It’s not just a job, that’s for sure. I started working here in 1979 as a receptionist. At the time I wanted to go into nursing and needed to get some more experience in health-related work, so I applied. I just loved the work so much and then I met Ted, my husband when we were both working here. We ended up living together, getting married and going on with our lives with SCI BC and I never did get to nursing! I had a bit of a detour, but I don’t regret it. I’ve certainly enjoyed everything I’ve done here, and SCI BC has been a big part of my life.
Over the years I’ve done a little bit of everything. After my role as receptionist, I was a rehab secretary, executive assistant, director of fund development, director of administration and communications director—throughout it all I worked with some amazing people; real pioneers who had such a strong vision for what British Columbia could look like. It’s been a long road, and things are still evolving, but I love that I’ve been able to see the results of our work.
When I first started with SCI BC (then known as the Canadian Paraplegic Association of British Columbia) our focus was providing peer connection. People like my husband, with lived SCI experience, helped newly injured folks. They would visit the Spinal Cord Injury Acute Unit and later at GF Strong and make connections. I remember one time Ted visited a young guy and wore this little bag with fringe (very stylish at the time!) on his chair and the young guy thought that was really cool. After Ted passed away in 2011, this fellow wrote me a message recalling when Ted came to see him and remembered thinking, “Oh man, so you can still be cool.” And that meant a lot to him. Those are really the incredible things. They just seem like funny little anecdotes, but they allow for such big, important change to happen. We talk a lot about “peer magic” as an organization, and it really is that. It’s these little things that really open up the conversation.
After my initial few years here, we started to move towards social work and more rehab delivery service. We did a lot of great work during that time, but I think we also lost a connection with some of our membership because that peer component was missing sometimes. That peer aspect has always been what makes us such a strong community. In the early 2000s we started the peer program back up again and it really reiterated our core strengths of peer support and information. Nobody can authentically deliver peer support unless they’ve had that lived experience. In many ways, I’ve seen things kind of go full circle. It’s been seeing those little moments and getting to be a part of them that made me want to stay and not work anywhere else.
About six years ago I got to a point where I was able to help out a little bit financially. This is when I became a monthly donor. This organization is all about being role models, and I thought, maybe I should be a role model in that way too. SCI BC has been a huge part of my life. I probably wouldn’t have met my husband if I hadn’t worked here, I wouldn’t have had my daughter, and wouldn’t have experienced all the incredible opportunities and connection with supervisors who always believed in me.
I can’t think of a better place to donate or a better way to show my appreciation. I plan on retiring this year, but I know I won’t be a stranger. I’ll volunteer and I’ll continue donating every month because it makes me feel good to help the organization and everyone who I admire so much. I’d encourage everyone to become a monthly donor if they can.
~ Maureen Brownlee, SCI BC Staff, Volunteer & Monthly Donor