Laura Dickson believes the most important skill to have is understanding what we can offer one another

As a young woman, Laura Dickson lost her mother to cancer, which influenced her to pursue a career providing the kind of social support her family needed following that tragedy. Now she heads up the Women In Need Society, one of the city’s top women’s aid groups.

When Dickson was 13 years old, her family moved to North Bay, Ont. There, her father worked as a professional engineer and her mother stayed at home to raise Dickson and her two brothers.

Five years later, her mother passed away after being diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer. During her mother’s illness, Dickson watched as the community came together to help her family. This, says Dickson, influenced her to take the career path she chose.

“Our family became quite reliant on a number of community services that really supported my dad to be able to remain employed while raising three children…There really was a sense that the community needed to pull together to help a family.”

Dickson’s career started off as a justice sector analyst for the government of Ontario. During her time here, Dickson saw that many people leaving correctional facilities ended up in a cycle of homelessness due to a lack of housing and social services to help them get back on their feet.

The absence of those services led to her working in Toronto’s homeless and emergency shelters, where she headed an effort to re-house people living within that shelter system.

In 2008 Dickson and her husband moved to Calgary, where she worked as the first chief operating officer for the Calgary Homeless Foundation. It was in that job where she says she noticed many women who became homeless were leaving abusive relationships.

“It is a unique set of needs. I have a minor in women’s studies and I do understand the uniqueness in gender roles and identity in society and so, you know, that was something that drew me [to the Women In Need Society (WINS)]. ”

“I think it’s fabulous. I would say it’s the most rewarding job that I have had yet in my career.” – Laura Dickson 

As the executive director of WINS, Dickson leads the senior management team. Her program manager reports back to her with the effectiveness and efficiency of the programs they run, ensuring that she knows of any problems or obstacles. She also oversees the retail businesses they have throughout the city, making sure they are running as smoothly as possible.

Dickson has been with WINS for 13 months now and says she thoroughly enjoys her job.

“I think it’s fabulous. I would say it’s the most rewarding job that I have had yet in my career.”

Dickson says she has seen some inspiring stories. This year, the organization was able to help a mother of five coming from a country where her husband had been killed in a civil war. WINS was able to assist her with housing and give her the opportunity to meet women in a similar situation, and who spoke the same language.

“To be able to see the kind of relief just from that very initial instance of helping her to get social support and meet like people was inspiring.”

Through all of her experiences, Dickson says the most important skill is the understanding of what we can offer one another.

“It’s often having that person that you can depend on, that you can talk to, have a point of contact with, that can actually make the difference between tipping over to losing your housing, losing faith in yourself, losing hope and walking away and re-entering homelessness, or believing in yourself.”

peason@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Masha Scheele, mscheele@cjournal.ca