Theresa Fraser is best known at Sheridan for her role as a professor in the Child and Youth Care program. In fact, she was nominated by Sheridan for a STLHE (Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education) award in 2016. But you may not know that teaching is just one of the many hats Fraser wears. She’s also a registered psychotherapist, a play therapy practitioner/researcher, and a foster parent with her husband, Kevin. “It really is four professions, and they all feed each other,” she explains. In 2017, those worlds came together in a special way.
“2017 has been so funny, because it’s really been a year where all my different work identities have been acknowledged,” Fraser laughs. In April, she received the Monica Herbert Award for her contribution to children and family mental health and play therapy across Canada. One month later, she was co-awarded the Jim Lewis Treatment Foster Care Award. She also won the Dennis McDermott Career Achievement Award—a lifetime achievement award for the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Care Practitioners.
“2017 has been so funny, because it’s really been a year where all my different work identities have been acknowledged” – Theresa Fraser
Most recently, on November 27 Fraser was nominated for the 2017 Premier’s Award for Community Service. “There were so many amazing people who were nominated from across the province,” she says. “It’s very humbling.”
Fraser says she has felt a calling to help others from a young age. She aspired to work with Mother Teresa as a Sister of Charity, but was told by Mother to finish school first. Then, in Grade 12, she read a book called Dibs in Search of Self, a seminal book on play therapy. “I read the book and said that’s what I want to do. But there were no programs for play therapy, per se,” Fraser explains. “Childcare workers looked at therapeutic activities, psychology, and human development. So I was like ‘OK, that’s as close as I’m going to get.’” She enrolled in Humber’s Child Care program, and was prepared to join the Sisters of Charity in New York after she graduated, when fate intervened. She met Kevin at a Christmas party, and it was “love at first sight.” They married in 1986.
They became foster parents when their oldest son developed some health issues, and needed a stay-at-home parent. However, fostering has been a part of Fraser’s life since childhood. “I went from being a little person in foster care when my mother had health issues, to my parents being foster parents, and then us being foster parents, so the lineage is interesting,” she says.
Fraser and her husband are parents to nine children (biological, adoptive and foster). “We’re taking the kids in to try to prevent them from going into group homes, and we just love them up and make them part of our family,” she says.
Fraser has been a professor at Sheridan since 2011, and says “Sheridan is a big deal for my family. We know that disadvantaged kids and kids in care, and kids who may be first generation college students, need to be exposed to postsecondary education,” she says. “Any Sheridan event that I can involve my children in I do, so they can see that postsecondary education isn’t out of the realm of possibility for them.”
She brought her 15-year-old son, Eric, to Open House, and says “Now he’s our program ambassador. Every Open House he comes, and with the program coordinator talks about what a child and youth worker did for him in the school setting.” Eric also joined her for a keynote talk for the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Care (“OACYC”) conference last May, where he spoke to 300 people about the impact a child and youth care worker at school had on his life.
Despite all of her accolades and career achievements, Fraser says she’s just getting started. She says winning the Dennis McDermott Career Achievement Award was a bit puzzling because she feels she has much more work to do. “It’s not only humbling to get an award, but for somebody to say it’s a lifetime achievement award—you go ‘OK, but I still have 20 years left in me to be doing things,’” she laughs.
Fraser can add ordained Minister, published author, and birth and death doula to her long list of accomplishments. She also sits on Sheridan’s Indigenous Education Council, and is involved with various boards and volunteer activities. She’s pursuing her PhD through the University of South Wales, where her research focuses on psychology and play therapy for seniors.
But she rates her children as her highest achievement. “We’ve raised good, kind people, that are kind to other people, and all of our kids are like that,” she says. “That’s my proudest accomplishment.”
For Fraser, self-acceptance and the power of love are guiding principles. “The limits that other people put on us, we have to try to break out of those, and we have to love people where they’re at,” Fraser says. “We have some students here at Sheridan who are dealing with some tough stuff. And if I can for the three hours in class say ‘I care about you, and I’m going to help you get through this leg of your journey, and it’s going to get better,’ then I’ve done my job. It’s really about loving people.”
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Pictured at top of page: Sheridan Professor Theresa Fraser before the 2017 Premier’s Awards on November 27, 2017.
Written by: Tina Dealwis, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.