Speakers At The 5 Saturday events

MTS, MA, PhD (cand.), RP


Adjunct Professor, Counselling, Emmanuel Bible College

Aaron Smith - Professor and Moderator

Aaron Smith is the Director of Social Research and Education Group, an Instructor in the School of Social Work at Renison University College at the University of Waterloo, and a Registered Psychotherapist and Mental Health Therapist with STAR Family Health Team. In addition to his current roles, Aaron has worked as a therapist in private practice, community-based, health care, and institutional settings. Aaron has also served as Visiting Faculty at Briercrest College and Seminary, Guest Lecturer and Contract Academic Staff at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Program Director of Counselling Studies and Human Services at Emmanuel Bible College. Aaron has presented and published workshops and articles in numerous fields including mental health care, domestic violence, peer support, spiritual care, social work, and sociology, often from the perspective of Christianity. Aaron’s doctoral research likewise explores relational engagement through the lens of therapeutic relationships and Christian spirituality. Aaron has graduate degrees in Theological Studies and Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy, and is currently completing a PhD in Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University.

In his spare time, Aaron enjoys reading, baseball, music, being outdoors, and spending time with his wife and three daughters.

Completing a Masters in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy

Open Learning Facilitator, Emmanuel Bible College

Heather Antoni - Teaching Assistant

Heather is the Open Learning Facilitator at Emmanuel Bible College. She graduated from EBC with a BRE in Counselling and Intercultural Studies the past May and is in her last year of graduate studies in Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy at Martin Luther University College. Heather is working toward certification as a Registered Psychotherapist and has a passion to work with those who struggle with mental health. She was involved in the development of the 5-Saturday workshops on Trauma and Recovery delivered by EBC last winter and is thrilled to be part of this new series.

Heather is a falconer and spends much of her spare time out in the field, connecting with God, nature and friends.





MacKenzie Hooper - Workshop 1

MacKenzie is an advocate for mental health and wellness, MacKenzie has struggled and journeyed with mental illness for most of her life. MacKenzie is a graduate of Emmanuel Bible College and Martin Luther University College, Mastering in Theology with a focus on Spiritual Care and Psychotherapy. Her work with young people has taught her that mental illness is on the rise within younger populations today, and she hopes to continue supporting them through avenues such as Play Therapy. Her desire is to share her story to encourage, educate and bring a message of hope to those who struggle with their own mental health and those who come alongside them. As a pastor’s wife, MacKenzie longs to see the stigma around mental illness dispelled within the church.



Aaron Hooper - Workshop 1

Husband to MacKenzie, Aaron is a pastor who is passionate about loving God and serving others. Aaron is a graduate from Emmanuel Bible College and holds a Master of Divinity degree from McMaster Divinity College with a focus on Pastoral Studies. He is excited to share several insights regarding his experience journeying with a family member who struggles with mental illness.

M.A. RP.

Consultant, Social Research and Education Group

Adjunct Professor, Counselling, Emmanuel Bible College

Phil Kaethler - Workshop 1

Phil Kaethler has a MA in Counselling and Psychology and is a Registered Psychotherapist. He has been in private practice for the past 25 years. He regularly sees individuals, couples and families at his office in St. Catharines as well as offers specialized support for critical incidents throughout Ontario. He is often requested to present on topics like mental health, corporate wellness, addiction and self-care, and consults with corporations as they transition through change.

Phil and his wife Julie moved from Winnipeg, MB to the outskirts of St. Catharines 10 years ago. Together they own a small business in St. Catharines and enjoy spending time with their two sons and recent daughter-in-law.


Life Coach


Steve Austin - Workshop 2

Steve Austin is a former pastor who made his bed in hell, and found God there. Steve served the local church for ten years. During that time, he was secretly suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. He was terrified for anyone to know the extent of his despair. Things became so unbearable that Austin nearly died by suicide in 2012. He wrote From Pastor to a Psych Ward in 2016 as a promise to those who have reached the end of their rope: your story isn’t over. Steve is dedicated to reaching those who are hiding from God and the rest of us.

Steve resides in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife and two kids, and loves all things peanut butter and chocolate.


Additions Counselling Program Lead

Stephen Prendergast - Workshop 3

Stephen Prendergast is a recovering drug addict in his twelfth year of recovery. He is a Teen Challenge graduate who now holds a bachelor's degree in Youth Ministry/Counselling from Emmanuel Bible College. He is also in the process of getting his Associate Addictions Counsellor (AAC) designation through the CACCF.

Steve and Rachael have moved their family to the Renfrew area to get the newest Teen Challenge Men's Centre up and running. They look forward to many years of ministry in the Ottawa Valley spreading seeds of hope to those struggling in addictions.

Steve is the father of four children and two grandchildren, and the loving husband of Rachael.

Stephen's Mom

Gail Overeem - Workshop 3

Gail Overeem grew up in a home where her father struggled with alcoholism. Her father succumbed to lung cancer at the young age of 47 leaving Gail’s mother to be a single mother of four. Gail became a teenage mother and wife but separated from her husband while pregnant with her second child.

Gail did her best to raise Stephen the best she could with little to no support at all from her ex-husband. Indirectly through Stephen, Gail found her way back to the Lord and did her best to raise Stephen accordingly. Stephen fell into the life of drugs and alcohol as an adolescent and Gail was "tested for her faith" for 20 years as she daily laid Stephen at the foot of the cross in her prayers.

Staying true to her faith in the "power of prayer", much like "The Persistent Widow" found in Luke 18:1-8, Gail has witnessed God's transforming power in her son's life. Gail recently celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary to Peter Overeem and has a great relationship with her two sons today.



Damian Devonish - Workshop 3

As an experienced therapist, trained Theologian and Pastoral Care and Counselling expert, Damian Devonish, B.A., M.Sc., RP, understands the transformative power of addressing spiritual imbalances alongside emotional and physical needs. His hybrid, integrative approach attends to all aspects of the self, supporting each individually while also bringing them together to create One Harmonized Whole.

A person-centred therapist at his core, Damian practices with a dedication to Congruence, Empathy and Unconditional Positive Regard. Drawing on the best practices of psychotherapy, Damian takes an eclectic approach to treatment, emphasizing the importance of holistic healing.

He currently specializes in facilitating therapy for the treatment of addictions (substance or sexual), depression/anxiety, trauma, Christian spirituality, and couples therapy.




Katarina MacLeod - Workshop 4

Katarina MacLeod has survived exploitation, sexual & physical abuse, drug addiction, forcible confinement, and domestic prostitution & trafficking. In 2008, after 15 years in ‘the Game’, she gained freedom and now walks alongside women who, like her, want to start over and realize they cannot do it on their own. Katarina is also an internationally respected speaker, author, and training expert on the realities of commercial sexual exploitation. She has studied Addictions and Community Service, Sexual Violence, and Trauma Counselling for Front Line Workers. This mother of four is a courageous survivor who lives her restored life with purpose.

Both Katarina's and Sheila's voices and perspectives are found in the resource manual "Mending Broken Wings", which they co-wrote and use when training service providers and front-line workers on how to assist women who have experienced trauma from exploitation, trafficking and prostitution. Katarina's training and lived experience, along with her innate sense of the needs of exploited women, has enabled her to build on Sheila's example of mentoring & coaching in order to create the unique model of ongoing integrative care that is the cornerstone of Rising Angels' work with survivors.




Sheila Howlett-Soltysiak - Workshop 4

Sheila Howlett-Soltysiak gained significant mentoring experience during 15 plus years as a youth group leader. She subsequently formed a relationship with Katarina as mentor/life coach, Spiritual Mama, and tireless cheerleader. Sheila has walked daily with Katarina for 8 years, and developed a profound understanding of how C-PTSD, disassociation, and deep scarring affect traumatized, human trafficked women. Her understanding and nurturing have helped Katarina and other survivors not only cope but thrive. Sheila, a founding member of Rising Angels Awareness & Restorative Care, is the board vice-chair. She also uses her decades of experience in administration and customer service to keep the wheels of Rising Angels turning behind the scenes.

Both Katarina's and Sheila's voices and perspectives are found in the resource manual "Mending Broken Wings", which they co-wrote and use when training service providers and front-line workers on how to assist women who have experienced trauma from exploitation, trafficking and prostitution. Katarina's training and lived experience, along with her innate sense of the needs of exploited women, has enabled her to build on Sheila's example of mentoring & coaching in order to create the unique model of ongoing integrative care that is the cornerstone of Rising Angels' work with survivors.


Masters of Theological Studies in Urban and International Development

Events Manager

Becca Sawyer - Workshop 5

Becca Sawyer is the Events Manager for Generous Space Ministries, whose mission it is to encourage “Christ-centered spiritual formation by inviting people to work together to dismantle fear, division, and hostility at the intersection of faith, gender, and sexuality.”

Becca has an academic background in international development with a BA from Trent and a Masters of Theological Studies in Urban and International Development from University of Toronto, Toronto School of Theology. Throughout her life, Becca has found herself a part of Pentecostal, Anglican and Anabaptist communities of faith and has worked extensively in church circles.

She loves to travel and has experience living and working abroad in various nonprofit contexts. In her work life, she often finds herself coordinating events, facilitating workshops, and speaking to groups of folks. Some of her favourite things to speak/facilitate about are what it means to make home, contemplative prayer, community building and justice for LGBTQ+ folks.

Becca identifies as queer. She is the partner of Mary. In her free time, you might find Becca playing one of her five ukuleles or hanging out with her dog, Presley.



Registered Psychotherapist

Erin Poole - Workshop 5

Erin Poole is a Certified Spiritual Care Practitioner by training and a Registered Psychotherapist. She served as a multi-faith Spiritual Care Provider in long-term care for 13 years and is now in private practice as a therapist full-time. She works mainly with 2SLGBTQ+ people, and feels privileged to journey with members of her own community, witnessing their incredible resilience and capacity for growth.

Erin is passionate about building empathy and understanding through speaking and listening.

Erin is pansexual. She lives in Hamilton with her husband, a trans man, and their cats. In her free time, you can find her out at the barn with her horse, reading a good book, hiking, gardening, or learning another language.