Outgoing program director Claudette Legault’s path to ISANS can be traced to her childhood in a Northern Ontario mining community. “My parents never traveled, but I had a world view,” reflects Claudette. “You can’t grow up in a mining family and go through strikes and layoffs without having some sense of what’s fair.”
After finishing school she built homes in Métis communities, earned her undergraduate degree and traveled to Central America. She even picked tobacco in PEI and then became a social worker, earning her Master’s in Social Work at Dalhousie University.
Claudette, fluent in French and Spanish, worked with Canada World Youth as group leader in Labrador and Colombia, and regional director in Halifax. She became Oxfam-Canada’s project officer for Central America and the Caribbean. “I was working with people as they were literally fleeing, being part of the context that creates refugees,” she says. “When I returned home I wanted to connect with them again.” After a stint in the South Pacific with the International Centre for Ocean Development, and in Cuba working with NGOs, she did just that.
Claudette became a volunteer and board member at ISANS, then MISA – Metropolitan Immigrant Settlement Association. After replacing the director on two maternity leaves, she was hired fulltime as Executive Director in 2000. She describes her job as ensuring that the conditions, funding and organization are in place to support the staff. “You make decisions based on what people need to do their jobs.” Claudette’s symbol is a simple eraser. “You see the table covered with eraser specks; it means that in that room there were people working hard to read and write, maybe for the first time. I’m not teaching, but I made sure there was a teacher.”
Her list of what she is most proud of includes: MISA merging with Halifax Immigrant Learning Centre to create ISANS; being on the list of Canada’s best workplaces in 2014; becoming a Sponsorship Agreement Holder, allowing greater refugee support work; and creating the Transitional Health Clinic for Refugees – years of work that culminated just before the mass Syrian arrival.
After travel and relaxation, Claudette will re-engage in the community through volunteer social justice work. “I came in on the Kosovars’ arrival and I’m going out on the Syrians’ arrival. It brings closure as it comes back to the refugees.” She leaves the organization in good hands. “There’s an incredible staff who have demonstrated over and over their ability to do the work with passion, integrity and respect for everyone they work with.”
Leaving is bittersweet. “It’s a cliché to say I’ll miss the people, but it is the people,” says Claudette. “The world comes in that door every day with stories and challenges and opportunities. It has been a profound and humbling experience. There is not a day I didn’t feel honoured and proud to do this work.”