Project Team


SFU Project Staff

Shanthi Besso – Project Manager

Shanthi Besso is from Vancouver and has worked for eight years in her role as coordinator of the Community Education Program at SFU, developing and managing diverse, multi-year projects. She is passionate about working with communities to create innovative programs that bridge gaps between community-based and university-based learning. Shanthi is also a trained jazz singer, a certified sea kayak guide who has worked extensively in Haida Gwaii, and the mother of a busy two year old.

William Booth – Community Liaison Manager

William Booth has worked in HIV education internationally and in North America for 30 years. In addition to his current role with the Literacy Lives project, he also holds an appointment as Clinical Instructor in HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care at the University of British Columbia's College of Health Disciplines and is an Associate of Panos Canada with a focus on HIV-AIDS. William joined the HIV Legal Network's Board of Directors in 2006 and was previously Executive Director of AIDS Vancouver. He is an associate of Keeping the Door Open, an active participant in harm reduction initiatives.

Jo Lemay – Curriculum Developer/Lead Instructor

Jo Lemay is an educator from Vancouver who is passionate about community building and access to education. Since 2000, she has been involved with social justice organizations and non-profits serving women, youth, people affected by HIV and the LGBTQ community. Jo's experience includes facilitating anti-homophobia/transphobia education in rural areas, tutoring women in the sex trade, community planning for literacy in the Downtown Eastside, and teaching literacy/essential skills to women leaving prison. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from SFU in Women’s Studies and a Master of Education from UBC in Adult Learning and Global Change.

Judy Smith – Project Director

Judy Smith is the Program Director of the SFU Community Education Program, a program that leverages university and community knowledge, expertise and resources to enhance community capacities and support positive social change. A Masters in Arts degree (UBC) studying historical ideas about race, gender, sexuality and class provides the theoretical ground for Judy’s 20 years of activism and community-based program development work in the social profit sector. As part of a dynamic team at SFU she now oversees and participates in the design and implementation of inclusive, community engaged educational projects and programs that address critical community needs.

Shantel Ivits — Classroom Facilitator / Tutor

B.A., Trent University, 2005; M.A., University of British Columbia, 2009

Ryan Murphy — Classroom Facilitator / Tutor

B.A., Simon Fraser University, 2006; M.A. student, University of British Columbia


Community Coordinators

Learners in the Certificate of Community Capacity Building will be supported by one of six community coordinators (see Project Partners and Collaborators for more information).

Bronwyn Barrett, Positive Women’s Network

Bronwyn has had the privilege to work with the Positive Women’s Network since 1994 (yes, that’s 17 years!), and is inspired daily by the incredibly strong women who are involved with PWN. As the PWN Support Program Coordinator, Bronwyn works directly with HIV+ women, as well as being involved in several projects and partnerships with other community based organizations. Bronwyn received her MSW from Wilfrid Laurier University (Waterloo, Ontario) in 1993. She is committed to advocating for a holistic view of women’s health.

Nina Brown, Positive Outlook Program, Vancouver Native Health Society

Nina is a member of the Heiltsuk First Nation and a Registered Nurse. She has worked with the Positive Outlook Program for nearly 2 years and is very excited to be working with Literacy Lives.

Jesse Hiburt, MAT Program, Downtown Community Health Clinic, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

Originally from the east coast, Jesse moved to Vancouver about ten years ago, taking a Social Service Worker program at Langara College and studying Sociology at Simon Fraser University along the way. In addition to working as a Community Liaison Worker at the Downtown Community Health Clinic, he is employed as a Community Mental Health Worker at Raincity Housing and The Kettle Friendship Society, and has volunteered at the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia. Jesse really appreciates working in community settings with local residents in various capacities, largely because of the possibility for direct, positive change and support that can occur at the community level, and is absolutely thrilled to be involved with a program like Literacy Lives.

Daniel McGraw, Health Initiative for Men

First as a participant in the Totally Outright program and then as a volunteer for the Health Initiative for Men, Daniel McGraw has been involved in the field of gay mens' health since 2009. After volunteering too much not to, HIM offered Daniel a position recruiting for Totally Outright and coordinating their condom distribution program. Daniel currently divides his time between his work with HIM, his studies at UBC, and his beloved bicycle.

Melissa Medjuck, Positive Women’s Network

Melissa has worked at Positive Women’s Network (PWN) since 2005. Melissa started out as a social work practicum student at PWN and never left! She appreciates the passionate committed staff, inspiring PWN members and life-affirming work. Aside from PWN, Melissa has experience working in human services, most particularly in the fields of women’s health, violence against women and HIV/AIDS. As a social work grad student, Melissa’s research focused on women, HIV and gender-based violence.

Fernanda Sanchez, YouthCO

Fernanda is a Colombian journalist with a master degree in international relations and a certificate from Langara College in Social Service Work. She has written seven books about marginalized women in Colombia, who work for poor communities. She has been working for the last two years as a community support worker in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Fernanda is a mixed race woman, who is passionate about people, social justice, decolonization, anti-oppression and social issues.

Sangam, Positive Women’s Network

Sangam is a Support Worker & Health Promotion Educator with Positive Women's Network in Vancouver B.C. since 1998. With over 20 years experience in anti-oppression work & using a harm reduction approach, Sangam looks at women from a holistic lens, addressing issues which move beyond HIV infection, but that are linked to the many vulnerabilities which put women at risk; poverty, violence, addiction, racism, transphobia etc. Her work as an educator has taken her to many varied communities across BC, both urban and remote.

Frank Tomchak, PHS Community Services

Frank has worked in and around the DTES for the past six years. He holds a BFA from SFU with a major in musical composition. He looks forward to all challenges and rewards during the “Certificate In Community Capacity Building” course. Frank balances his time between his family, music, work and sleep… whenever possible.


Shanthi BessoShanthi Besso, Coordinator, Community Education Program, SFU
William BoothWilliam Booth, Community Liason Manager
Jo LemayJo Lemay, Curriculum Developer/Lead Instructor
Judy SmithJudy Smith, Director, Community Education Program, SFU
Bronwyn BarrettBronwyn Barrett, Positive Women’s Network
Nina BrownNina Brown, Positive Outlook Program, Vancouver Native Health Society
Jesse HiburtJesse Hiburt, MAT Program, Downtown Community Health Clinic, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority
Daniel McGrawDaniel McGraw, Health Initiative for Men
Melissa MedjuckMelissa Medjuck, Positive Women’s Network
Fernanda SanchezFernanda Sanchez, YouthCO
Frank TomchakFrank Tomchak, PHS Community Services