News & Events

Student Volunteer Nicole Johnson is Making a Difference in her Community

We met with Nicole Johnson, a former student volunteer at KW Habilitation, to celebrate her success receiving two awards upon her graduation. Read this article to learn more about Nicole’s story!

Nicole Johnson recently graduated from the Recreation and Leisure Services Program at Conestoga College. This was a secondary career choice for Nicole who had left her career of 18 years as a manager in the transportation industry to begin fulfilling her passion of making a difference in her community. “I chose Recreation and Leisure because of the impact I can make on the lives of others,” says Nicole Johnson “And just as a side note, getting paid to have fun – what more could you ask for?”

A headshot of Nicole Johnson
Photo of Nicole Johnson.

KW Habilitation was one of the options on the placement lists provided to students in Nicole’s program. She had primarily worked with older adults but was interested in working with adults with disabilities, so KW Habilitation became one of the three placements she took throughout the course of the Recreation and Leisure program at Conestoga College. “It was a great way to expand my skill set and meet new people and learn more about the organization.” said Nicole Johnson who was placed at KW Habilitation during the winter of 2024 from January to March.

“I really enjoyed my time here, everyone is so welcoming and the participants I met just brighten my day everyday,” says Nicole.

Nicole’s official student placement within KW Habilitation was with Out and About Waterloo Region (OAAWR) where she got to spend a lot of time with Local Community Connectors (LCCs) and her supervisor Amy Haynes. Nicole went on to explain her placement stating, “Amy did an amazing job of setting up days where I could see different parts of the company. I was able to spend some time with Youth Exploring Possibilities (YEP), spend a day at one of the Inclusive Living residences, and go to LEG Up! and sit in on a cooking class, a financial fitness class and a drum circle. A very well-rounded placement. I got to meet so many different people that are supported through the organization and just see all the great things that are done here.”

Upon graduation, Nicole won the Academic Excellence award for her high grade average as well as the Greg Burns Making a Difference Award after submitting an essay that answers the question, “Given your personal and professional philosophies, what difference will you make in the lives of those you choose to serve during your career?”

Here are a few notable passages we took from her essay:

  • “I think it is essential to remember the principles of servant leadership. Several of my philosophies include offering person-centred care, inclusiveness, empathy, and continuous learning,” (Nicole Johnson, 2024).
  • “Creating inclusive opportunities by breaking down barriers enables personal achievement, growth, and the opportunity to connect with others,” (Nicole Johnson , 2024).
  • “I believe I can significantly impact the communities I work in and the people I serve by creating a better quality of life and positively impacting physical, social, cognitive and emotional wellness,” (Nicole Johnson, 2024).


In her essay, she also talks about her 13 year old son and how she is teaching him how to be a good person, never judge others, and have empathy for others. “You see so much bullying going on in the world and so many people just making these assumptions about other people,” says Nicole, “So, trying to teach him that’s not the way we should be doing it and that we should act as leaders.”

After receiving the Greg Burns Making a Difference Award Nicole states, “I was so surprised to have won because I just do what I do, so it was quite a pleasant surprise. I really believe in the servant leadership approach and doing everything I can to help support others and finding ways to improve quality of life,” says Nicole, “I absolutely love recreation, I see the value in it and I think it’s important that we’re offering quality recreation pursuits to everyone in society.”

Now that Nicole has completed the program, she is currently working part-time and wants to explore a full-time role in the Recreation and Leisure field in the future. “Currently, I work at a long-term care facility and part of my job there is just finding ways to include the different aspects and dimensions of wellness within their day whether that’s physically, socially, emotionally, and I take that approach in whatever I do with the people I’m working with by asking ‘how can I bring activities that are going to bring them joy in their lives, help them be as healthy as possible whether that’s physically or mentally and just build those relationships,” says Nicole Johnson, “My favourite thing about recreation is that ability to build relationships.”

Nicole gave a speech to the first year cohort of the Recreation and Leisure program at Conestoga regarding student placements to encourage other students to get out of their comfort zone and explore different places. “If you’re uncomfortable or unsure, that’s the perfect time to do it,” says Nicole. She explained how she initially thought it was children she wanted to work with, but by getting out of her comfort zone, she learned she was more passionate working with older adults – and as of recent – working with older adults with developmental disabilities.

Nicole expressed how much she really enjoyed working with our organization. “KW Habilitation was a great way to experience lots of different parts of the field. Amy was so wonderful creating a calendar for me and pairing me up with so many different people in the organization. I got to go out with KW Career Compass and see some job skill building,” says Nicole Johnson on her student placement at KW Habilitation, “The work that everyone does here is so important and you can tell that people love what they do and supporting people.”

Congratulations to Nicole Johnson on winning two prestigious awards upon graduation and for volunteering with our organization. We wish you the best on your future endeavours!