Sorting recycling led woman to job

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Rayann Toner

Rayann Toner credits Pictou County's aggressive recycling program with bringing her home from out west.

"I was visiting my parents in Trenton, carefully sorting the recycling to make sure I got it right when I saw the job ad," she said.

The job was for executive director of the Pictou County Sexual Health Centre, a position she has had for the past two years.

"It is a dream job for me. It is in the field I was working in out west and it brought me back to Pictou County where I wanted to be."

Toner graduated from Trenton High School and St. Francis Xavier University before spending three years teaching English in South Korea.

"I had a lot of student loan debt and no job prospects. I was also terrified of flying, but when I was offered a plane ticket and the cost of accommodation I had to take it," she said, adding she knew she was embarking on a great adventure.

"One of the classes I taught was referred to as the Housewives' Class. I had brilliant, well-educated women in my class, but once they married they were expected to drop out of the workforce and care for husbands and children. It may not be quite the same today but that's how it was when I was there," she said.

Every day was a new lesson learned for the young teacher.

"One of the most important lessons I learned is that I did not want to be a teacher. I was lucky to have had some great teachers, full of passion for their work. I realized I wasn't cut out for that," she said.

Instead, she returned to Canada to study criminology at St. Thomas University.

"When I graduated my partner and I faced the reality that there were still no jobs in the east so we drove across Canada with our two dogs. Our first stop was Calgary, but we later settled happily in Red Deer."

Toner went to work at a women's emergency shelter.

"I grew up in a loving, supportive family and it was a real eye-opener to come face to face with kids who did not have that experience because of domestic violence," she said.

Toner went on to work on an outreach program and in the court system.

"I loved the work and my partner was working in the oil patch so the money was good, but we're true Maritimers and the heartstrings were pulling us back. We don't regret the decision."

In her position at the health centre, Toner has been particularly struck by two things - the amount of poverty in Pictou County and the wealth of resources.

"There are many people here who have to decide whether to pay the rent or have heat. Poverty is something I see a lot of in the people I work with," she said.

But she added there is a spirit of generosity and a tremendous willingness to help.

"The health centre, which recently moved to Bridgeview Square, provides education, support, information and referrals as well as condoms and pregnancy tests. The majority of our clients are young women between 15 and 29 but we are here for men and women of all ages. We support people who are transitioning in terms of gender identity. We support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community."

Toner is taking advantage of a creative writing program, is a committed fan of horror writer Stephen King and is active in a variety of organizations with the mission of combating domestic violence. She is happy to be home among family and friends but she notices a lack of people her age putting down roots.

"I'm glad I've kept my old friends because there are not a lot of new people," she said.     

Organizations: Pictou County Sexual Health Centre, Trenton High School, St. Francis Xavier University St. Thomas University

Geographic location: Pictou County, Trenton, Canada South Korea Calgary Red Deer Bridgeview Square

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  • Inspiring
    February 02, 2013 - 11:17

    Ms Toner, you are a wonderful role model for the young people of today. You were a wonderful teacher and the fact that you could acknowledge that you were looking for something more rewarding for yourself teaches your past students to "always pursue your dreams" . Thank you, I am sure your are superb in the position you fill!!! I hope many will utilize it!