even-start-program

Who We Are

Executive Director

Ilona Boyce, MSW

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Ilona Boyce founded the Heartland Agency in 1995 after a long career with the government in the area of Children’s Services. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work.

Ilona’s professional goal has been to advocate for all children, regardless of their circumstance , to ensure that each child is given the benefit of an “even start” in life. While working toward this goal, Ilona has developed a variety of programs for both children with exceptional challenges as well as those children who simply need care while their parents work.

Ilona has studied brain development, the effects of trauma on brain development and what makes for healthy children. She has built this knowledge into both the Heartland and Evenstart programs.

She has also spent time studying children’s environments, seeing these environments as the “third teacher”. Ilona looks forward to a time when these environments are reflected in all their programs and facilities.

She has been a recognized advocate in her field, and has received the Early Childhood Professional Association Service Award in Alberta. Ilona has been recognized for her work by Global TV as a Woman of Vision, by ATB, as a Mistress of the Modern and by the Premier of Alberta as the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award.

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Ilona is a volunteer Chair for the EvenStart Children’s Foundation of Calgary.

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Director of EvenStart Programs and Services

Brianna Parkhill, Dip B.A.

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Brianna is responsible for overseeing the operations of the EvenStart program. She works with the clinical staff, site managers and professional consultants in managing the Evenstart program. Brianna also coordinates Heartlands annual Christmas Hamper program, which provides hampers for over 100 families each holiday season. Brianna has worked at Heartland since 1995.

Brianna also enjoys camping, quadding, snowmobiling and spending time at the lake with her family. Brianna is married with twins, she has a boy and a girl and together they love to travel.

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Director of Administration and Finance

Mandy Goldau, Dip B.A.

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Mandy has worked with the Heartland Agency for over 15 years. She began her journey with Heartland as a summer camp counselor and from there became the Site Manager of the SW locations. Mandy currently holds a Diploma in Business Administration specializing in General Management. She has a passion for paper work and loves the financial aspects of business.

Outside of the Heartland Agency, Mandy is also a Certified Personal Trainer and a mother of two fabulous young children.

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Site Manager, Currie Barracks

Dee-Ann Chibry

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Dee-Ann is responsible for coordinating operations within the EvenStart program at our Currie Barracks location. This includes overall site management, facilitating volunteer opportunities with community partners, liaising with parents and the community, staff support and training.

She loves to spend time with her husband, her two children, a crazy cat and a rescue dog from Mexico. She is a lifelong learner who is known for her numerous book stacks and expert Googling skills. A quote that sums up her personal philosophy is: "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to never stop questioning." (Albert Einstein)

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Assistant Site Manager, Currie Barracks

Mandy Drachenberg

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Mandy recently joined the Heartland Team in the Assistant Site Manager role at the Currie Barracks Location.

Originally from Germany, Mandy moved to Canada in 2006. She has been working with high risk youth in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for the past eight years. She is very passionate about her work, has a strength based approach and loves to spend time with children and their families.

Mandy used to play competitive Team Handball and enjoys being active. Her greatest joy is to spend time with her husband and two young children.

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Site Manager, Signal Hill/Westside

Becky Friedrich

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Becky got her start with Heartland fresh out of university in 2008 and has been with our agency ever since. Throughout her years at Heartland she has been a summer camp counsellor, Education Assistant, Assistant Site Manager and now in the role of Site Manager she is responsible for coordinating operations for our Signal Hill and Westside locations. Her role includes overseeing programming, staffing, bussing, parent communication, as well as general support to families. She is a first point of contact for registration into Heartland's community Preschool, ECS, Before and After School programs, as well as Summer Camps.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Behavioural Science. Originally from British Columbia she has made Calgary her home. Becky has a love for the Alberta backcountry and can ofter be found hiking and camping whenever possible. She also enjoys a competitive game of beach volleyball and softball as well as a good karaoke night.

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Assistant Site Manager, Signal Hill/Westside

Nytasha Mayell

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Nytasha has been at Heartland since 2010. She is currently the Assistant Site Manager at our Signal Hill and Westside locations. Working with children has always been a passion of hers and she enjoys helping create an exciting and caring environment in which the students can flourish.

While living in the United States, Nytasha received her Bachelor of Science, but moved back to Calgary after missing the sunshine and mountains! She enjoys spending her free time with her amazing family and friends.

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Site Manager, Monterey Park

Denise Lindsay

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Denise Lindsay is responsible for coordinating operations within the EvenStart program at Heartland's Monterey Park location. This includes overall site management, intake and assessment, liaising with community partners and parents, and staff support and training. In addition to the site duties, she is involved in the Family Oriented Programming component, which allows families to access additional supports beyond the classroom environment. Denise brings over 10 years of experience to Heartland in the areas of classroom practice, in-home consultation, and management experience. She has received her education from both the Universities of Alberta and Calgary in the areas of psychology and child development.

Denise is a mom to two active boys, and has a passion for music and arts.

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Educational Supports Coordinator

Lea Blust, B.A.

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Lea is responsible  for training, coaching and supporting the Educational Assistants in all of the EvenStart classrooms throughout Heartland.  Lea is also involved in developing and coordinating the Family Oriented Programming visits, as well as sitting on both the Educational and Reggio Committees in order to bring a comprehensive picture of children’s social and emotional wellness into the classrooms. Lea has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Calgary, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Early Childhood Education.  She is continuing to pursue as Master’s Degree in Education through the University of Calgary.  Lea is passionate about supporting parents and Early Childhood Professionals to create positive, playful spaces and experiences for children.  

Lea loves bright colours, making things, and playing outside! 

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Family Support Worker/Home Visitation

Carmen Gradinaru

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Carmen came to Canada in 2008 after working for the ChildCare Plus program of Emergency Relief and Development Overseas ERDO in Eastern Europe for many years. She loves children, is a mother of three, and believes each child has a spark in him that one day can become a light that shines and makes the world a little bit better for all of us, if only given a chance. Her beliefs are put in action in her work for the EvenStart Program, where she is the Family Support /Home Visitation Worker and helps the families connect with useful resources for their needs and also continue at home the individualized programs offered for their children.

Carmen holds a Bachelor of Science at the University of Bucharest, a Diploma in Nursing at Sprott Shaw College in Vancouver, a Certificate in ECE in BC and is certified as a Child Development Worker in Alberta.

She loves spending summers on lakes kayaking with her husband.

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Home Visitation

Debra Dunlop

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Debra oversees Family Oriented Programming visits and creates resources for the visits based on IPP Goals and family concerns for the student. These visits help to foster continuity of strategies between the home and school, promote positive parent-child relationships, and improve parenting skills and knowledge. Debra helps families access the network of services and supports available in their own communities and provides information on child health and other aspects of positive family functioning.

Debra is a mother of four, an artist, a Reiki practitioner, and has an Educational Assistant Diploma and Level 2 Child Care Worker Certification. "I am loving life no matter what I am doing."

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Administative Assistant

Brooke Ruhan

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Brooke is responsible for providing administrative support to management. This includes student registration, submission of subsidies and claims for students, accounting and maintaining office supplies and managing calls. Brooke has over 12 years of experience in office administration. When not at work Brooke can be found on the snowfields snowboarding, travelling to parts of Canada looking for the perfect camping spot, listening to live music or planning my next Canadian adventure. 

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