Chris Mayworm: Part One

Jan 17, 2019
Chris & Louise

My earliest memory of “what do I want to be when I grow up” was I wanted to be a “social worker.” At the time, growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, my goal was to work with inner city kids. My route in college was not a straight line towards that goal. Initially I got into special education, then speech and language pathology provided me with a bachelor’s degree. The reality (therapy rooms, clipboards and lab coats) was so far removed from what I envisioned that I knew this was not the way for me.

After getting my degree, I spent the year serving at a Mexican restaurant, much to the chagrin of my father who paid my way through school. I decided to go to California to “find myself” and figure out what I could do with the knowledge I had gained. I had learned some sign language in my undergraduate program and I sought out opportunities to work with deaf children. I volunteered at the school for the deaf but quickly learned that teaching wasn’t “my bag” either. So I began to look for opportunities to volunteer with counselling programs for deaf people. vAfter a few interviews with professionals in the field, one man finally told me, “You won’t be able to gain experience with counselling without a masters degree; you should just go get a masters degree.”

I took this advice to heart and began my search for graduate programs. I found my perfect match in a program in Oregon entitled “Deaf Specialist.” This was a combination of counselling psychology, deaf culture and psychology and sign language immersion. Not only did I complete a very specialized training program for working with the deaf population, but I met my future husband and fell in love with the Pacific Northwest!

The subsequent job search took me to job interviews all across North America but only one brought me back to the region I had fallen in love with: this was as Program Coordinator for a social development program for deaf children at a Neighbourhood House in East Vancouver. I was hired and got a work visa, which in the late 70’s was quite easy to do. In January of 1980, I moved to Vancouver British Columbia.

This was the absolutely perfect job for me, a single woman in my mid-twenties who loved the outdoors. They were running an after school program and a summer day camp for deaf children in the lower mainland. After the first year I was there, the program had a $5,000 surplus which I used to purchase camping equipment and the next summer initiated a camping program. It was a great learning experience for the children and a great way to discover the beautiful nature in the area. I started working with the parents of the children and eventually we established the BC Parents of the Hearing Impaired. After 4 years, the BC government changed political parties and I learned the first difference between US and Canadian politics: when the government changes parties, EVERYTHING changes. Money was pulled from education and social services and budget surpluses were a thing of the past. The struggle to maintain services and raise additional monies for the program took a toll on me and I decided to move back to Chicago.

Back in Chicago I raised three kids. The experience of having my own children made me realize that infant attachment is the basis for human development. My pursuit of doing the right thing for my babies unveiled a whole field of study called “Infant Mental Health.” That became my new passion for learning and I started a post-graduate certificate program in Infant Studies the week after my third child was born.

The process of study about babies, what helps and doesn’t help development, made me think about the deaf children I had worked with in Vancouver and the stories I heard from their parents and I wondered, “Would things have been different for them if they had had someone early on help them with their grief and to connect with their baby?” I was convinced that the majority of the emotional problems that deaf children have started in those early years before, during, and after the diagnosis of deafness. I wanted to provide a different experience for parents and designed and started my own early intervention program in 1991. In 1997, a colleague and I started our own non-profit agency to provide mental health prevention and intervention to deaf children and their families. In 2009, after all my children were out of school, I applied for a job as Executive Director of an Early Intervention Program in Surrey, BC, a suitable ending to my career, coming full circle and returning to the region that I loved.