Heather McLean’s journey to the top position at Hamilton Jewish Family Services was not a linear one. The Brock University graduate was a languages major before switching to sociology and discovering an affinity for social work. Before being hired to replace Alexis Wenzowski as head of HJFS, McLean was programs manager at the Mississauga Food Bank, a job, she says, “that changed the trajectory of my life in guiding me towards poverty reduction and food insecurity.”
The following interview took place in July.
Q What attracted you to this position?
A It was definitely the goals and mission of the organization, which is to strengthen individual, family, and communal life through these incredible Jewish values of respect, solidarity, and communal responsibility. But also, the poverty reduction through the kosher food bank, the mental health counselling and support and the incredible seniors program that they’re offering are just a completely holistic way to make sure we’re providing folks with all the support that they need and helping the whole person.
Q What are your immediate goals?
A Certainly in the first year, I’m looking to ensure stability for the organization. These are very challenging times with the cost of living, with inflation, the cost of some of the programs that we’re offering. Even the food bank for example, since last June, has seen about a 57 per cent increase in usage, which is incredible. Even month to month, we’re seeing sometimes 20 more clients per month and kosher food typically costs anywhere between 20 and 50 per cent higher, so I want to ensure that we’re able to support the community as best we can through that program. As well as strengthening the seniors program, ensuring the mental health supports can be built upon and we can offer more of those services, because mental health has been such a struggle through the pandemic. Certainly it’s a very serious issue now in the community.
Q What are the values you bring?
A I believe in servant leadership —something you find so much of in this community, the volunteers and staff who are contributing their time. That’s really part of why I wanted to join this organization so that I can support the team here and the incredible work that they’re doing.