Heather Bruneau had one of those aha kind of moments early on in her career.
Bruneau had just started working as a Disability Support Worker for a Winnipeg-based non-profit agency. She arrived at the home where she was scheduled to work that day only to discover her supervisor hadn’t arrived yet and staff and residents at the home were waiting outside.
Bruneau struck up a conversation with one of the residents who began telling her a little about herself. As Bruneau went to search for some information in a textbook, the woman grabbed the book from her and put it aside.
“She said I’m not in your textbook,” Bruneau recalls, laughing. “I thought ‘This is fantastic. This is just what I needed to learn’.”
Bruneau has worked in the community living sector for 17 years, including the past seven as a coordinator for Epic Opportunities. Part of her inspiration for entering the field was her grannie, whom she helped care for near the end of her life. She was so moved by that experience that she determined to devote herself to helping others.
After working at Epic Opportunities’ former Ness Avenue day service location for the past four years, Bruneau is returning to her former role as Residential Coordinator. While her responsibilities have evolved over time, her passion for the work has remained the same.
“It’s the daily contact with the people we work for that makes it all worthwhile,” she says. “I get to work with such an amazing group of people every day. They have such patience and kindness. I don’t know how you can’t but be humbled by that.”
Bruneau has had a huge impact on not only the people served by Epic Opportunities but on hundreds of people who work for the agency. She has served as a facilitator for Nonviolent Crisis Intervention (NCI) training for more than a decade, a role she was convinced to take on by a former manager who said it would be “good for me and help pull me out of my shell,” she says, chuckling.
Bruneau recently became only the second master level NCI instructor to be employed at Epic Opportunities. To achieve master level certification from the Crisis Prevention Institute, individuals must teach a minimum of 200 hours of training and maintain their certification for a minimum of five years.
“I had no idea about [the honour] beforehand,” says Bruneau, who estimates she’s taught more than 300 individuals through the program. “I take far more pride in how the teams I’ve worked with are using the NCI training and the huge impact it’s had on the people I’ve worked with and for. I’m very content to remain behind the scenes.”
Human Resources Coordinator Kristin Knockaert says one of the qualities that makes Bruneau such an effective trainer is her compassionate attitude.
“She’s very sensitive to the needs of others. I think that gives her an ability to be empathic towards people and meet them where they’re at,” Knockaert says.
Bruneau acknowledges that may not have always been the case. A huge Star Wars fan, one of her earliest memories is of standing in front of her elementary school class and having to tell everyone what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I said I wanted to be Darth Vader or a Supreme Court justice. Those were my options. My teacher was mortified,” she says, laughing.
While that dream never came to pass, Bruneau has channeled her creative passions in other directions. She is wrapping up work on a children’s book she is writing. She’s also an avid ‘bencher,’ a term used to describe people who photograph graffiti on freight trains. “It’s like treasure hunting,” says Bruneau, who took up the hobby several years ago and posts her work on Flickr using the handle LadyBench.