For the past 25 years, CUPS has held a vision of Calgarians overcoming adversity, reaching their potential, and ending the cycle of poverty and trauma for themselves and their families. An idea planted as a young, but sturdy sapling that has now grown into a flourishing tree.



Embodying Deep Values with Brave Truths 

CUPS is considered a world-class example of a frontline service delivery model for marginalized clients. The organization proactively shares lessons and collaborates on scientific publications. The purpose of this changework narrative is to tell the story of CUPS' journey with other communities across the globe, to showcase possibility, leverage experience and learnings, and encourage solutions-focused collaborative action.

The CUPS’ mantra has always been that all are welcome through our doors. They model equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) through their service delivery in integrated health, education and housing services to at-risk and vulnerable adults and families in Calgary, Alberta.

CUPS has contributed to the independence of its clients in innumerable ways. Early in its growth, it became clear to leadership that the key to stable, self-sufficient, and even thriving clients was paying attention to the science of building resilient brains.

CUPS understands that emotional and physical trauma - especially within the first 18 years - will impact an individual for life—Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Without the resources to develop resilience, the individual will carry the effects of trauma for a lifetime, affecting their families, crippling their health, and impacting every aspect of their ability to create a stable life. At the heart of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty is breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

CUPS has always understood the legacy of colonialism on intergenerational mental health and addictions. However, the shift towards more evidence-based programs with demonstrable outcomes happened in the mid-2000s.


 “Our scars are like the rings in a tree trunk, showing its progress through life. How we heal and move forward through adversity . . . that is what makes the difference. We can’t run from our problems; we need to face them.” 

Author, Morgan Rhodes.




(Malay proverb)

Once it was clear to CUPS that the key to stable, self-sufficient, and even thriving clients was embedded in the science of building resilient brains, CUPS implemented A Theory of Change in 2016 to close the gap between “what we know and what we do”. 


One thing any organization can be sure of is that the winds of change will always blow. The question is: Will the tree bend, standing firm in its flexibility and the knowledge that its central root will hold it steady? 


As an early adopter of brain science, CUPS collaborated with internationally respected researchers and universities such as the University of Calgary and Harvard Center on the Developing Child, presenting an exciting opportunity to translate scientific knowledge into practical application.


Brain science is the central root - the taproot of CUPS; providing a solid anchor while providing the flexibility to be nimble, responsive, and innovative. In 15 years, CUPS shifted its organizational focus from only intervention services to include prevention services to address the root of the trauma and thus help to truly break the cycle of poverty.

CUPS celebrates continuous growth and learning. Committing to a strategic priority that, together with its primary partners, CUPS now collates data and information that helps to assess the impact of its services and programs. This data and information sharing makes continuous adaptation and the embrace of dynamic innovation possible.

An interconnected network, CUPS multidisciplinary team includes care coordinators, clinicians, specialists, educators and counsellors among others. External partners are also part of the root system that supports CUPS to access nutrients deep in the soil of science and, at the same time, increasing the stability of the organization and its clients.

Always at the center of an integrated care plan, anchoring it deep into fertile soil, is the singular taproot: the brain science research and understanding of how to build resilience in adults and families living with the adversities of poverty and trauma. These stabilizing roots hold a complex canopy of branches that provide economic, social-emotional, health, and early-year development care and services critical to building self-sufficient adults and families.

The Challenge of Building a Culture of Change 




Intellectually, the new strategic approach to integrated care was crystal clear; however, organizations, like trees in a forest, are complex entities, and there are often gaps between policy and practice.  Therefore to be ultimately and sustainably successful, CUPS leadership has to build a culture of change.


How does an organization create a shift in mindset between research and practice when the research itself is “unclear and emerging” or fluid, as it will be in all things innovative? 

Its first step was to create desire by engaging in qualitative research (Grounded Theory research) and developing an iterative plan to innovate, adapt and implement delivery models applicable to a singular construct, in this case, brain science.

The second step was CUPS set out to begin measuring the implementation of care, so teams could continuously set milestones, engage in curious and courageous conversations, and challenge delivery models in a dynamic context of continuous growth and learning.

The third step was to reinforce where the approach was working by recognizing and celebrating wins, large and small.

“Using scientific data creates theoretical alignment within an organization. It influences how you train and invest in your people. You start talking the same language.”

- Dr.Karen Benzies

CUPS Calgary Key Investor

Professor at the Faculty of Nursing and Adjunct Research Professor with the Departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences, at the University of Calgary

The Opportunity

Creating rings of continuous growth with collaborative partnerships

“At RBC, we want our relationship with our funding recipients to be more than a transactional relationship. CUPS is a classic example of maximizing the partnership. Together we bring the strengths of each organization to the forefront and leverage them wherever possible.”

- Jerilynn Daniels

CUPS Calgary Key Investor

Regional Director, Community Marketing and Citizenship
Royal Bank of Canada

CUPS is deeply committed to building stronger individuals, families, and communities across Canada and globally. In ever-increasingly complex environments,  collaborative partnership opportunities are imperative and inter-provincial, or government-endorsed initiatives are key to moving the sector forward. After years of research, CUPS demonstrates values that will enrich any not-for-profit organization:



  • Become a highly educated not-for-profit in your sector of advocacy.

  • Increase your ability to attract and retain talented staff who can help achieve your big vision.



  • Access and become involved in visible research and advocacy efforts.

  • Increase your credibility with funding partners and government entities to be able to demonstrate results.

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  • Work together within the organization’s departments and structures and with primary partners to make positive, sustainable change using evidence-based data and information sharing.

  • Build interconnected strength and web-like resilience as you release siloed thinking and fragmented energy to harness wholeness for long-term systematic change.




  • Produce evidence-based data when assessing clients, deciding on the programs offered and following up on the outcomes and impact.

  • Ensure maximum positive impact with your clients.

cups roots crop horizontal


  • Disruption goes beyond navigating systems to actually changing systems.

  • Move beyond rhetoric to embody an inclusive and equitable society and model all that is possible for others - Roots of Rising Possibility.

"Trees have more than roots and rings. If you cut across a tree trunk just right, the trunk will show where it sent out branches... CUPS is recognized internationally for its evidence-informed approaches to programs and services for vulnerable individuals and families. In its collaborations, CUPS is careful to send out branches that will reach the sun. Yet, CUPS has been cautious to ensure there is enough groundwater to nourish its branches over the years because the branches are the services that support its diverse, but vulnerable population. CUPS is that tree in the forest that stands just a bit taller than the rest, but has branches that reach out and touch other trees to support them to support their clients." 

~ Dr. Karen Benzies

Planning for Risks While Reaping Rewards

Theory of Change Strategic Plan of 2016 - 2021

“It has taken years to get to where we are. Beyond the buildings and finances, which have been a huge part of my role, technology has enabled CUPS to capture and interpret data, which has become a focal point moving forward."

- Michael Lang

CUPS Calgary Key Investor

Chair, Stonebridge Equity Partners

There is always risk in stepping up to grasp the 'big opportunity'. CUPS’ big opportunity to apply emerging brain science coincided with an economic downturn, political shifts in Alberta, and a global pandemic. CUPS used this complexity as a catalyst to go beyond just navigating the systems to changing them. Continuous learnings include:

Infuse your organization with the gift of education, a growth mindset, and a learning culture —become the most educated not-for-profit in your sector of advocacy.

CUPS committed all employees and contractors to complete the Brain Story Certification, creating a shared and common threshold knowledge base in brain science throughout the organization.

Introduce a 'big opportunity’ into your organization. A big opportunity is a comprehensive statement for staff at all levels within the organization and should be short, rational, compelling and positive, authentic, and clear. (Kotter, 2014)

How does an organization create a shift in mindset between research and practice when the research itself is “unclear and emerging” or fluid, as it will be in all things innovative?

Focus on building and continuously improving relationships between internal departments to share research and evidence-based data and information. 

To do this, CUPS implemented a training and coaching plan for middle managers to institutionalize using evidence-based brain science throughout the organization’s formal organizational structures.

CUPs committed all employees and contractors to complete the Brain Story Certification, creating a shared and common threshold knowledge base in brain science throughout the organization.

Transitioning from adopting to implementation using positive reinforcements such as celebrations, recognition, rewards, employee feedback, audits, and systems accountability move the team from adopting to implementation.

Measure before and after. CUPS used an innovative implementation tool - developmental evaluation - to monitor the application of brain science in consultation with specialists. Once trained to use the tool, staff used it repeatedly for subsequent projects, programs and services.

Using evidence-based data, the organization evaluated the outputs, outcomes, and impact of its services and programs. They constantly refined and adapted their offerings based on the evaluation. New information and research provide a better way of delivery.

How to move forward with the challenge of innovating delivery models in a dynamic context?


There will always be continuous growth and learning because context is constantly shifting. Highly motivated and educated staff nurtured in a growth mindset and learning culture understand that change is innovation and will be excited to embrace what emerging evidence demonstrates will yield positive outcomes for clients.


This is not change for change's sake but rather holding ourselves accountable to continuously and bravely evolve our process and practice to respond to what evidence suggests will have the most positive, sustained, and intergenerational impact for clients.


Actions for a Hopeful Future, Globally

Rising possibility: The intended impact of research, practice and policy

"20 years ago, CUPS was a charity providing some basic supports. CUPS has become a world leader through science, with an expansive but disciplined vision, and a tremendous amount of will and desire in frontline services. CUPS has shown us that we need to spend our money differently and work together. This is how we take people from surviving to thriving."

- Nancy Mannix

CUPS Calgary Key Investor

Chair and Patron, Palix Foundation

Learnings to move us forward, collectively:

  • Grow a deep and robust taproot—Choose a singular construct and integrate it into every part of the organization by 100% evidence-based education. At CUPS, this is our commitment to healthy, whole and integrated humans.


  • Nurture a network of oblique heart roots—A multidisciplinary team of care coordinators, clinicians, specialists, educators, counsellors and others; plus external partners committed to your singular construct.


  • Be proud of the rings that show your growth—Boldly seek out the big opportunity. Unexpected social, political and economic upsets are opportunities to redefine policy, systems and structures and create new growth paths.


  • Grow branches from a strong tree trunk—Integrated services are the branches that grow from the support of a singular construct with committed focus and are in constant communication with each other.


  • Keep pollination constant
    • Develop and implement integrated care tools
    • Achieve evaluation of integrated care, measuring  outputs, outcomes, and impact 
    • Leverage technology in support of integrated care 


  • Blossom, flourish, grow fruit and spread the seeds with others

“Progress can be made by helping people to better understand the root of their challenges – in some cases taking the self-blame off their shoulders – and by offering integrated care aimed at helping them to acquire their own tools to achieve stability or self-sufficiency. There is a lot to be said, from the individual to the societal level, for building resilience.

ACTivate 2021 - 2023

Roots of Rising Possibility kicks off this summer. Further details will be released in September 2021.



ROOTSDeep values, brave truths

RINGS Collaborative partnerships

RISK Growth mindset and learning culture

RISING POSSIBILITY Intended impact of research, practice, and policy