I was inspired by these interactions and how the 4 pillars of gentle teaching were incorporated into everyday interactions almost seamlessly.

Before I started working at Creative Options Regina I had never heard of the term “Gentle Teaching.”

I had never worked with people with disabilities before – and to be quite honest – I was afraid.

I was afraid because my entire life society told me to disregard and disengage; to completely forget about what it means to show compassion, friendship, and above all else, acceptance to those with disabilities. After taking Gentle Teaching Level 2 the first week working in the office I can’t tell you that I was “changed” or “different,” in fact I was quite the same. Gentle Teaching started to shape my inner self through the interactions and observations of those around me: the supports, the office team, and, most importantly, the people we serve.

I was inspired by these interactions and how the 4 pillars of gentle teaching were incorporated into everyday interactions almost seamlessly. How gentle teaching opened this door to interactions I had never thought I would WANT to have. Slowly, I was able to incorporate myself into the lives of the people we serve, learning about them, caring about them. I also didn’t realize this was happening outside of COR with my daily interactions with family and friends. Gentle Teaching doesn’t happen over night and it is something you can never master. But, you learn everyday a little bit more and grow a little bit more. That is what I love about Gentle Teaching and that is how I move forward to engage, to love, to be loved, and provide safety to all those around me.

 

Tom

COR Family Member

SHSAtv: The First Steps to Mental Health in the Workplace

COR is proud to be recognized by the Service and Hospitality Safety Association (SHSA) for our efforts to incorporate Mental Health within our Safety Management System.  To learn more about Mental Health in the Workplace, watch their SHSAtv video segment.

…..

Lisa Chavady, SHSA’s Senior Advisor will guide you through the first four steps to implementation, from gaining leadership commitment, conducting a baseline assessment, devising a plan, to measuring and revising.  Remember, what works for one organization may not work for another.  Find out what is required at YOUR organization, and do what works for you!

Special Guests Experts:

  • Elizabeth Rankin-Horvath, CSA Group Project Manager for the development of the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace
  • Rory McCorriston, Mandy Boersch & Kristyn White from Creative Options Regina, who tell a first-hand story of how they have successfully integrated the mental health aspect into their safety management system 

To learn more, visit the SHSA Website.

 

‘Mend the heart. All else will follow’: Creative Options Regina creates new life for many with disabilities

Pamela Cowan, Regina Leader-Post Pamela Cowan, Regina Leader-Post

In this season of giving, reporter Pamela Cowan is profiling some of the organizations and people working to make the lives of Reginans better. Watch for her stories for the rest of the year as we showcase the 12 Days of Difference-Makers.


Staff crowd around Andrew Ronnie and hug him as he blushes. It’s his 35th birthday.

One can feel the love inside the room.

Ronnie says softly: “Now I’m safe.”

It’s a feeling he hasn’t always felt. For many years, Ronnie didn’t feel loved and, in fact, was feared and shunned.

A number of years ago, he spent six months in the psychiatric unit at the Regina General Hospital. After his release, he was in and out of the emergency department.

No one could deal with the violent outbursts he was prone to until a group of special people uncovered his giving heart and his desperate need to feel safe.

He was the catalyst for the development of Creative Options Regina (COR) — a non-profit organization that develops personalized supports for people with a wide range of intellectual disabilities, and often mental health issues.

“They care about me a lot,” says Ronnie, the first person to receive COR services.

“What’s really important to understand is that these aren’t bad people,” says Michael Lavis, executive director of COR. “It’s just the system wasn’t flexible to be able to meet the needs of these folks to provide them with the care they required.”

And so, Lavis Says, COR started working with people “nobody else wanted.”

Andrew Ronnie and executive director Michael Lavis, right, play foosball at the Creative Options Regina office. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

COR was created in partnership with the Ministry of Social Services in 2009.

A year before its creation, the provincial government identified 448 Saskatchewan people with intellectual disabilities and other complex needs who couldn’t access services — many from around Regina.

“We’ve seen families say, ‘We can’t do this anymore’ and they cut ties and that’s hard,” Lavis says. “I can only imagine how painful it is to drop their loved one off at the emergency room and abandon them. That’s happening all of the time.”

So COR, working with others in the community, connects individuals and their families with whatever services are required.

“Ultimately we’re providing support to everyone who is connected to that person’s life,” Lavis says.

The government gathered community-based organizations to discuss who required specialized services and how to provide them. Many were homeless, living in psychiatric units, shelters or hotels and two-thirds had a mental health diagnosis.

Complicating matters was that many were involved with multiple government departments.

“What happens to the people that touch two, three or four of those government departments?” Lavis asks. “What we know to be true is often they fall into these huge gaps that exist in our service delivery system.”

For example, people with mental health issues are the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. Those with intellectual disabilities deal with Social Services. Aboriginal people receive federal supports through Indian Northern Affairs Canada. Those under 21 fall under the Education Ministry and people in trouble with the law are involved with Justice and Corrections.

A number of adults connected to COR endured significant trauma while growing up in foster homes or group homes.

“Trauma that was inflicted upon them by the very people that were intended to protect them,” Lavis says.

Foster and group homes aren’t equipped to provide the supports these kids need, so they’re bounced around in the child and family system, he says. When they reach adulthood, they’re bounced around some more.

Supports through COR are tailored to each individual’s dreams.

Services range from daytime, recreational, supported living and employment supports. Depending on an individual’s needs, home supports might be provided for a few hours a day to 24/7 care.

Based on a companionship model, staff promote each individual’s independence.

“They might help them get up and get ready, grocery shop, prepare meals, do medication management and then help them connect with the broader community, both socially and recreationally,” Lavis says.

Many under the care of COR are society’s most disenfranchised.

When Ronnie moved to a home, he required two-on-one support around the clock. He couldn’t have a roommate because of his violent history.

“(He) came with case file after case file of all the horrific things he’s ever done in life,” Lavis says.

Candidly Ronnie confides he’s “had lots of temper and anger.”

But gradually Ronnie’s life was transformed. In 2012, he moved into a new home with a roommate and now receives one-on-one care.

“I’m working on no self harm and I’m working on not trashing the house — that was in the past,” Ronnie says proudly.

He hasn’t been to the hospital for more than a year, which Lavis credits to COR’s “gentle teaching” philosophy.

When dealing with behavioural issues, staff are taught: “Go for the centre. Mend the heart. All else will follow.”

Among those they had to mend was Gerald, a man with cerebral palsy who was unable to speak.

The first time Lavis met Gerald he was trussed tightly in his wheelchair with restraint upon restraint upon restraint. Boxing gloves and a helmet with face mask prevented the young man from hitting, pinching and biting those around him.

Gerald’s wheelchair was bolted to plywood to prevent him from toppling because of his constant thrusting.

“I remember looking at Gerald and thinking, ‘This is horrifying — straight out of a movie.’ Imagine, in 2009, that this exists in our own community,” Lavis says.

When COR staff started caring for Gerald the first thing they did was remove his restraints. There were ongoing struggles as he continued to pinch and bite.

“He couldn’t walk because he’d been in this wheelchair for so long that he had zero muscle capacity in his legs,” Lavis says.

While the team tried to build trust with Gerald, they gained a champion in the health-care system who discovered he had a bowel obstruction and dental issues.

“When we dealt with those underlying health conditions, the pain stopped and the hitting of the head stopped,” Lavis says. “Some of that violence that we saw was him trying to tell us, ‘I’m in pain. I hurt.’ ”

Eventually Gerald moved into a home with a roommate and has learned to walk unassisted.

“He has to hang on to the railings in the home, but there’s no helmet, no gloves, no restraints,” Lavis says.

***

Over eight years, the non-profit organization has grown to 170-plus employees who support more than 50 high-needs people.

“If there was a blanket diagnosis that I could give to everyone that we provide services to, I would say that it is a deep sense of loneliness,” Lavis says. “A deep sense of disconnect. These are folks who have very few, if any, true friends — unpaid, natural supports in their lives.”

In Saskatchewan, 170 community-based organizations provide services to roughly 5,500 adults with disabilities.

Within that group of people, approximately 100 have been identified as having complex and challenging support needs. COR supports 19 of the 100 people.

Funded by the provincial and federal governments, COR has an operating budget of $7.8 million.

A number of COR participants have had lengthy stays in the mental health unit — the shortest being three months, the longest being 19 months.

“When you sit down and evaluate the cost of daily police interventions and all of the emergency room visits that happen weekly and the stints in the acute care settings — this is a fraction of the cost,” Lavis says.

To meet a growing need, Rory McCorriston, director of people and culture at COR, hired 30 employees in the past year.

“The majority of our organization is made up of support people,” he says.

The average age of staff is 28 — a good fit for the people they serve who are, on average, in their 30s.

Rory McCorriston, director of people and culture at Creative Options Regina. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

It’s not uncommon for COR to hire people without previous disability experience.

“In some situations, it’s almost preferred because often if you have people who have done this type of work in a more traditional setting or have done it for a long time, they come in with their own set of ideas about caregiving,” McCorriston says.

Staff turnover is low and jobs aren’t posted because people send in unsolicited resumes after hearing COR’s story.

“In this industry of disability work, it’s common for an organization to have high staff turnover,” McCorriston says. “But when the basis of our philosophy of caregiving is building relationships, it’s hard to build a relationship if you’re only there for under a year.”

Staff help people gain abilities and return power to those who have felt helpless for years.

“Every day we’re hoping to come in — not to dress them, but to help them pick out the right outfit,” McCorriston says. “It’s not cooking and cleaning for that person, but doing it together.”

***

Chris, another young man, was a conduit for great change in Saskatchewan.

“He fell victim to that trap of living in the psychiatric ward for 19 months,” Lavis says. “Can you imagine, at a cost of $2,000 a day? He was there because there was no place for him to go.”

COR worked with Social Services and Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region’s Mental Health and Addictions Services to create supports for him. Provincial funding was used to hire a psychiatric nurse. Together they provide proactive mental health supports.

“Much better than queuing up at the emergency room and waiting for a six-month appointment with a psychiatrist, which is the norm,” Lavis says.

Another initiative rolled out two years ago after COR was asked to help a 14-year-old boy with autism who had significant behavioural challenges.

Executive director Michael Lavis. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

“The system was really challenged to provide supports to him,” Lavis said. “Through that process, we changed our mandate to include youths and get involved earlier with these kids so we can put an end to that revolving door and they don’t fall off that cliff when they graduate to adulthood.”

Now COR supports youths who have intellectual developmental disabilities and mental health issues.

“Our hope — and I say hope because it hasn’t happened yet in the province — is that these kids are going to be able to transition from Child and Family programs to Community Living — the department within Social Services for disabilities — and the transition doesn’t disrupt their lives,” Lavis says.

This summer, COR opened its second youth home and currently provides 24-hour support for three individuals.

“The plan is to add another one or two kids this winter, but we’re also providing support to children who are living in the family home,” Lavis says. “Often the system forces the families to the brink and they have no other option, but to hand their child over to the system.”

More avenues opened four years ago for those with disabilities when COR partnered with Campus for All, a unique program at the University of Regina.

Every year, 12 students with intellectual disabilities participate in the inclusive post-secondary education program and convocate after four years.

“Campus For All was doing a fantastic job of the academic and social piece, but where they were struggling was the employment part,” Lavis says. “We have a number of folks really starting to thrive in the community and they want to work. They want a paycheque and they want meaningful work.”

To address that need, COR and Campus for All partnered to create 4 to 40, funded through the Ministry of Economy.

The employment initiative connects individuals involved in Campus For All and COR with employers who provide a flexible four-to 40-hour work week.

“Community employers want to be inclusive, they want to have diverse work forces and they understand the importance and the value that diversity brings, but they don’t really quite know how to do it and they need help — particularly with the demographic that we’re serving,” Lavis said. “There’s a lot of fear and apprehension around what that looks like.”

Brittany Bechard, left, and Serena Bernges at Creative Options Regina. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

COR participants work at individualized jobs at businesses including SeedMaster, SaskTel, Dutch Industries, Meyers Norris Penny and Farm Credit Canada.

Employers are not subsidized and the paid employment includes benefits and pension.

Job descriptions and work hours vary, but the benefits of a meaningful job are the same — greater self esteem and inclusion.

“We have a guy working at the SaskTel warehouse that went from a few hours and now he’s up to 30 hours a week,” Lavis said.

Job coaches from COR help individuals integrate into the workplace.

“It’s really helping to set that person up for success,” Lavis says. “When I talk about success, I mean developing not only their skills, but connecting them to the relationships that come with any place of employment.”

***

Lavis is passionate about his work.

“So many people that we serve have been given such horrific labels and diagnoses — this laundry list of all these bad things they’ve done and these are some pretty amazing people… How do you give them that opportunity to shine so others can see that value as well?”

Prior to becoming one of the founders of COR, Lavis spent 12 years working with marginalized children and women in post-conflict zones around the world.

The 38-year-old worked on projects funded by the Canadian government, Oxfam in Great Britain and other international development organizations in places like northern Uganda and southeast Asia.

Back in Regina, Lavis insists he’s one of a team working to make a difference.

“We have this incredibly passionate young board made up of community professionals from varied backgrounds that are really committed to social change,” he says. “They don’t have a background in disability — most have zero connection, like myself, to disability. They’re very supportive of what we’re doing because they believe in the vision.”

When Serena Bernges, one of the younger residents of Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw, moved to COR in 2016 she was adamant she didn’t want to live with roommates or a group of people.

She wanted her own place in Regina.

Bernges has a soft spot for Valley View where she had friends throughout the institution, but she has new-found freedom in Regina.

The 43-year-old lives in a self-contained suite in a small bungalow with another woman. No longer does she share a bedroom and best of all, she gets to cook her own meals.

“I make stuffed mushrooms, lasagna and sausage and hot dogs,” Bernges says. “I live in the best house in the world.”

pcowan@postmedia.com

Read the article on the Leader-post website here.

 

The Dream Initiative

The Dream Initiative started as little more than an idea with wide eye aspirations. Like most ideas, once they take root in our minds they drive and push us to test the limits of possibility and reality. Sometimes it is the simplest of ideas that make the biggest difference and develop the most profound outcomes!

The Goal? To provide the folks that we serve opportunity to lead the lives that they choose. We have the ability and the means to dream big! If we want to take a holiday- we save for it. If we want to become more active and independent we can buy a car or bicycle. The truth; many of our life’s goals are achievable and attainable and in many cases, this is done so with that help of our support systems. Why should the folks we serve everyday not be afforded the same courtesy and support?!

This last August the Dream Team with the help of the Supports at Creative Options Regina, were able to fund-raise enough money to send one of our own to Edmonton for a weekend of shopping, fun, and most importantly, memory making! This was not an easy task, but through meaningful support driven initiatives and a commitment made by the recipient to save 5 dollars per week, we were able to get this idea off the ground and soaring in its first year.

As part of the Dream Team, I just want to say that I am humbled by the outburst of support from everyone at all levels of our organization, as well as external support from our many friends in our community. Thank you for every part you played; whether it was supporting one of our appreciation nights, helping out at our booth at the Cathedral Village Arts Festival, getting blasted with paintballs, or sharing your voice in one of the art initiatives!

Ben Morris,

Community Education and Outreach

 

Watch Serena’s Dream Trip come to life!

 

 

The Journey to Inclusion – IDPD 2017 Video Presentation

A number of local organizations (including COR) partnered on a collaborative video project to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), as proclaimed by the United Nations annually on December 3rd. The project created a video highlighting: The Journey of Inclusion.

“Over the last several years the disability movement has both reflected—and, hopefully, inspired—change. Throughout our history, there were few opportunities for people with disabilities in terms of social inclusion, accessibility and human rights. Now, the bar is continuously being raised in all of these areas.

Meet four people who are an integral part of changing the world for people with disabilities, their families and ultimately our communities. These are their stories….”

A shout out to our project partners:

A Culture of Gentleness

The true integrity that Gentle Teaching is related to creates an atmosphere where people are truly loved, feel safe and can embrace a culture of gentleness. Given these elements of John McGee’s philosophy of Gentle Teaching as teams of support people at Creative Options Regina we have created positive places for supports and the people who we serve to grow together. My personal contributions to my team’s culture of gentleness relate to true caring for the woman I support. They are fostering positive relationships between her and the team who supports her, including myself, as well as promoting independence in unique ways. These elements of support help to create a culture of gentleness where everyone feels safe and loved.

Creating and maintaining good relationship among the team and with Angie is extremely important when considering the support to an individual and support to Support relationships, as well as the inter-reliance of both relationships. Coming into my employment opportunity with Creative Options Regina I thought that maintaining so many positive relationships was going to be difficult. This was not the case because the nature of Gentle Teaching with the four pillars (safe, loved, loving, and engaged) and the four tools (presence, words, hands, and eyes) helps everyone to maintain positive relationships that help us to better work together to provide support. With everyone working together, bringing ideas, concerns to one another and the ability to be honest with each other creates a positive team atmosphere for us as supports, which in turn results in the ability to provide better support.

Promoting Angie’s own form of independence and what she wants to do, as well as achieving what she wants is one of the best ways of maintaining a culture of gentleness. Whether it is playing dominoes all day or venturing out on the town, it is important that the people who we support have the most impute in their every day lives and that we are there to help them — not do for them. Another element that adds to Angie’s form of freedom is creating a home that truly reflects her personality. Whether it is blasting Christmas music in July, helping her decorate her house for holidays, or bringing my guitar, the thing we are there to do is help her achieve what she wants and be her companion every step of the way. Although her way of independence appears different from that of most people, what is important is that we create a culture of gentleness that helps her to be independent in a way that involves help from her friends. After all, the founder of Gentle Teaching John McGee stated:

“Loneliness is not freedom. Decision-Making is not freedom. Independence is not freedom. Autonomy is not freedom. These are only expressions of possible freedom. It is each persons becoming the author of his/her own life-project, but in the context of being-with-others, feeling at home with others, feeling safe within oneself, and feeling connected and engaged with significant others.” (McGee. 2.)

As a support person, I feel that being there for what Angie wants is my biggest contribution to creating a culture of gentleness

As a support person, I feel that being there for what Angie wants is my biggest contribution to creating a culture of gentleness.

Given the kind nature of Gentle Teaching, the goal of creating a culture of gentleness and kindness is made easier if one follows the teachings of John McGee’s philosophy. Two of the ways that I try to encourage this culture of gentleness are by fostering positive relationships between the team of supports, Angie and myself, as well as helping Angie to create her own form of independence. Encouraging this gentle community of people leads to a better experience for anyone who enters Angie’s house and more importantly improves Angie’s quality of life.

 

Andrew, COR Support

References:
McGee, J. Self-Determination as an Expression of Engagement.

 

Casino Night – Support Appreciation at the Artesian

Dylan Morin is an extremely hard working and dedicated citizen in the Regina community.

Dylan Morin is an extremely hard working and dedicated citizen in the Regina community. His days are filled with student life, working part time for Dutch Industries, and volunteering for one of the countless clubs he is a part of. He makes himself available whenever he is needed and never shies away from a challenge. Dylan is everywhere.

Dylan is dedicated to his studies at the University of Regina. He is currently in his 4th and final year of the Campus For All and plans to graduate in the spring of 2018. When asked what his favorite part of being in school was, Dylan was quick to reply, “Meeting new people!” He also mentioned that once he graduates he really wants to continue his studies at the U of R auditing classes, furthering his education and broadening his scope of knowledge. In his own words, “There is so much information out there.”

At Dutch Industries, Dylan has developed a strong relationship with a family run business that is designed to “bring quality to its customers for generations.” It is this mantra and his personal connection to his boss Greg that keeps Dylan passionate about his work. When asked what he does at Dutch Industries, Dylan said proudly, “quality control and shipping. I package bolts for farming equipment across North America (Canada and the US) as well as the UK and then prepare them for shipping.”

His days are filled with student life, working part time for Dutch Industries

Another reason why Dylan enjoys his work at Dutch is because “they are great at helping [him] balance his time with what is important and the things he loves to do.” Dylan has been an amazing advocate for Friendship Club, Best Buddies, book club, Special Olympics bowling as well as track, and the Wind On My Wings Sailing Club to name a few. Being involved in his community and taking part in special events around Regina is something Dylan truly enjoys. In getting to know Dylan over the past couple years I have learned that his passion for serving others is unmatched. He is a fantastic public speaker and enjoys pounding the pavement looking to connect people and organizations, alike.

Finally I asked Dylan what his dreams were once he graduated from the University. Dylan replied without hesitation, “I make a good pay cheque already. I plan to keep working and saving. I will probably take some more classes but I don’t think much will change.” To conclude our interview I asked Dylan what his dream job would be if given the choice to do anything in the world to which he replied, “I would love to be a flight attendant for WestJet. I think it would be amazing to fly from Chicago to LA or even Vancouver again!” Dylan, with your passion and dedication to doing a thorough job, the sky is the limit.

Thank you for modelling passion and dedication, Dylan! We could all learn something from you.

 

Ben Morris,

Community Education and Outreach

 

What’s Your Why?

We’re happy to announce we’re embarking upon an exciting journey with our friends at TREEO.

We need to hear from you!

In the Spring of 2018, our board of directors and leadership team will dive into some Strategic Planning sessions to guide our work into 2020.

This exciting work includes a review of our current Vision, Mission and Values. What will drive these planning sessions is understanding, describing and reaffirming our purpose. This includes COR’s overall purpose but more importantly, the purpose of those who make COR great – you. Our talented employees.

Through a series of fun activities and teambuilding events, we’ll be examining the concept of purpose.

To better understand your purpose, we’ve formed a partnership with our friends at TREEO. Who’s TREEO, you ask? Well, some of you had the opportunity to work with this local organization a few months ago, when they facilitated a series of teambuilding events and innovation incubator activities. They pride themselves on providing an authentic, human experience, and empowering the organizations within our community that make a difference. Most importantly, they’re thrilled to walk alongside us on this journey.

You’re probably wondering – what do we mean by “purpose”?

You wake up every morning, come to work, and do what you do best for those we serve. But why? The answer to this question can be different for everyone, and it reflects the importance you attach to the work you do. It gives what you do meaning, and taps into your idealistic motivations. To get at your purpose, we’ll be examining a single, powerful question: What‘s Your Why?

Click Here to watch our video and to learn more about purpose, and why it’s important to COR to understand yours. A big thanks to our friend and local musician, Prairie Mountain Man, for providing the soundtrack!

Let’s get started!

COR & Treeo

 

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

 

Michael Lavis,

Executive Director