by Stacy Dunn
Ellen Mullally, the new Executive Director of Community Legal Information Association (CLIA) of PEI, says being bilingual has been a key skill that she has leveraged throughout her career. Her career path took her off Island, overseas, and back again, and she now applies much of her experience and education in her current position.
Ellen studied French Immersion from grades 1 to 12. “From working at Dairy Queen, to tree-planting, teaching and non-profit work, being bilingual has helped me, and I tried to instill that in my students when I taught Core French and French Immersion. Knowing a second language takes you places, and you never know when it will be an asset.”
Ellen, an avid traveler, was lost in Saigon, Vietnam, and used her French skills to chat with a local woman to help find her way. She also used her bilingual skills while volunteering with Katimavik, a youth service organization. “This was a wonderful experience, learning life skills, honing my second language, volunteering, and meeting new people. It’s experiential learning at its best, and I highly recommend this experience to youth.”
Moving away for work
One of her favourite stories is how she ended up working with the Canadian Career Development Foundation (CCDF) in Ottawa a few years ago.
“Two staff from CCDF were in Summerside doing training sessions with our team and other staff from the PEI Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture,” says Ellen, who was a Career Transition Facilitator with the department at the time. “I asked them where they were going to have supper and they said they didn’t know. I recommended a favourite restaurant of mine, 511 West in Summerside.”
Ellen could not accompany them to dinner, but “about eight months later, I was sitting with them at that same restaurant, talking about a job offer. They remembered my hospitality and said that was one of the ways I had made an impression on them. Just being genuinely friendly and helpful goes a really long way to building your network.”
The job with CCDF as a Consultant doing research and facilitation was a full-time permanent job with benefits.
“At that time in my life, I was having contract fatigue working as a teacher. I worked different jobs during the summer as well. Most times, it would be the last week of August before I knew where I would be teaching in the fall.
“The opportunity to work with a progressive organization like CCDF doesn’t come along every day,” she says. “I have a strong interest in career development and knew I couldn’t pass up this job. The staff was fantastic to work with, but after a year, I realized I was not cut out to do research for most of my day.”
Ellen was helping to create innovative programs. “I love working in the non-profit sector because it offers a lot of flexibility and creativity,” she says. “While I was working with CCDF, I was given some freedom in developing and delivering training programs, but I remember thinking while training a group of Employment Counselors, I wanted to do what they did. I wanted to be assisting people with their career development, not researching it.”
Coming home to PEI
She found her chance to work directly with job seekers via an e-newsletter. “It featured career development news and events from across Canada and listed a job opening for an Employment Counselor with the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada (PEIANC).
“I felt that job would be a better fit for me, as I had travelled in Europe and Asia and taught English in South Korea. I wanted to work directly with job seekers and I knew I could identify with the clients and help them with their transition to life on PEI.
“As I worked with clients, I felt my counselling was having an impact in practical ways every day as I assisted them to develop Canadian-style networking and interviewing skills.”
Ellen was happy to come back home to PEI. “There’s a good quality of life here and my partner and I wanted to buy our first home, which is much more affordable on PEI than in Ottawa.”
Ellen was happy to use her teaching skills in her role at PEIANC. “I co-facilitated activities and workshops for clients, so my teaching background helped. I liked structuring and tailoring career development resources to their needs.”
Realities of working in the education field
After spending three-and-a-half years working in the non-profit sector in Ottawa from 2005 to 2008, Ellen went back to school and earned a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Toronto in 2009.
“I thought a teaching designation would help me earn a better income and get steadier work,” she says. “However, I worked from one contract to another. Also, I had an image in my head of what teaching would be like, but perhaps there was a disconnect with what I had imagined and the reality. Sometimes I felt I connected with students, but it often felt like there was never enough time to prep the way I wanted to. Teachers work hard, and I have a deep respect for what they do, but I didn’t feel it was the best fit for me and my skill set.”
“I don’t regret becoming a teacher because those skills are readily transferable to adult education, career development, and developing and delivering legal education and information.”
Working for a non-profit
Prior to earning her BEd, Ellen obtained a BA in Human Rights and History at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick in 2003. She applied her social justice background, research and writing skills while working at several non-profit organizations in Ottawa.
“I was working at the Canadian Environmental Network when I met David Daughton, who was a board member with the organization. We got to know each other through that work, and he became a mentor.
“Networking helps foster genuine relationships and it can lead to acquiring mentors who really know and guide you. Mentors are crucial when you need career advice or that great reference.”
David would later become CLIA’s Executive Director, and he asked Ellen to join its Board of Directors in 2015. “He is an advocate for recruiting more women, under-represented groups, and young people to boards, and it’s an idea that I like.”
She came back to the Island to work at PEIANC, and was there for almost two years when David announced his retirement from CLIA. He encouraged her to apply for the Executive Director position. “I was happy at PEIANC, but I knew that Executive Director positions don’t come up every day, so I applied.”
Hiring process at CLIA
Ellen was interviewed by a panel of CLIA board members and then drafted a mock proposal for them. A short time later, she was offered the job.
“I have always had this inner student in me pushing to learn and grow. I am a believer in getting out of your comfort zone. It’s important to push yourself to take on new challenges. That’s how one learns.”
Ellen says she brings her teaching, facilitation, and communication skills to her role with CLIA. “As Executive Director, I have to succinctly tell others what my organization does. I must write and present the information in plain language that is accessible to everyone.
“I have to be comfortable working with clients who come in upset about a variety of legal issues. They may be facing legal challenges related to family breakdown, wills, or being victim of a crime.”
She enjoys working with her team of two staff and the Board of Directors. “I like working with people and being in a helping role. So much of the work is relationships; CLIA is small, and we partner with other non-profit organizations, government, and donors to get our work done.”
Research is also an important part of her new role, as it was while she was with CCDF and as a teacher. “I am always looking at new ways to deliver content and to share it with others. We are currently developing content about the new cannabis legislation, including drug-impaired driving. CLIA is looking at how we will present it in our public education workshops in order to ensure that it is both engaging and informative.”
Community Legal Information Association of PEI (CLIA) provides free legal information to the public. If you have a question about a legal issue, call CLIA’s confidential inquiry line at 902-892-0853 or visit www.cliapei.ca.
For more information on the youth organization Canada Service Corps, visit www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/canada-service-corps.html.