Jessica Dobransky looked around as her dad busied himself fixing the drywall in the care home where they were working. The last year had drained her. At only 20 years old, a lifetime of pain, loneliness, and feeling lost had become too much. She didn’t have direction. She was existing in darkness with what felt like no end in sight.
Some movement caught the corner of her eye and Jessica turned to see a small woman in her eighties. “Have you seen my mother?” Lillian asked, a note of desperation in her voice. Jessica, stunned at the hopelessness in her voice, replied, “I’m sorry, I haven’t.” Lillian thrust her face into her hands and began to sob. Jessica reflexively moved to comfort her.
Jessica had thought her story was over before it really began. After sharing that moment with Lillian, she realized the difficult path she had walked had shaped her into someone who could empathize and truly help others. She wasn’t missing purpose – she just hadn’t found it until then.
FROM PAIN TO EPIPHANY
From her birth, Jessica was different. She was born with a rare head trauma called an arteriovenous malformation, which is “a big blob of veins in my head constricting blood flow. I was the first baby in Canada to be born with it.” After surgery, Jessica lived a normal childhood, but her teen years brought increased health challenges. At 13, she lost hearing in her right ear and the doctors found a benign tumor on her hearing nerve. At 18, she started to have stroke and seizure symptoms, as well.
All the doctors’ visits, constant medical testing and chronic pain made it difficult to connect and maintain relationships with her peers. “I was living a very different life than my friends. I lost people I cared about because they didn’t understand what I was going through. I remember sitting with my mom, crying, because I didn’t understand why I was here, or what my purpose was, living a life so full of pain.”
But all adversity has a silver lining, and Jessica found hers the day she met Lillian.
It was in that moment of Lillian’s raw vulnerability when Jessica realized her purpose – to connect and comfort those who need it. In Lillian, Jessica saw someone who felt alone in the world, who felt pain, and that is something she could deeply identify with. “Lillian was hurting over something she couldn’t control. It sparked something in my heart. In that moment, Lillian needed my help, and I knew I could be that person for her.”
A LOVE OF LEARNING
After a recommendation from a friend who worked in healthcare, Jessica found the Stenberg College Therapeutic Recreation Assistant (TRA) program. “I didn’t realize that becoming a Therapeutic Recreation Assistant was a career option. I thought it was all volunteer work.” Without hesitation, Jessica enrolled in the program. “I was nervous to go to college because I didn’t love learning in high school. But this program was different. I loved what I was learning. I could do it from home and my teachers created an incredibly supportive learning environment.”
Jessica worked incredibly hard, earning a remarkable 97% grade point average. Her instructors took notice. Laurie Chiasson, says, “Jessica was an outstanding student and a beautiful person. She maintained an incredible standard of work throughout the program, demonstrated a high-level understanding of the concepts, and applied practices of therapeutic recreation.”
TO LILLIAN, WITH LOVE
Today, Jessica is employed as a Therapeutic Recreation Assistant where she connects with many older adults. “Each person is an individual and I want to join them in the reality they are living. Sometimes that means going on a hunt for a misplaced item or staging ‘a great escape’ that turns into an ice cream break. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when we are doing activities together. Bringing older adults joy gives me purpose. For that hour that I am running a program, I know I am making them happy and that is a really good feeling.”
A moment of connection can be life changing, whether it’s sharing a joke, a touch, or just being there. For Jessica, connecting with Lillian helped her find herself. Jessica smiles, “My greatest accomplishment is getting to this point in my life because it hasn’t been easy. I didn’t think I would get here but the last year has been the best one of my life.”
Inspired? Click here to learn more about our Therapeutic Recreation Assistant Diploma program.