Meet The Team
Heather ScarffCommunity Teams Supervisor & HR Administrator
“I believe there is always hope, that every story deserves to be heard and every life witnessed and valued.”
Heather is a valued and tremendous asset to Watari with her ability to wear many hats. She began her journey here in September 2006 first with her strong administrative and community based skills with the Shannon Spirit Project, then eventually added other roles as Intake Worker, Community Addictions Counsellor and the Community Teams Supervisor as well. However, her passion lies in the work she does with the people we support.
Heather draws on her life experiences of being a strong spiritual Indigenous woman which include her favourite roles as a mother, wife and Gigi. Her lifetime of different experiences have helped connect her to a deeper understanding of some of the struggles the people we support face.
On her down time, Heather enjoys quality time with her husband, daughter and other family members. Her favourite interests are music, laughter and nature.
Kevin CroftonYouth Teams Supervisor & STAR Program Worker
Kevin Crofton has worked with Watari for 13 years and is Watari’s youth programs manager. Kevin worked as a youth and family worker for the Burnaby school system for 10 years, provided youth outreach support and coordinated Watari’s Integrated Community Outreach Program which provides one to one outreach support for at risk Indigenous youth. Kevin has also written and directed numerous youth theatre productions in Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast.
Ingrid Mendez de CruzExecutive Director
Ingrid is Watari’s Executive Director. Before taking up the role in 2018, she served as Watari’s Latin American drug & alcohol counsellor for 20 years. A lifelong volunteer, she brought her commitment to inclusivity and social justice with her from Guatemala (Place of Many Trees) to Turtle Island in 1990.
When she arrived in Vancouver, she saw the need for supportive networks between newcomers like herself and existing communities in her new home. She started building relationships that — over two decades later — remain integral to the supportive programming at Watari.
Ingrid lives in Vancouver with her family, which includes a cat, a ferret and an ancient beloved dog.
CJ SantanaProgram Coordinator
I was introduced to Watari through Cultural Facilitation during the Celebration of the Day of the Dead. I was overwhelmed with joy to come across a group of such dedicated, diverse, and wonderful human beings. I had the privilege to be invited to help coordinate programming at Watari’s new location on Alexander Street and have been on site since November 2022.
“Walk this life bringing to every person that pass by: a smile, respect, understanding, help and collaboration”
Marlin started working in accounting back in her native Guatemala at age 15. She brings to Watari her experience working in manufacturing, foods, health, education and entertainment, just to mention a few. She has been a volunteer for different organizations since her arrival in Canada in 1990. She has been involved in fundraising thousands of dollars for different not for profit projects for health, education, arts and housing. She is involved in her community in the lower mainland bringing them music, volunteer and attending events.
Marlin is inspired and loves working at Watari, as she said, “it is a wonderful team of people; inclusive, respectful, and friendly environment; Watari, has a positive impact in the community it serves.” She is grateful to work and give her contribution to the work that Watari does.
Marlin loves to spend time with her family, loves travelling, hiking, running, arts, music and acting. She loves bringing people together and making them happy. She has toured in more than 50 countries, speaks Spanish, English and some Italian. Marlin loves to learn new things every day. Also, you may see her performing in various festivals, movies or tv shows.
Ahmad NakhaeiYouth Substance Misuse Counsellor, Expressive Arts Therapist
“I believe in every individual’s innate ability and power to heal”
Ahmad is an Expressive Arts Therapist and a community counsellor. His work with the Surrey School Board gave him many opportunities to work with at risk children and new refugees. Providing therapy through different art modalities to provoke imagination and enhance creative expression.
He has worked extensively with a variety of demographics who have been impacted by trauma and complex trauma including refugee claimants who experienced adversity in their countries, during their journey to Canada, and while they were awaiting their refugee hearing.
His passion for supporting marginalized communities led him to get involved and help bridge language and capacity gaps with multiple organizations, including Kinbrace Refugee Claimant and Housing Support, Canadian Red Cross, SOS, ISS of BC, and Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture.
Ahmad’s work is inspired by his own life experience as a refugee from Iran.
In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, hiking, reading, and movies.
Wendy SantizoOutreach Support Worker for Downtown Community Court
Wendy is a human rights advocate and community-based educator, working with the Chronic Offender Management Enforcement Team of Vancouver’s DCC; a problem solving court addressing the underlying issues of crime through community engagement. Wendy has experience working with Crisis Lines providing emotional support, safety planning, referral to resources and services for groups in vulnerable positions or turning points. She also has experience as an English/Spanish simultaneous interpreter and translator.
Wendy is passionate about historical memory and theatre of the oppressed for transformative change, and is currently participating in an international diploma program on emancipating alternative pedagogies.
El PurdeyDTES Community Kitchens (DECK) Coordinator
El has 5 years of experience working the DTES in various frontline positions with a focus on Harm Reduction. During that time, their most cherished work experiences were sitting and eating with the community and hosting bingo night. In their work as DECK Coordinator, they are working with community members and organizers and following the guidance of elders and knowledge keepers to build and strengthen a mutual aid network throughout DTES food programs. El believes in Food Sovereignty and that every community has the right to determine its diet and shape its food system.
Grace KingCommunity Housing Support Worker
“I believe that we all deserve to be treated with respect.”
Since Grace started with Watari in 2018, she has brought a warmth and care to our Community that is irreplaceable. Her job title is Administrative Assistant but we know her as so much more. Her laugh is contagious and is constantly sharing humour with us all.
We call her “Our Amazing Grace”. She treats everyone that walks in our doors with respect and dignity knowing that they belong to someone and they all deserve our care.
In her spare time Grace loves to write poetry, hang out with her dog Rocky, spend quality time with her daughter and enjoys being outdoors by the water.
Amen BrarCACT Substance Misuse Counsellor
“I believe that all beings deserve to be seen and heard without judgment.”
Amen started working with Watari in April of 2020 as a practicum student. She is now working as a Substance Misuse Counsellor for the CACT team and is currently working towards her Master of Counselling Degree. Amen has worked in the mental health field for over 12 years in a variety of capacities. Here at Watari, Amen provides one to one counselling, advocacy, and support. She also facilitates an expressive arts therapy “storytelling” group at Watari. Working from a trauma informed lens utilizing a holistic approach, Amen believes that each individual has a unique story and their story should be given the space to be heard and validated with compassion. Amen has used the support of her spirituality in overcoming obstacles in her life. She values and honors the many forms of spirituality that individuals present with at Watari.
On her spare time, she enjoys spending quality time with her family and their new little kitten. Amen is always quick to explore new cultural experiences. She enjoys yin yoga, meditation, and walks in the forest. She finds connecting to nature very healing.
Andrew DruryDCC System Negotiator
With over a decade of experience being a foster parent, one-to-one, outreach, mental health and youth worker, Andrew strives to provide unbiased advocacy and help to the people he supports. With an emphasis on social justice, he aims to connect everyone to the services they deserve. He believes that everybody is entitled to housing and support services and is proud to work for Watari, because of their inclusive and low-barrier programing. He is committed to honour and respect Indigenous presence as well as the unceded land rights of all Coast Salish traditional territories.
Angelo MoroniPeer Community Counsellor
Angelo, being the Community Peer Support Counsellor, he works with 10 non-profit Organizations in the downtown eastside supporting peers in these organizations. Angelo has been working with Watari for 3 years as a Facilitator, Outreach Support Worker at Downtown Community Courts, and continues to support Migrant Workers. Apart from counselling he is the Artistic Director of S.I.T.E. Theatre and has been facilitating Theatre of the Oppressed for 12 years. He also works with Theatre Terrific as an assistant director, and musician/composer. He’s facilitated theatre for social change in a variety of organizations and institutions from UBC to SFU to Amnesty International, and in countless community spaces in Vancouver, and Mexico. He is originally from Chile, but grew up in East Van.
Berta PerezCACT Latin American Substance Misuse Counsellor/ Counsellor for Temporary Farm Workers
“I believe when there is heart and true commitment you can achieve great goals”
Berta is originally from Mexico, she arrived with her family in Vancouver in 1998. She has a bachelor’s degree in Educational and Clinical Psychology and a Post-degree in Mental Health. Her practice involved individual work and support groups. She has vast experience working with vulnerable populations and has a great understanding of diversity due to her work with refugees, LGBTQ groups, persons experiencing homelessness, drug users, and persons with special needs and with mental illnesses. Berta works with the Latin American community at Watari, providing substance misuse counselling. She does outreach work, advocacy and liaise with other service providers. Berta also provides counselling for temporary farm workers. Her work has been to empower the people she supports for making their own and better decisions for their life. Berta’s passion is to help and serve others with compassion and an open heart.
In her free time, she enjoys watching TV series and movies and spending time with her husband and daughter.
Chris CastroMigrant support worker
Chris as a migrant has the experience of how hard it is to migrate to Canada, first being a volunteer in Watari and being supported by the wonderful Watari group. Now Chris works as Migrant support worker for the Migrant to Migrant program in his time Chris is always with his children listening to music, mostly salsa.
Dustin BuddenCase Manager, Youth Excelling & Attaining Housing (YEAH!) Program
“I recognize and value the potential that all individuals hold to live their lives in a manner that is meaningful to them.”
Dustin runs the Youth Excelling and Attaining Housing (YEAH!) Program at Watari. Dustin’s belief in the value and potential that all individuals hold guides his work in the YEAH! Program, as he supports youth and young adults with moving forward with vocational aspirations, educational interests, finding and maintaining housing, integrating into their community, and building positive interpersonal connections. Dustin has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and is currently working towards a Master of Counselling Degree. When he is not busy with the YEAH! Program and school work, he may be found travelling, learning languages, or baking shortbread cookies.
Eloina AlbertoFood Security Coordinator
“I believe that nobody should be hungry or go to sleep without food.”
Eloina Alberto is a Food Security coordinator at Watari Counselling & Support Services. She is a Latin American migrant woman who came to Canada 4 years ago. As a nurse in her home country, she is very passionate about supporting those who are in need. She is concerned about food security in the DTES and is grateful to contribute with compassion and dignity to the people we support.
John SpenceIndigenous Substance Misuse Counsellor
“John believes in and practices looking through the trauma informed lens while supporting those struggling with substance misuse.”
John is a spiritual man. He is Indigenous from the Xwmelch’stn (people of the water) village and is part of the Squamish nation Coast Salish people. He is also Haida Gwaii from Old Massett village on the Haida Gwaii Islands.
John has a gift of connecting with people on many levels. He believes meeting people where they are at, helping and guiding them to walk in a good way. John is very passionate about his culture, traditions, and protocols. He is willing to learn and be respectful of all different teachings. John is also eager to share his knowledge, culture, and spirituality, through drumming, singing, ceremony, and traditional medicines. He also loves to practice holistic healing and wellness.
Karina VilladaFund Developer/ Outreach Community Connector
“I believe that everyone should get access to essential services regardless of immigration status for developing the resilience of every community member, which contributes to a better society, country, and world.”
Karina has been at Watari since 2018. She is motivated to see healthy communities and found, in Watari, a place to support pregnant women and families with precarious immigration status to access essential services, and in other many ways since December 2020. She also brings her fundraising and development organizational abilities to provide better services to the community. When she is not supporting families and the Watari community, she enjoys nature and the mountains on her feet or two wheels (bicycle).
Krystal JulesEIYT Youth Outreach Team
Krystal has been a member of the youth outreach team at Watari since 2019 and has been doing youth work since 2009, most notably as the cultural lead at Young Bears Lodge: A First Nations youth treatment program run by UNYA. Hailing from New Aiyansh and holding strong Nisga’a heritage, she has a passion for incorporating cultural practices and teachings into her work as an outreach worker and has been integral in the creation of First Nations programming for youth at Watari, as well as facilitating cultural programming for elementary students within the Vancouver School Board. Krystal holds a diploma in family and community addictions counselling from the Native Education College. In her spare time, she can be found harvesting medicine and spending time with her family.
Lavern KellyCase Manager, Youth Excelling & Attaining Housing (YEAH!) Parenting Program
“I believe that every youth deserves a chance”
Since 2017, Lavern has been running the Youth Excelling & Attaining Housing (YEAH!) Parenting Program (formerly known as TIP2). Lavern has a Bachelor in Child & Youth Care Counselling .She is dedicated to see her youths succeed in all aspects of their lives. Lavern has a positive attitude and always quick to lend a hand. She wins the hearts of her youths by being present and connected. Lavern has a smile that can light up a room, and speaks with respect when interacting with the youth in her program You can find Lavern relaxing in nature, listening to music while working out at the gym, or just spending time with her family
Veronica DoanVietnamese/Asian Community Substance Misuse Counsellor
As William Shakespeare said: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.” I believe we are the ones who create our own stories of life.
Veronica believes if there is enough love and trust between the counsellor and the people she supports, miracles will happen. Her purpose as a substance misuse counsellor developed through her own journey, personal experiences and awakening, which included struggles with getting lost in her teens, depression after giving birth to her children, using substances to find happiness. She has traveled through darkness and light and eventually found the inner peace. She learned to accept who she is and others, to see goodness in everyone and beauty in everything. Substance misuse is just a learned behaviour and if it’s learned we can unlearn it provided that we have the necessary tools to cope and replace it with sustainable new and healthy behaviour.
Veronica loves meditating, singing, dancing, hiking, gardening, cooking veggie food, art and craft, playing music, and travelling. Anything creative, fun, and healthy to body and mind.