Staff Profile: Joanna Jaskielewicz, Employment Programs Manager

As the manager of New Circles’ employment training programs, Joanna Jaskielewicz works closely with clients, volunteer facilitators and program partners to deliver the Retail Foundations, Business Office Skills and Leaders in Service Training programs. Joining New Circles in January 2017, Joanna brings a wealth of experience in employment and skills training – as well as a few unexpected skills and interests.

Can you tell me about your professional background before New Circles?

I earned a university degree in marine biology when I was younger, but I didn’t work in that field. When my husband and I moved from Poland to Greece, I worked a variety of odd jobs. When I first came to Canada, I studied in a college program to be a computer programmer, and then I got a job as a programmer. From that job, I was offered a position in a training centre. I worked for Manpower Services and they provided training to a group of unemployed women who were returning to work at YWCA Toronto. So I became a trainer and I really loved it! I didn’t expect to go into training or teaching, but once I started at YWCA, I really thought that I had found my calling. This was my first exposure to community-based training and employment support, and I stayed at YWCA as a database administrator and computer trainer for a long time, and my position evolved many times throughout the years. We opened a training centre, which grew over the years and became a private college, and I eventually became the coordinator of the centre. I also worked in the TDSB with newcomers and unemployed individuals, and I taught some courses at Centennial College. So my whole career in Canada has revolved around training and employment support.

What was your first impression of New Circles?

What really attracted me to New Circles is that it’s a grassroots organization. I was going to use the phrase “Small but mighty,” but that really was my impression! I was so impressed with the number of services that are available here, but also the number of people who give their support to what we do. The number of volunteers is just incredible – how many people see the value of working here. So that was my first impression, really how incredible the support is and how many clients receive that support, especially for the small size of the organization.

What interested you in the Employment Programs Manager position?

As I mentioned, my career path really took off in the direction of training and employment support, so I thought that I would have the skills that the position required. However, what attracted me to this particular position was New Circles, the organization itself, and the clients that we work with. I definitely believe in lifelong learning. I’ve seen throughout the years, working with different participants, clients and students, how gaining skills changes people’s lives. A lot of people don’t have access to training or can’t afford it, so I think community-based training is crucial in supporting clients who may not otherwise be able to access that support. Knowledge is power, and gaining new skills has a positive impact on not only the participants, but also on their families and the community at large.

What is your favourite thing about working here?

The staff! The working atmosphere is great, and I also appreciate the type of flexibility we have in trying new things and exploring different options.

What has been the most surprising or challenging aspect of your job?

The most surprising thing for me was the number of volunteers who support New Circles and donate their time and effort to the organization. I read about how New Circles is volunteer-driven, but once I actually saw the commitment, that really drove home the value of what we do here. It’s not just GLOW, but everyone who is working in the background, the tutors, the facilitators, the committee members, everyone.

What unique thing to do you bring to your job?

There is one thing about me that I both appreciate and sometimes struggle with. It’s kind of like a dual personality – I’m a combination of someone who is very empathetic and people-focused, but also very organized and goal-oriented. I think the combination of the two is actually very well-suited to this kind of position because you have to do a lot of coordinating and time management, but also be compassionate, empathetic, and able to work with people and understand where they’re coming from.

What is your vision for employment skills training at New Circles?

There is great opportunity for growth here. Some of our programs are relatively new and we have the chance to explore and try new things, so we can improve these programs and tailor them to our clients’ needs. The vision of the board and staff is to grow in many directions, and the employment programs are definitely one area. Perhaps we can expand on the number of programs we offer or support other groups of people with different needs.

What do you hope to accomplish working here?

I worked for many years for large organizations and this was a great chance to switch gears and work in a smaller organization. I was excited about the opportunity to really make an impact with my work and try new things, without the bureaucratic processes that often stifle change at larger organizations. Every new step is growth! I’m hoping I will grow professionally here. Everyone has the same goal, to work with our clients and support them.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love to read many different genres, from non-fiction books on psychology and technology, to literature like Jane Austen. Recently, I’ve developed a deep interest in Polish folk art. It’s a dying art, but the skills are still being passed on, and I would like to connect with those artists and learn new skills the next time I go back to Poland.

New Circles' GLOW clothing service is the largest clothing bank in Toronto. We help 9,000 families annually.