Jennifer with fellow Saskatoon committee members Jeff Sabine and Bob Ocrane.

Helping to run a complex event like Steps for Life – Walking for Families of Workplace Tragedy can be pretty absorbing. The day of the walk brings a million details to oversee. But for long-time Saskatoon Steps for Life volunteer Jennifer Ruszkowski, taking a moment to talk to the families participating makes it all more meaningful.

“Steps for Life is about awareness and fundraising,” Jennifer says, “but it’s also about the importance for families of honouring their loved one, and witnessing the support and commitment at the event.”

She recalls one of the walks, when a family new to the event came up and shared the story of their son’s death on the job, reminding Jennifer and everyone why they do what they do. Jennifer also had the honour of attending a family forum, and was moved by the Reflections Ceremony, when all the Threads of Life family members attending share a photo of themselves or their loved one.

“Any time I feel like it’s a lot of work organizing Steps for Life, I just think of that,” Jennifer says.

She first got involved in Saskatoon Steps for Life through her membership with the CSSE (Canadian Society of Safety Engineering). Fellow-CSSE member Bob Ocrane came to a meeting and announced that he was organizing a charity walk and looking for volunteers. Jennifer had never heard of Threads of Life, but she was “between volunteer commitments” at the time and the event seemed like a great fit with her work as a safety professional. Saskatoon just completed its seventh annual walk, and she has been involved since the beginning. The committee is fortunate to have a blend of long-time members and new volunteers, and Jennifer stresses that it’s a team effort.

“I feel very fortunate to work with great, dedicated committee members, and our day-of volunteers,” Jennifer says. “I’m also grateful for the support of Lynn [Danbrook] and Threads of Life in planning the walk.”

While her contribution to Steps for Life and Threads of Life is clear, Jennifer feels she has benefited from her volunteer experience as well. Hearing the stories of loss from Threads of Life family members has influenced her as a safety person, she says, helping her to stay motivated. She’s also been able to build up skills like chairing meetings, taking minutes, marketing and event planning.

Like many of Threads of Life’s supporters, Jennifer builds her community in more ways than one. She coaches women to learn to mountain bike, and gives time to Habitat for Humanity, even participating in projects overseas.

But Threads of Life is still her major volunteer commitment. The highlight from this year’s walk, she says, is the same as every year: talking to family members and volunteers about why Steps for Life is important to them. “It’s that personal element” that’s kept her involved over the years, she says.

Susan Haldane