Simonne LeBlanc, the new executive director at AIDS Calgary, was not looking for a job. A non-profit organization manager for the past 26 years, the AIDS Calgary job posting kept presenting itself to her in unexpected places, and she took it as a sign.
“It is a strange karma thing, I think,” LeBlanc remarks. “I decided to apply on an instinct, and throughout the interviewing and hiring process I kept getting these crazy messages that I was meant to be here.”
Starting work on March 1, LeBlanc has tackled the new job with gusto, attending the National HIV/AIDS Skills Building Symposium in Montreal on day three of the job.
“I’ve jumped into the deep end, but I am fairly confident as I grasp things pretty quickly. I am one of those visionary kind of people, who quickly figure out what needs to be done,” LeBlanc says.
A monumental task that emerged upon her arrival is the imminent takeover of two other AIDS service agencies outside of Calgary, one serving Medicine Hat, the other, Banff and the Bow Valley. LeBlanc explains that AIDS Calgary was not seeking this new geographic mandate but intends to take it on.
“We had a long conversation with the Alberta Community HIV Fund, our primary government funder, who said to us ‘AIDS Calgary does good work and we are impressed at what you do. Would you be willing to take over the services for a couple of agencies which have been struggling?'”
This politically delicate situation has the potential to change the name of AIDS Calgary going forward. In support of their new mandate is AIDS Calgary’s leadership work on building community responses to HIV in African newcomer communities, of which the Medicine Hat region has a substantial population working in the Southern Alberta meatpacking industry.
“I am sure you can appreciate that when those other two agencies were told that we were going to take over, you can imagine how devastated their boards and staff would be,” LeBlanc says. “I heard that collective shock around the province.”
Yet, how the process will unfold is still being determined. LeBlanc insists that local community engagement will be crucial to a smooth transition and speculates that AIDS Calgary staff and board composition may also have to change to reflect their enlarged geographic mandate.
LeBlanc uniquely describes the collegiality of Alberta’s AIDS service organization community as “collabative” — a word that means partially collaborative and partially competitive. However, LeBlanc is interested in coordinated advocacy initiatives as well as the development of, and participation in, a provincial MSM (men who have sex with men) advisory group, with the intent of informing all AIDS agencies in how best they can serve Alberta’s gay male community.
Fundraising remains an ongoing concern for the organization, as core government funding accounts for only 60% of the agency’s budget. This year’s fundraising initiative, “everyone, everywhere, everyday” is still ongoing, and this month saw a board-driven fundraiser with renowned gay puppeteer Ronnie Burkett, which raised close to $20,000.
Apart from fundraising, staff is another priority focus for LeBlanc. “I am implementing retention and health strategies within the organization, equalling the playing field for employees, and am committed to increasing staff salaries,” says Leblanc. “Teambuilding and skill building is something I want to do.”
Undaunted by the work ahead and eager, LeBlanc says, “I am a huge change agent — there is no doubt in my mind that through my work the agency will be different.”
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