Onward and Upwards…

In everyone’s life there are those moments or experiences that capture your full attention and enchant your heart. In my life I have had a handful of these experiences: including lying in a rain storm emotionally broken to which when the rain stopped craziest Northern lights began dancing across the skies, my first date with Larissa my beautiful wife and the days that both my children were born.  If you took the time, sat back and reflected on your life I too believe that you would pinpoint experiences that spurred a major reaction within you which kick-started a wave of changes: either big or small. As I sit in this opened aired mall, with people hustling and bustling around with only two weeks before Christmas, I confidently can say that Creative Options Regina (COR) has been added to my life experiences that have provoked change.

Nearly three years ago I took a position with Creative Options Regina after a friend and fellow wait-staff told me about her new position with “this super awesome organization!” The words that flowed from her mouth were captivating and got me excited! Not wanting to sound like a stalked, I hesitantly approached her and asked if she would be ok if I applied with this new-found organization. With a resounding  “YES!” I applied. in the following months, I quit my job as a waiter and engaged in full time support hours with COR. I don’t know if I ever really thanked this person allowed: so now is the time! Thank-you Brittany Bechard for your wisdom in knowing a little about my heart, ‘seeing something in me,’ and  encouraging me to apply. You are an incredible woman and those who you serve and support have a better quality of life because of you. When I first started supporting with COR I served Jesse, Jasen and Shaun. These men are incredible and taught me a lot about myself. Jesse’s determination to do everything in a day, Jasen’s love of authentic relationship and Shaun’s ability to be the slowest eater in the world taught me to embrace the small things, laugh, and rest in the fact that in those moments together nothing else needed to consume me: we were, and that was more than enough. A few short months after starting my journey with COR I was asked if I would consider moving teams to support a young man named Michael. Little did I know that this man would reveal my true colors, challenge me to be a better me, and become not only a friend but a brother.

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My journey with this man was not always easy. Sometimes it was hard. Perhaps it is just me, but I think it is the hard things in life that are worth fighting for. My journey with Michael led me to new heights, literally. In the summer of 2014 we were able to strike out on new adventures together, including a handful of roads trips and an airplane ride around the Regina city limits. Michael, and others in COR have become an intricate part of our family: coming over for meals, playing with our kids and engaging in this “thing” we call life. My words can’t express the joy and appreciation I have for each of the people who have come into my life during this time of my life.

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Though the people that I have been led to serve have impacted me tremendously: I have been equally left effected by those who I am blessed to call friends and coworkers. From the leadership of the management team, to the bravery of team leaders, to the humility of support people, you have sparked change in my life: Whether it is Jenna walking into my office to “just talk about life”, or going out for a drink with Ryan, Reid, Murray or Bart to talk about the philosophical structures of Gentle Teaching, I have been challenged and changed: Thank-you.

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult to write this blog: the relationships we have built matter! It is with a mixing pot of emotions that I write to tell you that as a family we have decided to resign from my position as Director of Culture and Mentorship and relocate. Our decision was one that was not taken lightly, or easily made. Every square inch of the effect of our decision was scrutinized and processed: to the point of believing that I needed a heart transplant.  It is with great sadness that we let everyone know that as of January 15th, 2016 we will no longer be serving at Creative Options Regina. This decision had little to do with COR and more with my own physical health, the health of our family and an opportunity that we believe will lead us to help spark change elsewhere in Saskatchewan.

As we prepare to leave there are a lot of details that we are hoping and praying will fall into place. But I am fighting hard to finish well. I believe that whatever my hand finds to do I have a role and a responsibility in helping it come to fruition: to pursue the best outcome possible. In the coming weeks, I will be focusing a lot of my time to the curriculum that I have been developing over the past year, along with finding moments to say those proper goodbyes.

If I may: and I will! I would like to leave you with a message of encouragement. It has often been said that Gentle Teaching carries a lot of power. While I don’t disagree with this completely, I believe that it can be refined all the more. Gentle Teaching equips people with the skills and tools to have a voice of influence, which in return equips you with a “power”. Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that you are to have power OVER someone. Rather, you, yes YOU, have the ability to be a powerful influence. The way in which you choose to interact with someone, and the words that you use can and will change a person’s life. So I beg you: be kind, speak with wisdom, pursue good, love the lonely, hurting and brokenhearted, know that your purpose on this earth goes beyond the material things that we we can collect for ourselves. The relationships in which you currently find yourself (whether long-lasting or temporary) are the most meaningful. As you go through out your daily life, with friends, loved ones and team members, remember your tools. Your mouth is to speak kind words, uplifting others. When your hand is forced to address difficult situations remember that your words carry a powerful punch and even in the midst of addressing conflict or correction can become vessels of empowerment for those you are speaking to. Your hands are to be agents of care: assisting the homeless, uplifting the broken, encouraging the fearful yet doing all of this together. Your presence should display the message of your intent: I am here with you, through thick and thin. As I often have said my training’s, “we are in this together, because WE, well we are the dream team and nothing can stop us!” And finally use your eyes to empathize, sympathize and see the true story of peoples lives.  Our eyes should not just be used for the present, but be used for the future. Dream big dreams for both yourself and the person you are serving. Work hard not to become entrapped in what you see now, but dream about tomorrow. The people you serve deserve it, and so do you!

From my family to you: we thank-you for the impact that you have had in our lives.

With all of my heart and deepest gratitude,

Ben Raine

 

“Freedom”: Patrick’s Story

I was living in an approved home before COR. I had a friend that lived in COR and I started hanging out with him more and more. I stayed for sleepovers and his friends got to know me a little bit. He wanted me to move to COR… I guess he suggested it to somebody!

All my stuff was in boxes and bags It felt good to load it in. It felt like freedom

We had some meetings and then Andrew and Jim showed up one day with a U-Haul truck. All my stuff was in boxes and bags. It felt good to load it in. It felt like freedom. I threw everything in there. I came to the house, unpacked the U-Haul and there were lots of people helping me out. I didn’t sleep that night. It was a new environment for me and it took me a while to fall asleep the first couple of nights. Once I felt more comfortable it started to feel like home. I had things given to me for my apartment. On my birthday I was given things that I basically wanted. It was sort of weird at first. I had birthday parties before, but I never got things that I needed. My friends all bought me a Keurig for Christmas this year!

I’m going to a class that helps me deal with my anger, my anxiety, stuff like that. Some days I don’t really feel the greatest… and some days it could be like… I don’t know its kind of an up & down thing for me. Some days are tougher than others. That’s why I’m going to a class. I know that people in COR aren’t judging me or anything and that they are there to listen not scold you. They are there to help, they don’t say “wow that’s a dumb question to ask”, they just listen and try to help. When I moved in I needed somebody to talk to and I had a friend who would sit and listen, help me out and talk with me. It made me feel more comfortable because I know there is always someone to talk to if I need to. I get to go places like the bar, camping trips, hanging out with my friends. There’s not really a curfew. Your friends treat you like an adult, and if there’s a problem we sort of talk it out and work through it.

My friends helped me find a job. I work at Sasktel right on 1st Avenue and Broad Street, not too far from the COR office. I do lots of different things. I sometimes work in the warehouse, I clean 2701’s and 3801’s, just different modems. I sometimes clean ONT’s. It feels good to have a job. I’m not isolating myself because now I actually have a job where I’m responsible for getting up and getting to work on time. I was sort of nervous when I started. I was nervous to ask questions on my first day, but when I got more comfortable I sort of came out of my shell. When I’m on my own I have a thing called Facetime. My friends Facebook, Facetime, text me to make sure I’m okay and stuff like that.

I really like hanging out with people from COR. Going to BBQ’s, hanging out, playing football, just hanging out. There’s one thing that I have learned from that. I don’t look at their disabilities, I look at them as a person. I go to the dances and I have a friend that has MS, but I don’t look at her as MS. I just look at her as just one of my friends I can hang out with and laugh, do stuff with.

What is cor to you?

[What is COR all about?]

People caring about other people, people who are willing to listen, talk to you and make sure you’re alright. They are basically there for caring. COR has a website with lots of videos. Everyone is welcome here and everyone is equal. You should check it out. COR is an awesome place to live.

 

– Patrick

Common Situations: Refusal to Participate

Common Situations: Refusal to Participate

If the person refuses to participate,

• Make sure there is a structured flow to the day, not just the emptiness of custodial care.
• Be aware of other caregivers who might be coaxing, cajoling, or bribing the person to participate.
• Bring about minimal participation by doing activities with the person.
• Continue to dialogue.
• Emphasize valuing and elicit it during any movement toward the slightest participation.

We are challenged to enable participation and establish feelings of solidarity

The major challenge in this situation is to make valuing occur, even in settings that contradict it. Many caregivers work in almost hopeless situations: institutions where the mentally ill are herded like animals, nursing homes where the aged are left to fade away, homeless shelters where the poor are warehoused for an evening. Although we need to fight for social justice and establish decent places for people to live, work and play, many caregivers still need to create hope and feelings of companionship where there is none. Thus, if we work alone in a setting that seems to be the antithesis of valuing and engagement, we have a special and difficult role: to bring hope where only despair reigns.

To bring hope where only despair reigns

 

We will often be ridiculed for our idealism and seeming naiveté. Yet we can express valuing and create feelings of companionship even in the midst of hopelessness. Our interactions are what matters. If the person in the most forsaken institutional ward runs from us and falls to the floor, we can keep on teaching the meaning of human engagement. If the person lashes out, spits, or screams at us, we can move toward him or her and continue to bring about engagement and give unconditional valuing. We are challenged to enable participation and establish feelings of solidarity regardless of the hellish reality in which we find those who are marginalized.

-John J. McGee, PhD

We All Learn From Each Other

My most memorable time at COR has to be one of my more challenging days. We had just gotten back from a rough time at a softball game. The person I was supporting made a choice and ended up having to deal with some of the repercussions. When we got back home we had a really great heart to heart moment together. We talked and had a moment of learning together about what happened and why. I feel like it’s moments like these that I get up for everyday.

To go through life one step at a time and learn something valuable with every step we take

To go through life one step at a time and learn something valuable with every step we take. COR is an amazing place for everyone to come and learn. It’s not only the people we support that learn, but every person I have spoken to is truly impacted by the people we support in one way or another. We all learn from each other and its alright to make mistakes, as long as we pick ourselves up and are ready to try again.

Matt

COR Support

Unconditional Value

“Our experiences with Gentle Teaching have taught us that change needs to start with us–our warmth, tolerance and the translation of values into relationships based on companionship. Our interactions need to reflect warm caring and a spirit of oneness in spite of even intense rejection or rebellion. They need to begin to signal feelings of empathy and the understanding that the relationship will evolve into an authentic friendship even though initially it is quite lop-sided.

Our interactions need to centre themselves on love the person with unconditional respect during the best moments and the most difficult ones. We have to care about the other and express the feeling that we are with and for the person. Spit can be running down our face or slaps stinging on our arms, but we need to unconditionally value the other. We are asked to transmit this feeling through dialogue and sharing our life experiences with the other. Our task is to initiate this process in a spirit of human solidarity.

Warmth can be felt

Warmth can be felt in the tone of our voice, the sincerity of our gaze, and the serenity of our movements.

Tolerance is conveyed through patience in the face of aggression, respect in the face of rejection, and perseverance in the face of entrenched rebellion. Our values are the impetus within this process, and they need to be constantly questioned and deepened. It is this spirit that we have learned in our gentle teaching experiences–to break away from emotional homelessness, to rupture the cold grip of loneliness, and to center ourselves  on unconditional love.

The challenge is not to find non-aversive behavioural techniques, but to formulate and put into practise a psychology of interdependence that goes against the grain of modifying the other and asks for mutual change. This presents a major challenge to parents, professionals, and advocates. It requires an awakening of our values and putting them into practice in the most difficult situations.”

 

-John McGee

“Be A Superhero”

IN PRODUCTION–I’ve often wondered why are stories about superheroes so appealing? And why have they always been appealing throughout humankind’s history? (Recall the Roman and Greek gods and goddesses, and countless other myths of people with superhuman strength and power from all cultures throughout the world from all time.) If I was to give a less than educated guess as to their appeal, I would say that they touch something in us that we all long for…perhaps something missing from our very selves.

The reason I think this is because it seems too trite and easy to say that the appeal lies only in the fantastical. As if to say, just because those stories tell us of something that we do not see in real life they keep our attention. I can imagine a story with many fantastical details that would not make me rush to see the movie or buy the book. That is to say, fantastical does not always equal appealing.

So perhaps superheroes’ appeal lies in the fact that they are marked as special, set apart, different, but in a good way–a way that increases their human potential. I believe that is a better explanation of their universal appeal. I believe it appeals to us because we very rarely experience it ourselves.

If this lack is a common existential experience, what does that tell us about our ontological make-up? Why would we all universally experience the same lack or same desire? Were we meant for something greater? Did we, as a race, have a potential that we lost? Or do we intrinsically have it but lost our ability to see it clearly? Why the common yearning and desire?

And then, why do we feel a lack that we seemingly lack the ability to fill? Even recognizing that one desires to be “more” does not enable one to meet their own desire. Even the richest and most powerful people in the world often report that they feel this same lack in life, like something is still missing.

Perhaps finding out what really quenches that desire or fills that lack is the meaning of life.

What-are-you-fighting-for

1) Decide what you want to accomplish

Is there a specific task/dream that you want to accomplish for someone or with someone?

2) Pick a theme song

Don’t take yourself too seriously! Let loose and have fun

3) Decide what you stand for

What are you fighting for?

 

 

Defining Empathy

“Empathy is not pity.”

“It is a feeling of being-one-with-the-other. It is trying to understand and sense why a child or adult is acting in a particular way and reflecting on the cumulative impact of each persons life history–years of segregation, submission, and isolation that gnaw away at the spirit. It is a spirit of sharing our common humanity, and the belief that no one exists as a mere individual but that we all exist interdependently…Empathy does not mean over-protection. It comes from our knowledge of the other and ourselves, our reality, our vulnerabilities, and our strengths and weaknesses. It is caring about the others anger, frustrations and rejection instead of whether the other is obeying or producing.

Represent-kindness-serenity-and-peace

We need to represent kindness, serenity and peace. It involves recognition of the personal and social dimensions of what it means to be handicapped, mentally ill, poor or abandoned. It remains steadfast during the good times and bad, at the depths of fury and the heights of joy. Nobody is only a student, a client, a resident, homeless, poor, or powerless. Empathy drives us to uncover the human condition and reveal its fullness, our fragility in the face of life’s vicissitudes, or vulnerability to emotional disruption, and our need for being-with others. We need to consider that we are but one short from homelessness ourselves.”

-John J. McGee

Process of Stretching

“We teach “safe” by placing almost no demands on the person except for being with the person with a sense of just “being.” It is a tremendously important for one human being to teach another it is good to be near you. Nothing more, nothing less. This act of recognizing the brokenhearted person’s existence and goodness is a most powerful teaching-learning experience. At the same time, we need to engage in nurturing and finding relevant ways to express unconditional love without pressuring the person at all. This might seem weird, but the person will learn to feel safe if we lower our demands while increasing our goodness, kindness, and expression of love. We need to avoid putting the horse before the cart. Doing things is not the primary purpose of care giving; being with one another is.

A dimension that is often hard to understand and deal with involves the emergence of self-centeredness, becoming spoiled, after a time of intense nurturing. It is natural to become self-centered as a result of constant nurturing. This creates another important care giving role. We need to slowly begin to focus on stretching the person away from self-centeredness and toward other-centeredness. This stretching process involves reminding the person that he/she is safe and loved while asking a slight degree more—waiting a moment, taking turns, sharing, and other virtues involving others and our relationships. This process is very delicate so we need to keep reminding the person of how safe and loved he/she is.

The developmental model outlined below is a good guide for us to use to understand the various dimensions of new memories that have to be taught:

• From brokenhearted and lonely, to safe and loved;
• From self-centeredness, to reaching out to others and loving expressing love to them; and,
• From dependence on us, to engagement with us and others.

Doing-things-is-not-the-primary-purpose-of-care-giving-being-with-one-another-is

Our pedagogical process starts with us encountering a brokenhearted person and bringing two simple gifts that we have repeatedly mentioned—the feeling of being safe and loved. We have nothing else to give. These are not a program, a clinical approach, or focused on outcomes. They can, if necessary, be translated into mundane outcomes, but, for the caregiver, they are gifts and these now established feelings need to begin to include being safe with a growing circle of others and becoming a meaningful part of increasing engagement.

This stretching process is a part of normal development. These include learning other moral milestones such as learning to share, a giving up, momentarily, of what is theirs; learning to wait and to take turns; wanting others to feel proud; and, learning when enough is enough—self-control. We all have to learn these milestones. Each requires a grounded stance that assumes that the brokenhearted person has learned to feel safe and loved and is ready for participation in a broader community. After these have been formed in the person’s moral memory, we can then begin focusing on strengthening self-esteem, learning that “I am good!” and self-control, learning when enough is enough!” The person’s world and responsibilities begin to expand.

After an intense dimension involved almost solely with unconditional love, it is natural to enter a phase of self-centeredness. It is then that our role evolves into carefully and delicately stretching the still fragile brokenhearted person from a state of self-centeredness to one of other-centeredness. It is a process in which the person learns that it is good to be with a small circle of others, then it is good to do things with this group, and eventually it is good to do things with a wider circle of friends, and finally it is good to do things for others. This last encompasses a high form of moral maturity.

We also begin to focus on the person’s self-esteem. This milestone emerges when others keep reminding the person, “You are so good!” This begins to occur from the very start when we are teaching that it is good to be together. What happens in this process is that the person begins to feel safe and loved from within. As this occurs, the person begins to see him/herself in a different light and forms a moral memory that says, “I am somebody because my caregivers tell me I am.” As the circle of friends grows, the person’s sense of self-worth also expands and becomes stronger.”

– John J. McGee, PhD

Take a Stand Against a “Thanklessness Epidemic”

Over a year ago I started a personal blog where I would share my thoughts and insights on the world around me. It was my desire to write a post once a day for a year. I desperately wanted to keep it up, and did well for a time: but the personal pressure that I placed on myself became too much. The blog focused on one specific thing: the daily heroes that I would run into at work, at the grocery store, on the street and in the least unexpected places. My goal was to expose the beauty of the world around me and publicly thank the ‘daily heroes’ to my handful of faithful readers.  Although I haven’t logged a blog for some time, this thought of thankfulness has been constantly on my heart and mind. And dare I say, I think we are in a ‘thanklessness epidemic’. Don’t get me wrong, we can hear people say thank-you around us all the time, but is it anything more than a simple pleasantry or a moralistic mandate? We need to foster thankfulness and find moments where our deep appreciation is expressed in ways that it will be heard clearly and intentionally for what it truly is.

On the other hand, thanklessness is deeply tethered and connected to the inability to be content. When you are thankless, not only do you rob the other person of the glory that belongs to them, you convince yourself you could have gotten on fine without them. Author JD Greer says, ” Think of it (thanklessness) like plagiarism. Plagiarism is harmful on two levels: the first level is you rob someone else of the credit of their words. Secondly you delude others and yourself in thinking that you can come up with that level of idea all the time.” When we choose to be thankless, we turn our focus inwards and disregard others around us. We become so focused on “I”, “ME”, and  “MY” that we forget that is so often “OTHERS” that shape our life and it’s events. Although some people may like to live in a cavernous hermitage, most people need and want others around: let’s not forget our thankfulness often draws us into a greater sense on community.

Teaching thankfulness-is-not-to-be-seen-as-forcing-or-indoctrinating-someone,-rather-as-a-way-to-boldly-show-our-appreciation

In the Gentle Teaching community we talk about the four pillars (can anyone name them?): to be SAFE, to be LOVED, to become more LOVING AND to become more ENGAGED. Each one of these pillars are critical in building, establishing ans sustaining a relationship: with people we serve or otherwise. How do you help raise these pillars? One of the ways that I suggest is to increase the genuineness of our thankfulness. By becoming more thankful, and expressing our adoration and appreciation through words and actions we are directly able to help people feel safe and loved.

When I am genuinely thanked for something that I have done, I personally feel a deeper connection and appreciation for that person. Essentially I feel safe and more valued by that person, because they gave me both their time and words of affirmation. As we become more thankful around those that we serve we are teaching others to imitate what is good and right: we are teaching the foundation of healthy relationships. By modeling our genuine thankfulness before those we serve, we are teaching others to become more loving and engaged in their own lives. In essence we are saying, “Come, follow me…Do this..this is good and right.” Teaching thankfulness is not to be seen as forcing or indoctrinating someone, rather as a way to boldly show our appreciation to others and free those around us to accept, embrace and duplicate thankfulness in their own lives.

Got a story? I would love to hear about thankfulness in your life! Maybe it was someone that you noticed, or a story where you were edified because of someone’s courage to share their thankful appreciation with you. Send me a message at ben@creativeoptionsregina.ca

 

Signing-off,

Ben

Director of Culture and Mentorship