Nanaimo Family Life Association

For over forty years, the Nanaimo Family Life Association (NFLA); the Centre for Healthy Relationships has been providing quality counseling services, workshops and community networking for people on a limited budget. In this way, the non-profit organization has bolstered the wellbeing of teens, individuals, families and seniors. As an added bonus, the greater community has received, by extension, the volunteer counselors’ wealth of training, experience and insight.

Beyond the Board of Directors, the core team exists of two Counseling Supervisors and Volunteer Trainers (Carolyn Farrington and Trudy Mahle-Matthews), a Program Coordinator (Jax Spies), an Executive Director (Kate Burns), a Resource Development Coordinator (Lisa Mitchell), and an Administrative Assistant (Leah Morgan). Most of the positions are part-time, yet the small committed group is responsible for breathing life into various programs serving all of Nanaimo.

With eight years of service at NFLA, Farrington (Senior Supervisor and Trainer) provides the long-term continuity for the staff. "I have the best job in the world,” she contends. "I work with people who love what they do and they’re great.”

Another salient ingredient of the formula that makes it all work is the contingent of volunteer counselors who offer their non-judgmental ear to anyone who applies for counseling. The ongoing challenge for maintaining this group involves a yearly intake (through careful screening) and substantial in-depth training for anyone who steps up to volunteer. In order to ensure the highest quality of counseling for clients, the basic counseling training has evolved into a Counseling Certification Program. This highly regarded accreditation was developed jointly with Malaspina University-College. Currently there are 35 active counselors, ages 24 – 60, with another eight trainees, poised and almost ready to join the ranks. These men and women deliver the selfless gift of active listening on a one-to-one basis throughout the year. NFLA’s substantial legacy of trained counselors is prominently displayed on the hall wall, in photos of past training cohorts that extend back to 1996.

"I love to watch the personal growth of volunteer counselors,” Farrington muses. "Another thing that is neat about NFLA people (is that those) who started as clients went on to get a Masters degree; then found work as Counselors and/or have their own practices.” Everyone (staff and volunteers) stays in sync with each other by virtue of ongoing professional development sessions facilitated by visiting experts in various fields.

The technique that is used at the NFLA is called Solution Focused Counseling. "It involves reflective, active listening,” she explains. "It’s definitively not prescriptive. The clients set their own goals.” That means it is client centered, with the belief that clients inherently have solutions to their issues. It is the role of the counselor to help clients navigate through their problem solving process. Typical issues for clients include basic life challenges such as communication, stress, dealing with relationships, anger management or grieving. Sometimes, clients just need someone to talk to.

Three primary programs, i.e. Beyond Blame (anger management for adult men), Senior Peer Counseling (age 55+) and the Volunteer Counseling (youth ages 14+, adults – singles and couples) are currently offered. The goal is "to provide short-term adult or adolescent individual and relationship counseling (up to 8 sessions) and supportive-educational group programs to clients who are experiencing a situational life crisis.”

"It’s very purposeful,” says Farrington. "We support one person in the family and know that the whole family is affected.”

NFLA also offers Essential Life Skills Workshops for Youth and Adults, Triple P: Positive Parenting Program and Grandparent Re-Parenting Program. For youths (ages 14 – 18), individual counseling and family/school support is available.

"I love the community workshops,” Farrington adds. "What I find really rewarding is watching the 5 – 12 strangers (in the workshop) develop a connection over the 2 ½ hours.”

The intake process involves matching clients with counselors according to various factors, including gender, general areas of support, specific issues and age. Farrington comments, "It’s a diverse group of clients and a diverse group of volunteers.”

Certain issues such as mental illness, addiction and family violence are not within the scope of NFLA. In such cases, people may be referred to a host of other community support services.

At its most comprehensive point, NFLA had 60 staff members delivering various successful programs from one of three locations. But due to chronic funding shortfalls, this wellspring of services was scaled back to one location, which is 1070 Townsite Road in Nanaimo.

"We had lots of staff – at one time there were 60, and 30 when I came to NFLA,” says Farrington. "There are six of us now.” The good news is that the three core programs are still going strong.

Funding for NFLA services currently comes from the United Way and provincial gaming grants, with other community ties, including the Haven Society and Rose McCulley’s Apple Pie Campaign, chipping in as well. Otherwise, third party events by service conscious individuals, community donors and NFLA members contribute to the eclectic whole. Yet the going is still bumpy. So beyond the urgent call for adequate provincial government support across the entire social service sector, the funding challenge now falls to the citizens of greater Nanaimo.

"We’re still here,” assures Mitchell. "We’re still offering these programs and we need the community’s support to maintain them.”

"Sometimes, just validating someone’s experience and helping to identify their (clients) own strengths and resources is enough,” declares Farrington. "It is powerful for people to know they’re not alone.”

For more information about NFLA, or the services they offer, call 250-754-3331, email:, or visit their website at