Not everyone can confidently say they scored their dream job, but Shaun Leonoff, Red River College graduate and grandmother of nine, can assure you she did, and it’s all thanks to a car accident.
During the life-changing incident, Leonoff severely damaged her elbow, ending her 30-year career as an X-ray technician. Because of her injuries, Leonoff had no choice but to look for another career path; having attended RRC in the past (it’s where she earned her X-ray technician credentials), she was this time drawn to the College’s Volunteer Management program, available through the School of Continuing Education.
“I lived in St. Anne and I had been a volunteer of all levels, from (being) the teachers’ field trip mom, to being on boards, to chair of the parks and recreation centres, and even a Scout mom,” says Leonoff.
When asked what inspired her to volunteer in the first place, she says, “Living in a small town, I saw the immediate benefit of volunteering. I saw the positive difference it made in our community.”
During the time she was enrolled in the program Leonoff’s personal life was undergoing huge changes.
“It was a hectic time of my life because my three grandchildren were born within nine months, and another two born within one month,” she says.
Life became a balancing act for Leonoff, who juggled a new full-time job with the thrills and responsibilities of being a new grandmother. “Many times I was seen with little babies on my shoulder while studying,” she laughs.
Leonoff has praise for the flexibility and opportunities available through Continuing Education. “In addition, a lot of the courses at (the) College reinforced the learning that I had attained through life. They were practical, and they understood adult learners already had life experiences. ”
Shortly before she began her new education and training, Leonoff had also kicked off a new career with the Canadian Cancer Society, where she worked for eight years as the Senior Manager of Volunteer & Community Engagement.
She completed the RRC program in 2008, and four years later, landed what she now describes as her dream job, after being hired as the Volunteer Resources Coordinator at Assiniboine Park Conservancy, where she manages all volunteers in both the park and the zoo.
This past April, she coordinated a massive recruitment effort that resulted in triple the usual number of registered volunteers. Even today, inquiries are still flowing through and her department is constantly evaluating and welcoming new volunteers to help with special events, the park ambassador program, and even the site’s new double-decker bus tours.
“I love the volunteers that I work with. They are an amazing group of people with diverse backgrounds that they willingly share. I find every day I’m energized just talking to them,” says Leonoff.
When asked what she misses most about Red River College, Leonoff says her classmates: “One of the most memorable parts were the people I met, who I still see – all of us coming from different walks of life, there for one reason and wanting to improve what we were doing.”
Through her new position, Leonoff has also found a new hobby: travelling to new cities to visit their zoos and aquariums. On her spare time at work, she enjoys talking walks in the English gardens and visiting her closest neighbour, Hudson the polar bear.
Profile by Elizabeth Catacutan (Creative Communications, 2013)