Irene Wesenberg was recently honoured with the Corrections Exemplary Service Medal. Established in 1984, this national award recognizes long and outstanding public service and commitment to helping offenders make positive changes in their lives. Irene’s positive attitude, her work ethic and empathetic nature have led her to a calling. That is, working with offenders to give them an opportunity to recognize how they have hurt others and how changing their outlook and attitude towards life can help them to become successful members of society.
Irene was born in Winnipeg to Lithuanian parents. Her parents met and married in England shortly after the Second World War and in 1952 decided to move to Canada in search of a better life. The couple settled in Winnipeg and three years later, Irene was born. Five years after that, her brother Albert was born.
Her parents were hard-workers. “Dad worked as a tailor and once my brother and I were a little older, my mom took on a job as a nurse’s aide and she also worked in the catering department at the Holiday Inn. My mother passed away from cancer at the age of 63, but my dad is still alive at the ripe old age of 90,” she said. Her brother continues to live in Winnipeg and Irene admits that she enjoys a close relationship with him, visiting him often during the summers.
Irene was an active child and teenager and enjoyed participating in a variety of sports including swimming, tennis, basketball, baseball and volleyball. She played for the school rep basketball and volleyball teams as well as being a member of the cheerleading squad. As an avid writer, she was editor of her high school’s newspaper in addition to being co-editor of the school’s yearbook. Irene also had a passion for music, singing in various choirs and taking piano lessons for eight years. “I actually enjoyed singing better so I started taking private voice lessons at the age of 18 and continued on for about nine years, on and off. I’ve performed in festivals, won awards and also did some work as a wedding singer. My dream was to become a professional singer but my goal now is to keep singing in choirs and performing solos when possible. Hopefully, when I retire, I can audition and be accepted for musicals,” she offered.
For the most part, Irene enjoyed school. “I just did not like math. I’m surprised that I didn’t end up bald because I literally felt like tearing my hair out during most of my math classes! In fact, in order to pass Math 11 and 12, my parents had to hire a tutor, which was not cheap in those days. Being immigrants, my parents always encouraged me to further my education and attend university as a way to gain further knowledge, as well as a better job and lifestyle,” she explained. On their advice and after graduating from high school in 1973, Irene enrolled at the University of Manitoba.
After graduating from university with a Bachelor of Social Work and a Minor in Criminal Justice, she began working for Manitoba Community Corrections in 1979 as a Probation Officer for adults and youth in Winnipeg. Three years later, she was promoted to Regional Program Manager where she developed and implemented a provincial program allowing youth and adults to choose to work off the cost of their fines in the same places where people were doing their community service work (Fine Option Program). “This is where my love for community development work started. I enjoy helping offenders become more community-oriented and connected back to their roots. I also enjoyed helping community members see that offenders are really just people like themselves and that giving them a chance to be successful members of society is worthwhile.”
In 1992, Irene and her family moved to BC. When the Ministry of Children and Families was formed in 1998, she was working with the Ministry of the Attorney General as an adult and youth probation officer. “We were asked to choose between family justice work, adult or youth probation. I chose to work exclusively with youth and joined MCF as a youth probation officer,” she said. Today, Irene is a Restorative Youth Justice Conferencing Specialist. “Youth Justice Conferencing is a voluntary process that seeks to involve the young person responsible for the crime, the victim, supporters of the young person and the victim as well as other people who may have been impacted by the crime. “ Irene enjoys her job because youth tend to be hopeful and are willing to change. “I appreciate working with young people who want to take responsibility for their behaviour and want to make amends with their victims and the community,” she said. Currently, Irene is completing her Conflict Resolution Certification, specializing in family mediation.
There is no question that Irene is one busy lady. Still, she admits that overall, she is very satisfied with her life. “There never seems to be a dull moment but fortunately, I have been blessed with good health, family, friends and a very interesting job,” she enthused.