How my passion for helping people led me to Douglas College

By Jessica Zilney, Therapeutic Recreation Diploma student

I think I am probably the Therapeutic Recreation Program’s loudest cheerleader –  Go TR! Before I start bragging about this incredible program, here is a little bit about me: I was born and raised in Barrie, Ontario, although most West Coasters don’t know where that is. I also love florals, coffee shops, calligraphy, mac ‘n’ cheese, and most of all, people.

I love seeing people grow, change, experience and live. Unlike most, I’ve always known what I wanted to do with my life: help people with disabilities find enjoyment to increase their overall quality of life. 

I’m not one of those students who spent my high school career taking occupation suitability tests or fretting about what job I should apply to. Ever since I was the kid being caught skipping class to play with the kids in the special education room, I knew it was a calling of mine to work with those who face challenges; emotionally, mentally and physically.

I have always known in my heart that sharing creatively with all exceptional people is what I was meant to do. I could not be more thankful to be a part of the program as a diploma student. I cannot even fathom how much I’ve already learned and have applied to my daily life. I have already learned more from those I’ve worked with than I could ever teach them.

I began to research my future during high school and came across Douglas College. Until then I had not heard of the College nor had I considered leaving my home province to pursue my next level of education. I soon learned that many in my community knew of Douglas College and sang its praises. The more I learned, the more I gravitated towards it and made the decision that that’s where I wanted to be. 

Now that I am a year and a half in to the Therapeutic Recreation Program, I have fallen more and more in love with what I am learning and how perfect this program is for me. I know I am biased, but I have to say this program is truly amazing. From courses such as leisure and recreation, mental health fundamentals, planning, and health and wellness, as well as an incredible practicum experience, I feel more prepared for my future than I could have ever imagined. I am excited to learn from those whose passion equals mine and to become integrated in a learning and hands-on practicum environment.

I have also learned that the surrounding area and supporting communities are rich with the belief and investment in recreation-focused health and wellness. The TR program has enhanced my passion for this field so much that I chose to complete the diploma program and excitedly begin applying what I have learned. My practice placement was life-changing and cemented my conviction that this is truly what I was born to do.

Although I will be sad to leave Douglas, TR and all of the amazing professors and friends, I am looking forward to all of the possibilities the TR program has prepared me for. I have discovered my interests, my weaknesses and surprised myself with new experiences. After I graduate, I plan on moving back home to Ontario to seek out a job in the mental health field but hopefully I’ll travel a bit first. I hope to continually advocate for Therapeutic Recreation and help others understand the importance of leisure in their lives. 

As my favourite Van Gogh quote states: “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.” This quotation reminds me of TR. I have always pictured myself working with those who have disabilities, but keeping an open mind is essential. In the Fall, I began a practicum placement at the local psychiatric ward and I fell in love with this client population.

TR is so flexible, so why stick to what you know or what you “expected from yourself” when you can do so much more? I really have learned that everyone needs leisure and recreation, therefore the possibilities in this field are endless.

Want to learn more about Douglas College’s Therapeutic Recreation Diploma program? Attend an upcoming information session at the Coquitlam Campus.

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