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Calgary John Howard Society With Leslie McMechan

By July 7th, 2023No Comments29 min read
Home » Calgary John Howard Society With Leslie McMechan

The Calgary John Howard Society (CJHS) is a charity that has been reducing crime and making Calgary communities safer since 1949 by helping youth and adults make positive changes and move away from criminal behavior. They do this by addressing the root causes of crime through education, employment programs, housing, and support so individuals have alternatives to breaking the law. Joining Douglas Nelson today to share what the charity is all about is Leslie McMechan, the Executive Director at CJHS. She also gives some insight into the great work that they do.

Listen to the podcast here


Calgary John Howard Society With Leslie McMechan

Our guest is Leslie McMechan. She’s the Executive Director of the Calgary John Howard Society. We’re thrilled to have her on the show. Welcome, Leslie. The burning question for anyone who’s seen the cover art or read the description of the show is what is the John Howard Society. For our readers, tell us what is the John Howard Society and give us some insight into the great work that you do.

The Calgary John Howard Society is a community-based organization that responds to the issues and challenges related to those that have been involved in the criminal justice system in the community and surrounding areas of Calgary. We like to consider ourselves part of that crime prevention spectrum. Our job is around to make sure that our communities are safe.

We build strong communities. We help to restore the lives of the individuals that have exited from correctional facilities or are exhibiting traumatic and/or behavior issues that might put them in conflict with the law. At the end of the day, we’re hoping that we’re preventing crime. That’s our ultimate goal. We do that through a whole variety of ways. We have housing and support. We try to address the root causes of crime. We’re looking at poverty, addictions, mental health, and basic needs. We do that by offering employment, literacy, and housing programs. We work with those that are living with FASD.

We have indigenous programs. Unfortunately, the indigenous population is overrepresented in the criminal justice system. We have 30% of that population that addresses that comes to art through our doors. We like to tailor our approach to individuals that come to us to meet there. It’s client-centered, so we try to meet them where they’re at, and we work with them to get to the goals that they set and, at the same time, try to keep our community safer.

Broad mandate with a lot of specific programs. If someone is learning about the Calgary John Howard Society for the first time, what is the one thing you would want them to take away from that conversation with you?

It would depend on the audience. If it were someone that was an average community member that didn’t know anything about the John Howard Society, I would tell them, “We help prevent crime.” I would want them to know that because that’s what we’re doing. Our job is to keep you and your community safer. We do it through a whole variety of different ways. If all I had were five seconds with that individual, I would say, “We help prevent crime.” They would probably come back with, “Like the police or something like that?” It’s a spectrum, and ours is different than the policing aspect, but we work in partnership with them. We’re preventing crime like they are.

Knowing a little bit about the work of the John Howard Society is complicated, and it is a diverse spectrum of services that you offer working with individuals and working with the community. It’s hard as an executive director sometimes. I would imagine when people say, “What does the John Howard Society do?” Your first instinct is probably to say, “It’s complicated.” It is the fastest way to make sure they’re not going to hear anything else you say. You keep it simple. It is just, “We help prevent crime.”

We did a theory of change activity back in 2019 and through 2020. We worked with a consultant on this and researched around what we felt we were, we had been, what the stakeholder’s perceptions are of who we are, and what research is telling us around what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.

At the end of the day, we learned that our target population is criminally involved people. We found out that we have two long-term objectives, and one is around bettering people’s quality of life and reducing crime. Those were the two long-term objectives. Our vision statement is humane justice, an inclusive society informed in its responses to crime and its effect. That is the impact that we’re trying to achieve as a community.

If we stick to our knitting, as it were, we can have that simple goal of preventing crime. I would highly recommend doing that activity as an agency. There were times it wasn’t easy. There are lots of debates around the work that you’re doing and why you’re doing it. We had to be willing to navel-gaze enough to say, “We shouldn’t be doing that anymore.” Be prepared to throw it out and prepare to walk away from some things that maybe were pretty near and dear to our hearts but weren’t sticking to our knitting. When we did that, my job got a lot easier once we started doing it.

Once everyone agrees, “Here’s what we show up every day to do,” it does get a lot easier. You mentioned the phrase, “Stick to our knitting.” I heard a great comment. Someone said, “We’ll stick to our knitting, but it’s a pretty big sweater we’re making.”

It is multicolored and has lots of different twists and turns in it.

You mentioned your mission and I want to stay in that particular lane. If someone goes to Calgary John Howard Society and is learning about the organization. You have the mission, vision, values, and principles of how you do your work, which is quite conventional for any social service agency or any organization in the social profit sector.

Will you, your board, and your organization have taken it another step? You’ve added a category called Our Ends, which I thought was such a brilliant way of describing how you do your work and gives powerful insight into the why. Can you talk a little bit about what those ends are and how that fits into that framework of vision, value, and principles?


DSP 15 Leslie | Calgary John Howard Society

Calgary John Howard Society: We like to tailor our approach to individuals that come to us. It’s client-centered, so we try to meet them where they’re at. We work with them to get to the goals that they set and, at the same time, try to keep our community safer.

The ends are created by the board. It’s their responsibility to determine what those ends should be. They review them on a regular basis. Our ends were created many years ago, and they’ve been tweaked every now and then. Every second year, the board reviews the ends to make sure that they’re still relevant.

What they did back then is they thought about what are our goals? What are we trying to achieve here as an organization? We have to base it on and has to be in alignment with our core values, guiding principles, vision, and mission. They are all linked. We have four ends. The individuals at risk of breaking the law will have alternatives. Responses to crime will be community-focused and restorative in nature. Communities will take ownership of preventing crime through social development. The community will be informed about the criminal justice system.

My responsibility as the Executive Director is to make sure that we have a variety of programs and services that fit into the ends. When I do an orientation for new staff, we do a day-long agency tour. We take the staff, and they start with me. My job is to orient them to this particular document, including the end.

I tell them, “As a newbie to the Calgary John Howard Society, you may not be able to figure it out now, but you should be able to find out to say my program fits into this end, or I can see it fitting into this end and this end and why. If you don’t, come and talk to me. We’re doing something other than what’s on this, and we probably shouldn’t be.” It provides the rationale for why we are doing what we’re doing.

It keeps it simple in that regard to me. It’s a gift from the board to me as the Executive Director to say, “It’s a one-pager. It’s not a massive document.” Anything we do has to relate back to the end. When we did a new strategic plan in 2021, and when we started looking at the different strategies, the first thing we do is, “Does it align with our ends? Is it advancing our ends? How is it advancing our ends? How is it in alignment with what we’re trying to achieve?”

It is powerful as a way of thinking as a leader to be able to say, “This is what we’re trying to accomplish. This is the world we imagine in some practical ways.” One of the things that I’m sure readers notice is there’s nothing theoretical about those ends. They’re quite straightforward. They are big ideas and lots of work to get there. You’re not at the ending phase of any of those, but it is actionable work that you can take on a daily, weekly, quarterly, and annual operating plan basis.

Each of the ends has a rationale attached to it to say, “Why is this end important?” Take a look at why those ends are important. We’re trying to tailor all of our programs accordingly to say, “That particular program will help to achieve our overarching goals as an organization. It fits in with the rationale of why we’re going to do this.” You mentioned the complexity of us as an organization. There are 1,000 different things that I could tell you about what we do and why, but this helps to keep it tighter and easier to manage.

I’m curious if the ends also serve the purpose of helping you say no to things.


That is one of the things in our work here at the Discovery Group with working with organizations on planning or getting boards in alignment. One of the things we often find for people come to this work professionally and people come to boards in our sector because they care and they want to make a difference. They want to do right and be a part of positive change. They’re good as a subset of the species. We’re good at saying yes to things and over-specialized in saying yes in some organizations in particular but find it difficult to say no.

One of the things that are elegant about this ends concept that you’re describing from my perspective is that it would allow an executive director to say if a board member’s having a grand idea or, “You know what we should do.” Being able to use the ends as a way of focusing that conversation, or it could be something happening around your management table about, “Why don’t we do this? How does that relate to our ends?” It gives a way of guiding and directing the conversation that lack of guidance and that lack of ability to say no is what puts most strategic plans or many strategic plans off the path.

I have two thoughts that came to mind. One is we funders often are huge contributors to us getting off out of alignment always because the tail starts to wag the dog. We get a funding opportunity that comes our way, and we go, “That is too good to turn down.” You start delving into it, and you go, “It’s not exactly what we do, but we can make it fit.”

Having the ends helps us to go back and say, “It doesn’t quite fit. Are we going to add another end? Am I going to go have to go back to the board?” We say, “We’ve decided we’d like to start having an end that individuals will basket weave.” Something like that because we want to follow this funding trail. It’s like, “No, we’re not going to do it. Someone who is way better qualified at doing this work will take that funding and go with it. It doesn’t need to be us.” That’s one thought that helped us to go back to what we need to be going after.

We have thirteen internal working groups. That’s one of the ways that we do employee engagement here. We have an indigenous cultural initiatives working group, communications working group, event working group, fundraising working group, and one of our newest, latest, and greatest is our strategic partnership working group.


CJHS’ two long-term objectives: bettering people’s quality of life and reducing crime.

We’ve got a lot of keen folks that have come to that table. One informs partnerships with everyone under the sun with incredibly good intentions, which is wonderful. I love the enthusiasm. It’s a great working group to be part of. The ends help us to tailor those conversations. If we want to chat with that particular service provider, where does it fit in? What are we going to do? What partnership are we trying to form that’s going to meet our ends? It helps to tailor us and to prioritize. As I mentioned earlier, “It’s a gift.”

It’s a gift from the board, a nice way of thinking about it. I encourage the readers to have a look at the Calgary John Howard Society website. Read through those ends, and think about what that might be in your organizations and organizations you’re on the board of because it is an effective tool that addresses one of the major challenges of most strategic planning exercises.

I hear a lot, “We don’t want a strategic plan that gathers dust.” No one ever wanted that. No one has ever started the process and said, “I want to put this on the shelf and never look at it again.” It is the end, the ability to say no. The ability to retain focus on what matters most is powerful. I want to ask a couple of questions about that working groups if you don’t mind. Thirteen across your organization, and how many employees do you have at the John Howard Society?

About 114.

That’s quite a lot of employees involved in a lot of committees. You mention starting a new committee. What’s the process of getting a committee started?

It’s usually a gap that is identified. As a management team or the leadership team will sit down, it becomes apparent that we need something. I’ll use the strategic partnerships working group as a good example because it’s the latest storm that we formed. When I needed our one-year action plan, which is our business plan in response to our strategic plan, we kept on talking about each of the strategies and what we needed to do. Coming back to this need for information around partnerships and how we need to have more outside collaborations in order to achieve the things that we were trying to put into our action plan.

It became quite apparent that we don’t have a strategic initiatives department or those lovely bells and whistles that we could send this work off to. Our solution is to say, “We probably have a lot of that expertise from within. Why don’t we see if there’s any interest in forming a strategic partnerships working group.” We did.

We put it out there with a loose set of parameters. They get together and they do terms of reference. It’s mandatory. They can’t start doing a lick of work until a term of reference is created. That is sent to the senior management team, which is comprised of myself, our director of community services and quality improvement, and our director of finance.

The three of us go through. We look at it in terms of our overall strategic plan, our theory of change, vision, and mission ends guiding principles to see how it fits in. Does it meet all those things? We provide feedback. It’s a little labor-intensive, but it’s worthwhile. We send it back to them. The group will meet. They’ll make edits. They send it back to us. Sometimes, it will go back and forth for a couple of months, and maybe people think, “That’s silly.” It is worth working out all of the kinks in terms of reference before you start the work. Once that’s done, you’re ready to go.

If we have a new employee, it’s in their job description. Everyone must serve at least one working group. They can change. Let’s say we were doing a particular project on the working group. They could come in and do that project and go, “I’m out. I would like to join another one.” That’s perfectly fine. It’s just that you need to be in a working group.

If they’re trying to decide what group they want to join or which one they would like to go to next, they can go to their library in terms of reference. I always say to the people, “Someone should be able to read that terms of reference and know exactly what is expected of them and what you’re going to be doing.” They don’t go to the media and go, “That’s not what I thought it was at all.”

The question I have for you is how important is it that the working groups come up with their own terms of reference versus the leadership team writing the terms of reference and offering membership?

Some of them would far prefer if we would come up with the terms of reference because it’s a lot of work until they get them, and they go, “I don’t like these.” Their initial reaction is often like, “You do it for us.” On occasion, we have said, “Okay, we’ll do it for you.” We send something over to them, and they go, “Can I get out of this group?” It keeps them engaged.

The majority of the people that join the working groups for the first time are still on. Some decide that they want to move on. They’ve got other interests. We cover a lot of the diversity issues around that we have. LGBTQ2S+ working group is now initiating an audit with the center for sexuality here in Calgary. This will go from the board all the way down to every single individual, as well as to all of our facilities, to see that we are inclusive of that population and that our policies or procedures are doing it.


DSP 15 Leslie | Calgary John Howard Society

Calgary John Howard Society: One of the jobs of an executive director is to make a succession plan. It’s to make sure that they have people that can walk in, pick up the balls, and run with them without any worries or concerns.

The LGBTQ2S+ working group is leading it. They’re consulting with me on a couple of things related to the board. The management team is out. It gives them so much ownership of us as an organization. It helps to develop their leadership skills. The number of great ideas that have come out of our working groups to do things like, “I am not endless of an ideas person.” The staff understands that on the bucket. You fold them in the bucket, and we can see what we can do with them, but they’re wonderful. They have such enthusiasm.

They join these working groups because they want to be there. It gives them something other than what they’re doing on a regular day-to-day basis. We try to encourage people to join working groups that might not be related, specifically to what you’re doing with your regular job here at John Howard. Good things come out of there all the time.

Why don’t more organizations have a working group structure like that? What do you think holds people back?

Maybe they have more money than we do, so they pay people to do that work. It’s not that I’m not paying people to do that work. The original reason why we started these working groups was because we needed some things, and we didn’t have the money to do them, but we felt we had the expertise. The indigenous cultural initiatives working group was the first working group.

We knew we needed as an organization to be more responsive to our indigenous population and to understand what it was that we tiny little grants to help support some of the activities that the working group landed on initially. That was several years ago since we started that group. It was successful. Once we did that, we went, “We don’t have a human resources department. I wonder if we could have a human resources working group.” We still don’t have human resources. That’s changing. We need to have one.

For an organization of 100-plus people doing a broad variety of work and you’re adding an HR department, that is dangerous or impressive. I’m not sure which. Maybe both.

I wouldn’t recommend it. One of our biggest challenges is that a lot of funders want to fund direct service delivery, and we don’t necessarily want to fund the things that keep the direct service delivery going. The human resources department is one of those. We have a speed dial on our employment lawyer if we need it. We have our director of finance, and human resources administration is the go-to individual for HR.

When it comes to day-to-day things related to HR, it’s been the managers that have been doing all that. Our managers told us that they felt they were doing way more in that area than they were around field development with their teams. They’re spending far too much time deciphering employment agreements and things that a human resources department could do. We have a consultant coming in to help us set up the department. Hopefully, in January 2023, we will be hiring somebody.

That working group model was derived out of necessity. We were going to develop this because we don’t have the specialized expertise in-house or the budget to go get it. It is a creative solution. As executive director, you’re sharing accountability and responsibility for some important aspects of your organization’s performance, cultural development, and the development of the organization in general. How do you view that balance between as an executive director and being accountable to the board for the work of the organization with that distributed authority working groups bring into your organization?

I have an incredibly active management team, and I believe my responsibility is to ensure that they understand what the expectations are of the board. We have conversations about that all the time. They understand that one-pager and the ends. We do regular reviews of all the things that would provide parameters that the working groups are needing to feed into. We also insist that a leadership team member sits on every single one of the working groups. There is that accountability back to the leadership team.

I’m using the two terms management and leadership. There are two distinct groups. The management team is on the leadership team. The leadership team is comprised of a few more individuals. We have lower mid-upper management. The leadership team is comprised of all of that. The management team is comprised of the management team and the seniors. The senior management team is the two directors and myself.

When you have a me4mber of the leadership team in every single one of the working groups, the accountability back to the bigger picture is there. We have a management team meeting on a monthly basis. We report on every single one of those working groups, what the activities are, and who’s doing what.

At their team meetings, they do updates at each of the program and services team meetings. They’ll say, “Doug, you’re sitting on the communications working group. What are your activities? What are you up to? Do you need something from us?” It’s your job to say, “The communications working group needs to take some pictures for the annual report. Did any of you want to help me do that? I don’t have to do that. Would you like to do that?”

Your responsibility is to get that. The leadership team member from the communications group will go to you, Doug, and say, “What did you find? What’d you get from your group? You got these. Upload them onto SharePoint.” The next thing you know, we’ve got an annual report with pictures that were taken by people on your team.


When you have a member of the leadership team in every single one of the working groups, the accountability back to the bigger picture is there.

What comes through listening to you as you’re talking about the working groups and talking about the ends is a leader who has such a clear sense of how her organization operates and what happens in the organization on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. It is impressive. I’m curious. You know it well. You’re intimate in understanding how it works. When did you know, as a little kid, that you wanted to be the Executive Director of the John Howard society?

Probably about five minutes before I said yes.

A shorter dream than maybe a lifelong one.

My predecessor Gord Sand and my mentor was the executive director here for several years. He brought me on as the assistant executive director. It was our joke because I wasn’t his executive assistant. I was his executive assistant director. People used to kid us about that all the time. He brought me on, and I was mentored by him for eleven years. When he announced his retirement, and he sat down with me, even then, I wasn’t sure that I wanted his job. For me, these were the most enormous shoes to fill that I couldn’t imagine walking into that.

What made me decide to apply for the position is I also realized I didn’t want to work for anyone else. I decided at that point that if I wasn’t prepared to work for someone else. I certainly didn’t want to train someone else because that’s what I figured if I was the assistant executive director for someone else. That would be what I would have to do. I wasn’t going to do that. I better apply.

Once I made up my mind about that, Gord was happy. What he wanted for his legacy was to leave the organization in my hands. I got more serious about it. That’s not the right word. All of a sudden, I started to think more about the magnitude of the responsibility I was taking on and what that would look like. We had a few months. I found out I had the job in March 2019, and he left at the end of June 2019. He gradually edged his way out of the position.

I started on July 1st, 2019. At the same time, we moved into a brand new building. One of our biggest milestones as an organization was transitioning our Bedford House halfway house. The land was expo created by the City of Calgary. We had to move. It took fifteen years to accomplish that finally. We moved into a light industrial area of Calgary called Manchester. It was a requirement that we build our halfway house and attach our main office facility to the halfway house.

We had a main office facility that we owned in Inglewood, which is another part of Calgary. We sold that. We had some space rented where all our housing programs were operating out. We let that go, and we moved everyone into this building that I’m in called the Gord Sand’s community services building because the board named it after him.

The Bedford House is attached. We share a wall. Gord got this building through all of the challenges of moving a halfway house into a neighborhood. He never walked into this office and put his feet up on his desk. He decided he didn’t need to do that. I moved into a brand spanking new building and office on my first day working in this role.

I want to ask you. You worked with the organization for several years, working closely with the long-time leader. You make that transition in July of 2019. Was there anything that surprised you about being the executive director or some things you didn’t anticipate even after having been close to the role for many years?

I would say, “I didn’t have Gord.” If there’s an issue, a challenge, or whatever, I’ll go talk about it, “Gord is gone. I can’t go talk about it.” There was a bit of a sense of a grieved for a little while and loneliness. That’s when I started to think a lot about my particular leadership style and how I wanted to empower our management team and the leadership of the organization. Those should be the people that I should be. I’ve got all these other folks that I can go to. They know as much about the organization as I do in their own individual pockets.

That’s my style. Once I have an issue or challenge, I bring it back to them, and I’ll say, “This is the issue or challenge. What do we do about it? How do we fix this? How do we manage it? How do you see us as an organization moving forward?” I’m conscious of the fact that I’m one individual, and no organization should be dependent on one individual.

One of my jobs as an executive director is to make a succession plan. It’s the board’s responsibility, but it’s my job to make sure that I have people that can walk in, pick up the balls and run with them without any worries or concerns. That’s what I did, and I immediately got them involved in running the organization. It saved our bacon during COVID, to be perfectly honest.

One of the marks of great leadership in our sector is that I see time and again people who have been on the show or clients that we have a chance to work with their first instinct when there’s a challenging issue facing their organization, whether it’s tactical, operational, or strategic. Their first instinct is to look for the answer within the organization rather than to look outside for the answer.


DSP 15 Leslie | Calgary John Howard Society

Calgary John Howard Society: Most people are willing to give people a second and even a third chance, but they don’t necessarily want to do it if that individual is going to be living next door to them. Those conversations need to happen as to why that is and how we can make that change.

I think that instinct members of the team and staff recognize that in their leaders and rise to the occasion on a consistent basis, whereas leaders who look externally for an answer. There tends to be less accountability in the organization. They’re like, “It’s not going to be up to me. It’s not my decision.” You hear phrases like, “That’s above my pay grade.” In the most effective social profit, you never hear that.

You’ve encapsulated that spirit of finding the answers or starting to find the answers within the team there at the John Howard Society rather than looking external, whether it’s necessity budget, but the way you describe it, it doesn’t sound like if you had all the money in the world to hire people, you would still.

No, I don’t think I would do it any different. The other neat thing about us in John Howards is that we are a part of a bigger family. We have John Howards in Alberta with incredible knowledge, talent, and similar skillset and objectives. We all do it differently because we’re all grassroots organizations that respond to the needs of our communities. We don’t all do the same.

My joke, which my staff is tired of hearing of it, but I’m going to say it again anyway, “You can’t get the same double-double when you come to John Howard in Canada.” We have people maybe that walk in from Charlottetown, and they’ll go, “I attended John Howard there, and I attended the ABC program. I’d like to enroll in your ABC program.”

We will go, “We don’t have an ABC program, but tell me what that program was. Maybe we have something similar. Let’s learn a little bit about you, and you are now here in Calgary. The ABC program was appropriate there, but perhaps there’s something appropriate here that we can help you with. Thank you for coming in our door.”

With that being said, we all sync relatively the same songbook, not necessarily the same sheet. I have my counterparts across the province that I can call. My first go-to usually is Edmonton because they’re the closest in size. They’re larger than we are, but they have halfway houses there, as well as employment programs, youth-based programs, and residential programs. We’re similar.

A lot of the issues and challenges that we experienced and opportunities they experience too. If I’m calling external, they’re one of the first folks that I go to. I call Edmonton and say, “What are you doing up there around such an issue.” We have Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Lethbridge, and our John Howard Society provincial office. I call any of them. We meet on a monthly basis to talk about our issues and challenges as John Howard is operating in this province, and they’re a huge resource for us.

I’m hesitant to bring our conversation to a close because I’m enjoying your perspective on leadership that you’re sharing and how you apply it practically and how you apply that in your organization. I want to end with one final question that we’ve asked a number of the guests who’ve come to the show. We’re talking at the beginning of June here in 2022. What are you looking forward to in your role as Executive Director at the Calgary John Howard Society?

I’m reluctant to say this, but I am looking forward to something called post-pandemic, whatever that looks like. I was the executive director on July 1st, 2019, and a few short months later, we were locked down, and I was getting used to the rule and getting my feet wet. I don’t like to say that whatever normal is and it’s going to be different, whatever it is, I’m looking forward to whatever that brings. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to. I caught calling up the, “I want to get over the COVID hangover.” We want to move on.

I’ve mentioned to you already about the human resources piece that we have a vibrant community and an organization that is an essential part of that crime prevention conversation. I am looking forward to the opportunity to let everyone know that the Calgary John Howard Society needs to be at that table when we’re talking about these solutions.

That does mean having a conversation about people that have committed crimes. We need to understand how to be inclusive of that population in our community and it will be in Calgary’s best interests if we find a way to have that happen. I’m active in finding ways to have those conversations. With that post-COVID pandemic thing, it will be easier because I will be able to get out more. I’m going to be able to chat with more people and be at more tables. We remind people that we are here, and we deserve to be part of that conversation. Nimbyism is still alive and well in most communities.

We did a survey several years ago, and now we did another one around the attitudes of Calgarians towards crime. We found that most people are willing to give people a 2nd chance and even a 3rd chance, but they don’t necessarily want to do it if that individual is going to be living next door to them. Those conversations need to happen as to why that is the way it is and how we can make that change. What can we do to help with that?

That’s that whole preventing crime through social development piece that ends that community’s ownership in preventing crime through social development. I would say those last two ends that the community will be informed about the criminal justice system and preventing crime through social development. I look forward to being able to pursue those in a meaningful way in the future actively. That will be fun.

I can hear the energy coming through, and I’m sure our readers can too. Leslie, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show.

You’re most welcome. I enjoyed the conversation. 


Important Links

About Leslie McMechan

Leslie was born and raised in Eastern Ontario. After graduating from the University of Waterloo she bought a one-way ticket to Calgary and has called Callgary home ever since. While her inital job in Calgary was as a programmer analyst, first with a farming cooperative and then in the oil patch, she always had an interest in social justice.

When she took time off work to have children, a variety of circumstances aligned to point her to exploring volunteer opportunities in the criminal justice system.

She became a facilitator and coordinator of the Alternative to Violence Program (AVP) at Bowden Institution, a medium security correnctional facility in Alberta and for 3 years, spent a considerable amount of time going in and out of prison! Then in 2001, following a 5 year stint of living in Southern France and Tunisia where her husband worked, she joined the Calgary John Howard Society, first in a volunteer capacity then as a staff member coordinating the youth version of AVP called the Alternatives to Violence Program for Youth (AVEPY).

She served in this role for several years before moving into a variety of leadership positions. From 2008-2019, she was Assistant Executive Director and was mentored by Gordon Sand, the CJHS former Executive Director of 38 years. When he retired, she assumed his role. Over the years, Leslie has served on many community committees including co-chairing the Community Action Committee’s Youth Sector and serving on the Board of Director’s of the Calgary Fetal Alcohol Network and the Alberta Criminal Justice Association.

When off work, Leslie golfs, curls and spends as much time as she can with her granddaughter.