BC Association of Community Response Networks

Volunteer of the Month: Bonnie Jean Devine, Saanich Peninsula CRN


(Photo: B. Levine)

Bonnie Jean Devine of Saanichton, BC on southern Vancouver Island has been involved in almost every event and activity the Saanich Peninsula Community Response Network (SPCRN) has organized since 2017.

In the six years of helping raise awareness of adult abuse, neglect, and self-neglect in her community, Bonnie Jean has assembled hundreds of toolkits, gift packages, and information bundles and contributed several hundred hours of her personal time to the cause.

On behalf of the BC CRN, join us in recognizing Bonnie Jean: thank you, Bonnie Jean, for your extensive contributions to the SPCRN and the community!

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The interview with Bonnie Jean took place as part of a larger conversation about SPCRN’s latest projects, which you can also find throughout this month’s edition. When it came time to learn more about her, Bonnie Jean’s reacted with: “Oh no! I’m in the hot seat! I’m very nervous about this (interview). I’m a better listener than I am a talker.”

Regardless, (“There are so many other people who do so much more than I do!) she came to our conversation prepared with a few notes on key professional and volunteer highlights to share. She added: “You can also ask me anything. I’m 76 and there is a lot of stuff I can talk about,” she says. “I have no secrets and I have told no lies. I can share everything…and we’ll be talking for months!”

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Born and raised in Ottawa, Bonnie Jean’s first job was as an elementary school teacher when she was 18. “I graduated high school, did 10 months of teacher training, and then was immediately in charge of a classroom of 26 grade three kids,” she says. “It was overwhelming. There was a real shortage of teachers.”

Partway through her teaching career, she started a family. “The administration started planning my retirement. This was the 1960’s and teachers weren’t allowed to show their pregnancy in the classroom.”

She decided to transfer to Calgary to raise her family. There, Bonnie Jean received training at the University of Calgary’s Family Life Education Program, which allowed her to lead weekly mother-toddler groups. “I took young mums upstairs to discuss parenting and parenting issues over coffee while their kids were looked after downstairs,” she explains. “This is where my love for leading groups came from.”

When her sons were ready to go to school, Bonnie Jean wanted to go back to teaching, except, her Ontario teaching certification wasn’t recognized in Alberta. She went back to university earning both a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in counseling psychology. “I had to get through school as fast as possible because I was a single parent,” she says.

After receiving her Masters in 1983, Bonnie Jean started working as a psychologist in student support services at Grant MacEwen Community College in Edmonton.

A holiday in Victoria inspired Bonnie Jean to make a move. “It was in March 1985 and there were daffodils blooming in Victoria, and in Alberta, everyone was still chipping ice,” she laughs.

By July of that year, Bonnie Jean made Victoria her new home.

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While Victoria’s flowers and sunny weather welcomed Bonnie Jean, her Alberta-based psychologist credentials were not. “I lost my professional qualifications a second time,” she explains. “In the 1980s, anyone could call themselves a counselor, regardless of whether they had any university-level education or professional qualifications.”

She promptly became one of the founding directors of the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC), to set the qualifications and standards for clinical counselors in the province. “It’s about protecting the public and the people you serve,” says Bonnie Jean. “The letters we use after our names to identify ourselves as clinical counselors need to mean something.”

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Bonnie Jean volunteering at a Canadian Women’s Open Tournament. (Photo: B. Levine)

As a registered clinical counselor, Bonnie Jean supported people, mostly women, in residential treatment centres. “I was leading group therapy sessions for addictions and abuse. Each session was about three hours in length every afternoon.” In the mornings, she was lecturing.

Between family commitments and her counseling practice, Bonnie Jean found time to give back to the community. “The community will always have some part in my life,” she says. In addition to her involvement with the BCACC, she has also organized youth conferences, women’s conferences, and Reiki workshops. (“I have second degree Reiki training.”) and volunteered with the Commonwealth Games. (“I drove athletes around Victoria.”) She has also volunteered as a patient partner with Island Health where she represented the voices of patients on several committees.

Upon retiring from her counseling practice, Bonnie Jean found a new love: golf.

In 2000, she began regularly volunteering at the Canadian Women’s Open, a national championship golf tournament, going wherever the tour went – Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver. Bonnie Jean also plays golf recreationally, sometimes, on the PGA courses where she’s volunteered. “I love the rules, procedures, and strategies of the game. I’m not very good at playing, but I do love the sport!” she says.

Bonnie Jean has also found ways to continue leading groups. She is the vice-president and treasurer for her townhouse complex strata in Saanichton. SPCRN Coordinator Anna Hudson was the former strata president in her building in Sidney, so they have a lot in common besides the SPCRN.

“We get together often to talk to each other about bullying behaviour we’ve experienced, and we support each other,” Bonnie Jean says. “It’s really helpful to have a trusted friend to work through some of these feelings.”

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Bonnie Jean and Ryan enjoying the sun. (Photo: B. Levine)

Another trusted friend is Ryan, her seven-pound, 12 and half-year-old dog. “His name is bigger than he is and he’s so damn cute!” she chuckles. “I took Ryan in when my friend’s mother passed away. As a senior, I wasn’t planning on having another dog, but since Ryan’s a senior dog, maybe I can outlive him! We’ve been together for a year.”

Their twice-daily walks give the duo opportunities to connect with neighbours regularly.

In addition to the role of dog parent, Bonnie Jean is a “bigtime reader”. “I love the Outlander series. There are nine books and I’ve read through them many times,” she says.

She is also an enthusiastic cook, which according to Bonnie Jean, means she is also an equally enthusiastic grocery shopper, so much so that she shops for many of her neighbours. “I love going to the grocery store,” she says. “If you need something, anything, you can count on me.”

And Bonnie Jean is someone the SPCRN counts on frequently.

Anna says: “Bonnie Jean is a vital part of the SPCRN. She always shows up whether it is for big projects, for small projects. I appreciate her so much and I am grateful every day that she is on board with the SPCRN.”

“I do it for the lunches,” Bonnie Jean jokes. “It’s a great perk in return for what I’ve been able to contribute.”

(Header photo: Bonnie Jean hard at work.  Photo source: A. Hudson)