Tija Praulins is a Certified Child Life Specialist who joined KHLF in February 2019 as the Sibling Group and Social Lead for Upopolis. She expressed that she was drawn to Upopolis because it recognizes and supports technology to educate and connect youth; she shares this same belief with her KHLF team.
Tija’s current role at Upopolis is complemented by an almost decade-long career at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH), where she coordinated programming, entertainment, and in-kind donations for hospitalized patients and their siblings, and provided child life services in the emergency department and inpatient wards. Most recently, Tija moved to the administration side of healthcare and is now supporting Hamilton Health Science’s strategy team. She feels so grateful to be helping patients in this new, challenging and exciting capacity, while still using her clinical knowledge and experience.
Tija developed her passion for working with youth who have had hospital experiences while she was a facilitator of the MCH Youth Advisory Council. She says that being able to learn about youths’ interests, understand how they perceive healthcare and illness, support their relationships with each other, and empower them to make a change in their community, has helped make her a better clinician. Tija is thankful that she learned so much, and more, from them as they did from her.
Tija is very grateful to have the opportunity to extend her passions into her work with Upopolis and KHLF and is committed to helping youth use technology as an outlet for expression.
Melissa Dodaro is a Certified Child Life Specialist who joined the KHLF team in February 2022 as the Upopolis Grief Group Program Facilitator. Melissa has a Masters of Science in Child Life and Pediatric Psychosocial Care from McMaster University and has expert knowledge in child development, with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Early Childhood Studies.
Melissa has always known that she wanted to support children and families as a child life specialist. She has a deep passion for working with children, advocating for their psychosocial needs, and facilitating safe environments where children feel confident to explore and express themselves.
Melissa’s current role at Upopolis is complemented by her work at Ronald McDonald House and The Hospital for Sick Children, where she works in diverse clinical and therapeutic settings, providing psychosocial support and interventions, therapeutic programming, and normative play opportunities for children and their families, including siblings.
After completing a child life internship at Upopolis, Melissa enjoyed connecting with youth on the Grief Island and was excited for the opportunity to come back and work with the Upopolis team and community again! Melissa is committed to helping youth navigate their grief and is excited to use creative mediums, such as play, dance, and art to help youth explore and process their grief and the associated changes in their lives. Melissa believes in a strengths-based approach to supporting youth and works collaboratively to meet the needs of every youth.
Becki Steel joined the Upopolis team in May of 2022 as a program facilitator. Becki has a bachelor’s degree in child and youth care from the University of Victoria. In her early clinical work, Becki supported immigrant and refugee children and youth, worked in a pediatric inpatient mental health facility and was an adaptive programmer at an oncology camp. These experiences showed Becki the importance of trauma-informed care and the power of meeting children and youth where they are at.
Through this work, Becki discovered a passion for child life and pursued a graduate certificate in child life and community health from the University of the Fraser Valley and completed her internship in the oncology unit of Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton Alberta. Becki has been a certified child life specialist for just over two years and has clinical experience working in a variety of different settings including the emergency department, medical imaging, PICU, mental health, and Med-Surg units. Her most recent clinical experience is at Sunny Hill Health Centre, a hospital that provides specialized developmental assessments and rehabilitation services and treatment, where she operates as a one-person child life program. She has grown and developed the program from the ground up, establishing child life as a key part of the multidisciplinary team. In addition to her clinical responsibilities, she is a consultant on BC Children’s Hospital’s Child Kind Certification project, working to influence hospital policy and practice to reflect a commitment to children’s comfort as well as participating in several research projects. Becki is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Child Life and Pediatric Psychosocial care from McMaster University in order to further her professional development.
Becki is passionate about working creatively to influence children’s healthcare experiences and empower them to take ownership of their coping. Becki is grateful to work for an organization like KHLF which recognizes the importance of peer connection as a protective factor for youth during stressful experiences and is proud to be able to use a platform like Upopolis to empower youth.
Akila Dada is a Certified Child Life Specialist and an Ontario Certified Teacher who joined the KHLF team in October 2022 as the Upopolis School Liaison & Grief Group Lead. In addition to her work with KHLF, Akila works as a Child Life Specialist at The Hospital for Sick Kids and Natalie J. Carson Therapy supporting children and families as they experience some of life’s most challenging events.
Akila has a passion for lifelong learning and education. Before becoming a child life specialist, Akila was an elementary teacher and is excited to continue working with schools utilizing both her child life and educator lens.
Akila is the co-author of a children’s book called “A Bedtime Prayer for Peace”. She hopes to continue to create resources that represent diversity and are inclusive for all children. Outside of work, Akila is the mother of two boys and loves to spend time outdoors, exploring nature and traveling to different countries to learn about their cultures and traditions.