularly enjoys brainstorming ideas for celebrating diversity, such as organizing heritage months and finding ways to foster inclusivity for both patients and staff.
Sarah Zuber emphasizes the importance of connection and community within the Council, with her primary objective being to promote diversity and inclusion at her site and build relationships with colleagues who share similar values across Accanto. She explains, “I joined to feel connected to other like-minded colleagues across Accanto, enhance the local community at my site, raise awareness of marginalized groups, and take concrete action to embody the EDI Council’s anti-oppressive, life-affirming values throughout the organization.”
Sarah recognizes the value of collaboration and embraces the diverse perspectives present within the Council. She acknowledges how these perspectives can help her navigate complex situations and conflicts with patience and persistence. Uplifted by the Council’s support, she expresses, “I’m truly grateful to the many voices on the Council and the ways they help me navigate complexity and conflict, with patience and persistence, tenderness and resilience.”
Accanto Health’s EDI Advisory Council exemplifies our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in every aspect of our organization. Every member’s voice reverberates with a resounding passion and unwavering dedication, reflecting the core values that guide our work.
Much like the journey to recovery, achieving a more inclusive and equitable society requires collective effort. Together, we have the power to overcome barriers, dismantle systemic injustices, and create a future where lives are restored.
Learn more about Accanto Health’s EDI Council here.