November 1, 2007

FASSY executive director will leave territory next year

by Stephanie Waddell

A voice and advocate for those who live with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) will be leaving the territory next year.

As the executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society of the Yukon (FASSY), Judy Pakozdy has worked to help the public gain a better understanding of FAS and improve the quality of life for those living with the condition.

In May, Pakozdy will be leaving the territory to move to Ontario after many years in the territory.

“I think I’m pretty burnt-out. I’ve worked with the FAS issues for 35 years now and it’s time for someone else to do it,” she told reporters last week.

Moving to the territory in 1971 and working as a nurse, Pakozdy said she’s watched many of her clients grow up.

“The clients we have now that are in their 20 and 30s, I knew when they were little kids in the hospital when I was a pediatric nurse there; and I knew their moms when I worked on maternity,” she said.

Watching them grow up and seeing how they live now is difficult in some ways, though there have been changes and the work has been rewarding, Pakozdy said.

“I think I finally faced the fact I can’t change their lives so I need to get out of here,” she commented.

It’s hard, too, she said, to work with very “well-meaning” people who want to help, but don’t seem to understand that FASD is not a behaviour issue, but rather brain damage.

“If these people (with FASD) were walking around after a car accident with big scars on their head, or were walking around with the face of Down Syndrome, would they be filling our jails, would they be living on the streets? No, they wouldn’t,” Pakozdy said, noting that while she can’t change that maybe someone else can.

Throughout the difficult work, Pakozdy said it’s been her son who kept her going.

Now 27 and living in Victoria, where he’s studying fine arts and teaching dance, Pakozdy described him as a “real success story”.

“I worked my butt off to get him to where he is today,” she said.

She said she felt like she could help other kids with FASD have a good life as well.

Many don’t have the same supports as he does though, she said.

“It’s been much harder for them,” she said.

While she had always pictured herself living in the territory and working for FASSY for years to come, she said it was a trip to Ontario this year that changed her mind.

“Normally I can’t stay away from here for more than two weeks and I’m just dying to come back – even when I go to Hawaii,” she said.

“I went to Ontario and never heard a word about FAS for four weeks and it was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. And I realized then that I can do it.”

Planning to leave the first week in May, Pakozdy said between now and then, she’ll be making sure the foster child she was looking after is settled in his new home, selling off all her things and saying goodbye to close friends.

As for work, FASSY will be moving to new office space and continuing to offer its programming.

Pakozdy noted that with government funding in place until 2009, the organization can focus on its programs rather than applying for grants.

FASSY’s board of directors will also be looking for someone to take over the job of executive director, though Pakozdy is confident it will find the right person.



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