News: Ontario News

The MISA Ontario Membership Series Returns with Helen McLaren!

February 16, 2017  
Posted by: Jacqueline O'Hara
Share |

Now that we are officially in 2017, the MISA Ontario Membership Series returns with one of our amazing members, Helen McLaren.  Helen celebrates 15 years with MISA Ontario after joining us in 2002!  

Helen is the Director of Information Technology Services for the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.  When asked, what is the most rewarding part of her job she replied:

 “Working with technology, a fantastic group of skilled team members and being involved with many initiatives across the Municipality which impacts our community in which I live in.” 

Helen gave a fantastic interview where she wondered if people would care about the fact that she was an Olympic torchbearer with fellow team member Michael “Pinball” Clemons.  By the way, for future interviews the answer will always be YES!


First of all – happy new year!  Obligatory first question, do you follow us on our social media to get the most up to date information about us?

Yes, I do

Wonderful! Glad the word is getting out.  How did you first get involved with MISA Ontario and what was your first impression of us?

Involved initially as member, attended many conferences, then served as a board member “Western Regional Director 2010-2011? – My first impression was that this group is an amazing group of tech savvy people who are willing to share their expertise, experiences and like to have a lot of fun.  In 2013, we hosted MISA Security Conference “Application Security – There’s a patch for that” at our newly built Bradley convention centre. 

Oh wow! Coincidentally, this year is a board member election year. Can you talk about what you gained from the experience and would you encourage other municipality MISA members to apply this year?

I would definitely recommend other municipality MISA members to apply for a board member position. As a board member, I grew as a leader, gained more knowledge from other board member’s experience. I felt excited for this opportunity to volunteer not only to give back to MISA by sharing my experience, but also by gaining new skills. This role helped me by expanding my network – connecting with others, new skills, ideas for consideration for the Municipality and being part of a great committee. 

What was it like to host to one of our conferences?

There were several great opportunities that came from hosting:

We met our goal – we were successful in promoting Chatham-Kent assets and having a successful memorable event!

It gave staff time to do “something different” and it ended up being a positive opportunity and a team building event.

Staff volunteered based on shared interests which resulted in Cross functional working teams within ITS and other departments across the Municipality such as health and family services, finance, hydro and police department.

Amongst the staff, we found out that a number of staff had many skills and interests that we weren’t aware off (outside of technology) – such as music, acting, designing, marketing, etc.

This event promoted staff to be creative e.g. Slogans, Decorations, Mobile App, Advertising partnership.  For example, Aaron’s in town provided furniture and setup/tear down for our lounge and it costs us only $50 in exchange for advertising.

How has MISA Ontario helped you in your development and career?

Definitely, I have gained a lot of knowledge, networked with many members (both staff and partners) and shared experiences.  MISA Ontario has contributed to my success indirectly throughout the years as a leader. 

What are some of the benefits that you take advantage of as a member? (i.e. Webinars? Job Postings, Forums, related news articles, etc.…) 

I review the website, read MISA interface, monitor social sites, connect with MISA members on specific topics.

You are all over it!  What is it about our association that makes municipalities like yours renew every year?

Connections with many colleagues across Canada. The networking opportunities where we share projects, experiences, friendships and other information.

MISA Ontario is known for their conferences have you attended any?  If so what do you remember most our conferences when you have attended them?

Lots of laughter, food and knowledge transfer.

Will you be coming to our annual conference this coming June in Windsor?

Yes, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity to attend the annual conference!  I always gain new ideas, connect with others (both vendors and other Municipal members) and create new relationships.  MISA always has some fun activities after hours which I always participate in. 

Can you give me an example of how you have been able to connect with municipalities and/or vendors since joining our association?

When implementing JDE enterprise system, we connected with a number of municipalities in terms of business processes, features and functionality.  We shared lessons learned – what worked well, and no so well. What they would have done differently.  We still continue to share information.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I enjoy travelling and nature photography.

Nature photography? Very cool!  Anything we could we could see online?  Do you take your photos in Chatham-Kent or do you travel other spots?

I actually don’t share my pictures online. Typically, the trips are combined with a nature and photography focus.  Some locations are South Africa, Madagascar, Belize, Guatemala and Costa Rica.

 What’s your favourite travel spot and where haven’t you gone yet that’s on your bucket list? 

My favorite spot is the Djuma Private Game Reserve, inside the Sabi Sand and part of the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa where we went with tracker guides on game safaris to find, follow and take photographs of various animals in their own habitat such as lions, elephants, leopards, cape buffalo, etc. 

 Sometime in the future, I would like to travel to Galapagos Islands, Australia and New Zealand.

I just took a look at the website, it looks incredible!  What TV shows, podcasts, apps, YouTube channels or websites are you really into recently?

Daily planet is my favorite show. I enjoy murder mystery movies.

For someone who enjoys travel the Daily Planet totally makes sense.  Do you have a favorite murder mystery movie? I finally just saw Silence of the Lambs the past weekend and totally regret not watching sooner.

I enjoyed the movie “Fracture” with Anthony Hopkins and the movie “Frantic” with Harrison Ford.

So, let’s talk about this Olympic torch bearing thing you thought wasn’t a big deal.

I represented Canada as a 2010 Olympic Torchbearer (OTR055-001) and participated on day 55 of the torch’s journey across Canada.  I felt honoured to be the first torchbearer of the day where I took the flame from the cauldron and proudly carried it forwards towards it’s destination – the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. 

How could you leave something that amazing out of our initial interview?

This has been a once in a lifetime experience which I will always treasure the memories. I am proud to be an Olympic torchbearer, a Canadian and a member of this community.  Michael “Pinball” Clemons was also on my team – he was torchbearer #013.

Well I am in total awe, congratulations, on behalf of MISA we are very proud of you!   Finally, it’s important to get the word out about us, what would you tell someone who is thinking about being a MISA Ontario member?

Just do it.  Joining MISA Ontario as a member and participating in conferences, etc.. is a worthwhile investment both professionally and personally.

Thank you so much Helen! To learn more about the benefits and fees of our membership you can click on the links below.

Information about our Annual Conference: