From reception to management, Ann Szabo has pretty much done it all at Reena in her 35 years. Name a department and she has worked in it. Ann currently oversees community participation programs (Day programs), outreach, respite, employment, faith and cultural services in addition to volunteer services, GReena and transportation and if that wasn’t already enough, she takes on special projects that come every now and then.
In 1987 Ann began her career at Reena as the receptionist at the Cartwright centre, but what she really enjoyed was her interactions with the individuals who were at the day programs, “they would come up and visit with me and if (the staff) couldn’t find them, they knew they would find them with me”.
A fortuitous opportunity came up for her to work at Camp Reena for a month in the summer of 1989, “I absolutely loved it, I spent more time hanging out with the individuals then I did in my office!” Ann returned deciding what she really wanted to do was work with individuals, and that’s exactly what she did for ten years, everywhere from small group homes to supported independent living to coordinating the cottage program.
But when Ann was given the chance to create a programming department as outreach supervisor, she says it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up and calls it “the little department that grew and grew and grew.” Ann credits her success to the environment established by her mentor, Sandy Keshen who she says allowed people to follow their bliss and gave them opportunity to do so. “Its always kept me interested and I’ve grown so much as a person”. The freedom to grow and explore and be creative has kept Ann at Reena for 35 years and she thanks Sandy for that because, “she was a dreamer too and she always encouraged that kind of thing. You couldn’t run into Sandy without her coming up with an idea and running off in a direction. She always had these wonderful ideas, and nothing was impossible.”
Ann had the chance to see that for herself in 2001 when she went to Israel with a group of individuals with diverse abilities on a Birthright Israel Trip which she calls one of her most memorable experiences. One of the individuals she was chaperoning was afraid of flying, so she held her hand and supported her the whole time during take off, despite fearing flying herself. Fast forward to visiting Masada, heading down the snake path, Ann was having difficulty as she had given her water away to someone else who needed it, the individual took her hand and told her ‘It’s ok Ann, I got you’ and held her hand the whole way down supporting her the way Ann had supported her on the plane.
Ann says her years of service are filled with proud moments and incredible experiences. Especially one in which she learned an important lesson. “My proudest accomplishment is the moment I realized an individual I was working with who was a quadriplegic and nonverbal was able to make a choice because I was able to find the best way to communicate with that person…using picture symbols. That was my proudest moment. Because that moment taught me that nothing is impossible. Every moment is a teaching moment and if you don’t take that opportunity then it’s a missed opportunity.
Ann Szabo is not about missing opportunities. In fact, she is all about creating new ones. Not one to slow down, Szabo and her department are beginning to redevelop community participation programming and looking at ways to expand transportation to other agencies and communities.