Vanessa Lopez is the general manager of the MStar Hotel in Kitimat, but originally worked at the Gya’Wa’Tlaab Healing Centre in Kitamaat Village, as her schooling was in psychology with a focus on addictions and mental health. (Clare Rayment)

Vanessa Lopez is the general manager of the MStar Hotel in Kitimat, but originally worked at the Gya’Wa’Tlaab Healing Centre in Kitamaat Village, as her schooling was in psychology with a focus on addictions and mental health. (Clare Rayment)

In Our Valley: Vanessa Lopez

Lopez found that her knowledge of psychology has helped in her career — in hospitality

Vanessa Lopez didn’t have much experience in hospitality when she started working at the MStar Hotel in Kitimat.

However, surprisingly, she thinks her knowledge and experience working in treatment centres for mental health and addictions may have transferred over and provided her with a base knowledge of how the service and hospitality industry works.

“I had no experience working in hospitality, but I think working in treatment centres, I did understand what it meant,” Lopez said. “You know, our B.C. code, wheelchair accessibility, we did get audited quite frequently with Northern Health with what clients and patients required from a treatment centre.”

Lopez was born in Ottawa but moved around a lot before coming to Kitimat. After having her first daughter, Lopez moved to California for a year. From there, she made her way back up to Canada to the Lower Mainland, where she had her second daughter and lived for a while before she came up to Kitimat.

As a child, Lopez grew up doing a lot of volunteering, both within Canada and abroad.

“I grew up in a strict, Christian home and we did quite a bit of volunteering and missionary work abroad, and I found out that a lot of the social challenges revolved around either sex trade or alcohol and then drugs,” she said.

“I had done this small program where, in South Asia, sex slavery was really tied down a lot closer to heroin addiction. My goal, my dream in life, was to open up a treatment centre in South Asia,” Lopez added. “But, you know, being in school, then I found you come to realize that in your own backyard there’s a lot of work to be done, meaning here in Canada.”

Lopez did most of her schooling in addictions and recovery, as well as a degree in behavioural science, at schools in the Lower Mainland. She felt this path was right for her because of the work she’d done while volunteering and with some experiences she’d had while growing up.

“I had experienced some challenges with addiction in my life at some point,” she said. “I had a young boyfriend in the troubled world of drug addiction, cocaine, to be specific, and I realized how scary of a place it is when you don’t have a support network and how easy it is to go down that hole, right, and how lack of knowledge [affects that] and it’s just such a foreign world to government, to society, but yet it destroys so much.”

While in school, Lopez worked as a residential care aide for a person who was quadriplegic. The experience was “so rewarding and, then again, so eye-opening to someone else’s life and their struggles”

Lopez worked 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. then picked up her daughters from daycare, dropped them to school, brought herself to school, got back home to her kids and dinner, dropped her daughters at daycare, then went back to work for the night.

“I look back and I’m like, how did I do that?”

After graduating, Lopez worked in a few treatment centres around the Lower Mainland, and eventually applied for and got a position at the Gya’Wa’Tlaab Healing Centre in Kitamaat Village.

“That completely opened up my eyes to a lot of new exposure and, you know, I was able to understand what northern — well — middle-northern British Columbia life could look like and worked with First Nations.”

However, the Rio Tinto Modernization Project started during her time there, and the centre began losing staff to local contractors involved with the project. With fewer staff, Lopez found herself getting a bit burnt out with all the extra work, and unfortunately had to resign.

“I did burn out quickly. I burned out quickly and I couldn’t balance the time, self-care, and I think I still had a lot of healing to do, myself, and I always said that the day I am doing damage to myself meant that I was doing no good to clients and patients.”

At that time, work had started on Microtel and Lopez hopped onto that during construction leading to the operational phase.

“It was putting together, kind of tying up the knots and the loose ends from construction over to operation. So, you know, containers arrive and you’ve got your lamps and beds and runners and you start putting training together and how to put these rooms together and the cost of, you know, labour and this and that.”

Lopez said because of that, she “learned very quickly what needed to be done to transition from construction to operation.”

Lopez worked with Microtel for about a year in their rooms division and as the housekeeping manager. When she moved to the MStar project, she was given the General Manager position because of her experience with Microtel and because of her general knowledge, she thinks.

“Maybe having insight from being a city girl and having travelled, and also understanding the big flow of a project…my parents kind of grew up with janitorial background and I would go with them, anywhere from the Swiss Embassy in Ottawa to women’s shelters,” she said. “So I always knew, you know, the need in janitorial and hospitality and housekeeping. It just seemed to be like all my life experiences just matched what needed to be done, right, with the position as a General Manager for MStar.”

Along with her experience helping in her career, Lopez has found that her knowledge and experience in psychology has helped in her everyday life, too.

She’s found it has helped in dealing with everyday problems or any issues staff may have, or dealing with something larger, such as the two suicides that recently occurred in Lopez’s inner circle.

“My background kind of allowed me to be a bit of the glue in between the families and friends,” she said.

As difficult as that situation was, Lopez said she is grateful for the friends she’s made in her time here. She said that she doesn’t have any plans to go anywhere any time soon as she has fallen in love with Kitimat and absolutely considers it her home.

“This is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere in my life, which has been, it’s going on nine years,” she said.

“I literally feel privileged and just so lucky, you know, to just live in this corner, where we have ocean, mountain, rainforest, you know, rivers and fishing, and the community,” she said. “It was just so welcoming from [the beginning].”

Lopez married a local Kitimatian last year at the Rod and Gun Club, and loves the close-knit community circle the town provides.

“It’s home. We travel quite a bit, outside of the country, within the country. And you just come down that hill and it’s like, home.”

Lopez hopes to go back to school next September and possibly finish a PhD, but she also said she loves her current job and doesn’t want to leave it.

“I love what I do. I love the flexibility. I love that I can be a mom and, you know, kind of come and go as I please,” she said. “I do feel that, you know, I’m just kind of starting my career now.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

The Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre will be closed from June 28 until September 13 for annual facility maintenance as well as teach pool and decking repairs. (Black Press photo)
Sam Lindsay Aquatic Centre closed: June 28 – September 13

The aquatic centre will be closed for annual facility maintenance

Shoes are being left at the viewpoint on Haisla Blvd in response to the 215 bodies discovered at the Kamloops Residential School. (Jacob Lubberts photo)
Haisla Nation responds to 215 Indigenous children found buried at the site of Kamloops Indian Residential School

“Many Haisla children were sent far away, to places such as Port Alberni, and to Coqualeetza”

Susan Jay hosted a plant and garage sale on May 25 and donated all of her proceeds to the Kitimat General Hospital Foundation to help with the purchase of a new bus for residents at Mountain View Lodge, Delta King and the new Kitimat Valley Housing Society dementia home. (Barbara Campbell photo)
KGHF thanks Susan Jay for her help to purchase a new bus for seniors in multi-level care

Susan donated all proceeds to KGHF, her efforts netted the hospital foundation a total of $1,760

An example of what a mural would look like on the back wall on Ron’s Bait and Tackle Store which faces the courtyard and sidewall. The mural photos shown here are mock-ups of existing artwork on walls of interest in the downtown core to build anticipation within the community about the concept of murals. The KPAA will not necessarily be using these locations or this artwork for the actual murals. (KPAA photo)
Kitimat Public Art Alliance mural funding request denied

D’Andrea suggested she will come back to the council at a later date with a more concrete plan

L-R: Vanessa Couto, Montana Murray, Connor Best, Dawn Best, Natalia Lopez, Thomas Walton, and Charlotte Collier partaking in the clean-up Kitimat campaign on May 28. (Katie Peacock photo)
Kitimat’s MStar Hotel brings out staff’s competitive clean-up side

The hotel staff circulated the Big Spruce Trailhead and picked up as much garbage as they could

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

White Rock’s Marine Drive has been converted to one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants. (Peace Arch News)
Province promotes permanent pub patios in B.C. post-pandemic plan

More than 2,000 temporary expansions from COVID-19 rules

Most Read