With the name and haircut that could belong to a brawling and bragging professional wrestler, Tim Payne in person is anything but. Although he has done his fair share of wrestling with complicated situations, the new Executive Director of the Arrow and Slocan Lakes Community Services is clearly a quietly articulate force to be reckoned with.
An avid motorbiker, Payne first found the Kootenays through their reputation as one of best areas in Western Canada for riding.
“This whole area in here is voted number one in Canada for motorcyclists,” Payne confirmed, and it wasn’t long before he and some buddies from Edmonton were coming through Nakusp on a yearly basis. It was on one of these trips that he fell in love with the town.
“I was on the internet looking for places about four years ago,” he revealed, “I didn’t know what I was going to be doing out here but I wanted to be here.” But fate had other plans, and instead he met his partner in Cranbrook, and they began their life together there.
Luckily for him and the town, the opportunity arose in the past year for Payne to move out here as part of the team at ALSCS and live in Nakusp.
“I see people around town and people say hi; they know who I am but I don’t know who they are,” Payne told The Arrow Lakes News, “It reminds me so much of the way I grew up. People are friendly and they know you before you know them.”
Payne knows what small-town life is like; he grew up in the little farming settlement of Wildwood 70 west of Edmonton, population 300.
His grandfather was one of the first settlers, coming to the area around 1905. Wildwood was one of three black settlements in northern Alberta.
“Part of my heritage is part black and part Cherokee. My grandparents came from Oklahoma area,” said Payne, “During the time of the Civil War, the Cherokee were a nation that also had slaves. They treated their slaves differently because they would actually marry into their slaves, so there’s a high black population that is mixed with Cherokee people.”
Payne’s grandfather homesteaded, clearing the land that he eventually filled with cattle, sheep, and grain as part of a mixed farm.
The closely united community of Wildwood didn’t start out that way, with many different people from all kinds of background having to get over their prejudices in order to survive.
“It was really unique people really ended up coming together out there. It was a struggle in the beginning about getting along because there were some of the differences,” Payne said, “The whole issue out there is survival, so once you get on board with folks, it’s easier to survive, because you’re all going through the same things.”
Brought up by his grandparents, it was his grandmother who raised him after his grandfather passed away when he was about ten. Payne grew up working on neighbouring farms too, and is no stranger to wrestling livestock and the other hard work found around the farm.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he recalled proudly, “There was never a boring day in my life out there on the farm. “
After graduating from high school, Payne left the rural life of farming, hunting and trapping sawmills and lumber mills, to find more work in Edmonton.
“I started working in Edmonton in the sheet metal industry, actually,” he said. It was his friendships at the time that got him volunteering at a young offenders’ centre: Yellowhead Youth Centre.
“I’ve always had that desire to work with people, work with families, individuals, kids,” he explained. Working at the centre encouraged Payne to go back to school and get more education and move toward social work and community organizing.
“I could see that I had some things to offer,” he said.
Payne has worked both in institutions and and with community-based services, and has experienced a lot with both.
“Lots of kids in institutions were there as a result of being latchkey kids, or they didn’t have much of a family life,” said Payne, who often saw kids struggling with alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual abuse at home end up in the system.
“I was a government social worker for a while where I did investigations and case management,” he said. Investigations could be heartbreaking, he added, and some situations were indescribable.
“A community-based setting is more proactive in that you also have a chance to provide some kind of intervention that deters children from getting in to the system,” he said, “It can be quite rewarding to be able do that, to create other channels for kids, point them in other directions.”
For the past 15 years Payne has dwelt more on the administrative side of things, making sure that all parts of ensuring care gets to where it needs to run smoothly.
Training has also been a big interest too, particularly on First Nations reserves: “Suicide intervention was a big one, because the highest suicide rate is on reserves,” he said.
Payne also recruited and trained foster families to work with aboriginal children, which enabled him get more involved in the aboriginal community, something he hadn’t done even though he had First Nations’ heritage.
Ironically, Payne’s grandfather became fluent in Cree because they were up in Cree country in Northern Alberta, but he didn’t know his ancestors’ language, Cherokee.
“When they came up, they never endorsed the Cherokee part, culturally,” Payne said about his grandparents. Even though they were exposed to a lot of aboriginal culture thanks to their Cree neighbours, it wasn’t promoted as part of the family background.
Payne is ready to bring his diverse background to bear in his work here at ALSCS, and is finding the dedication of the local people very motivating.
“I think what I have to offer can really enhance some of the things that are already happening,” he said, “The people in this agency and people in the community really seem to have an investment in the community and they really care about it. I really love that.”