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Alumni Engagement

Grad profile: Jessica Saunders (Child and Youth Care, 2011)

January 12, 2012

Jessica SaundersJessica Saunders says the key to her job is being a good listener, non-judgmental and non-biased.

Saunders is a child and youth care practitioner for Macdonald Youth Services in Winnipeg, a United Way member organization that “fosters hope and opportunities to empower children, youth and families throughout Manitoba.” MYS has over 700 employees and served over 6,200 youth in 2008-2009. Saunders is based at one of its many group homes and works with six boys aged 13-18.

“I thought it was going to be scary but it’s not,” she says. “It surprised me that the kids can still be happy after all of the things that happened to them. They can still laugh and have fun.”

Saunders graduated from high school in 2007. She went to university for one year and then took a year off to decide what she wanted to do. Saunders knew an instructor at Red River College who told her about its Child and Youth Care program.

“I looked up the course, read about it and knew I wanted to do it.”

Saunders enrolled in the program in 2009. At the time she knew she wanted to help kids but had no idea what type of job she wanted.

“If I hadn’t gone to Red River College, I probably wouldn’t have known about working at a group home,” she explains.

As part of the two-year Child and Youth Care program, Saunders completed three workplace practicums to gain hands-on experience within the field.

“You go and test out different places you might want to work when you’re done the course, so you kind of have an idea of what you’re interested in,” she says.

Saunders realized she preferred working in a group home setting rather than in a classroom, because she got more one-on-one time with the kids.

“We teach them how to look for jobs, how to clean a house properly, how to cook, and how to work and find an apartment so when they move out they’re able to live on their own,” she says.

By the time she graduated in 2011, Saunders had a job offer from the place where she done one of her practicums: Macdonald Youth Services.

“It was nice to know you have a job once you’re done school,” she laughs.

Not all students of RRC’s Child and Youth Care program choose to work in a group home setting. Saunders said there are plenty of other opportunities for graduates.

“They can work in the group homes, at the youth centres or at schools. They can also work for community programs – lots of different things.”

Saunders said she and her classmates, many of whom she keeps in touch with, were career-ready after graduation.

“You don’t have to go to school to work in the profession but it is better if you do.

I think that you learn how to talk to kids, what to say and different techniques to get them to talk and open up to you. We also learned about fetal alcohol syndrome, a lot about different things with the justice system, and about how past trauma causes the things that they do today.”

Although she loves her job, Saunders admits it does have its challenges. “Sometimes you don’t know what to say to the kids and you wish you just always knew what to say — but you just don’t.”

One of the skills she’s learned is not to take her work home with her. “The program managers are all really good about coming in after if it’s a bad day and talking to the staff and making sure everyone’s OK before we go home.”

Above all, it’s working towards positive change that drives Saunders.

“I like the fact that the kids are getting a second chance and they can learn to deal with things differently,” she says. “You feel really good when you leave and have made a change in someone’s life.”

Profile by Alana Odegard (first year, Creative Communications)