National Post features COR’s Culture of Gentleness

A culture built on Gentle Teaching

A conscious decision to nurture the health and wellbeing of COR employees has helped bring exceptional care to those that the organization supports.

Three words that exemplify the corporate culture at Creative Options Regina are family, value and respect. “Everyone here is a passionate individual who embodies our culture of gentleness to the fullest. We nurture a culture of belonging, lead with purpose and we approach people with compassion,” says CEO Michael Lavis.Creative Options Regina (COR) is a non-profit charitable organization that provides support to youth and adults experiencing intellectual disability and mental health struggles.

A conscious decision to nurture the health and wellbeing of COR employees has helped bring exceptional care to the people and families that the organization supports. That focus has also brought COR a Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures Award in the Broader Public Sector category.

When COR was established 10 years ago, the founders were determined to challenge the status quo and demonstrate that care could be done differently. The goal was to give those they serve the opportunity for choice and control in their lives, and put each person in the driver’s seat of their own destiny. In embracing the Gentle Teaching philosophy, that goal has been, and continues to be, met.

The Gentle Teaching philosophy is a passion for the COR team. Morianna Fink, member of the organization’s mentorship and outreach team, says, “Gentle Teaching is rooted in the foundation of who we are and how we support those in our community and each other. It helps us to see the value in each individual and place it at the centre of our caregiving and our culture. When people are nurtured, they flourish.”Gentle Teaching is built on four pillars:

Safety When a person feels safe, both physically and emotionally, he/she can begin to heal.

Unconditional love When a person is valued, they learn that life can be good and hopeful.

Loving When you are loving, and others reach out to receive that love, it builds trust.

Engagement A relationship built on safety, trust and love brings engagement and the freedom to make choices while knowing that support is always available.

To help support these pillars Gentle Teaching uses four primary tools that help shape relationships with coworkers, family, spouse, friends and more:

Hands Use hands to help, never to harm.

Eyes Look at others kindly and uplift them.

Words Use words to build up, not tear down.

Presence Be in the moment and non-demanding in every encounter.

“Gentle Teaching is the most important aspect of all new employee training. Coaching takes that training further and allows people to have important conversations with their teams and with each other so that any struggles are addressed proactively,” says Fink.

The pandemic brought overwhelming confusion and challenges for those to whom the organization provides services. In concert, employees were nervous and concerned about the health and wellbeing of their own families and loved ones. Yet still the strength, resiliency, and caring of the COR team came through.“

COVID shone a light on the challenges of caregiving. We hope that the learning throughout this pandemic will create change in systems that have long been forgotten. Our approach is quite unique and only practised by a handful of organizations. We have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate how care can be done differently,” says Lavis. “Our gentle approach is not only for those we provide services to, but woven throughout the fabric of our organization and how we interact with our partners, families, and stakeholders. It is having a profound impact on our entire community.”

COR has a young workforce and over 90 per cent joined the organization without prior experience in the disability services sector. The approach to recruitment is very different from the norm, says Casey Sakires, employee experience adviser with COR. “We do not post support positions. Instead, we look for creative ways to share what we do and start conversations with potential candidates. That includes being active in the community, participating in marathons and other events, and through our corporate social responsibility programs.”

While the organization attracts a great many students of social work and kinesiology, surprisingly those with less obvious backgrounds such as engineering and education also find a fit with COR values. “It’s about finding people who really want to make a difference in the lives of others and who mesh well with our Gentle Teaching ideals,” notes Sakires. “Just as we do in the outside community, we celebrate the diversity of thought that a wide range of expertise brings to the team. Once on board, each individual is supported to the fullest with tools and training, mental health resources, and opportunities to grow and learn beyond COR.”

Staying true to its roots, and using the principles of Gentle Teaching as a guide, COR remains committed to nurturing a culture of gentleness and belonging, where everyone feels safe and valued. Through the learning and experiences of the past 10 years, and the people who have supported the organization along the way, COR will continue to grow.

That growth will come through enhancing the employee experience, cultivating strong leaders, and bringing flexibility to the workplace; strengthening mentorship while deepening the coaching culture; embracing a holistic approach to wellness; building strong, resilient teams to support the evolving needs of the community; ensuring values and purpose align across the organization; and building stronger connections where everyone’s gifts and contributions are welcomed and celebrated.

Kindness counts

To actively express its commitment to the pillars of the Gentle Teaching, COR initiated its 100 Acts of Kindness campaign. The program, which initially began as a winter blues buster activity four years ago, has morphed into a community-driven mobile surprise party to recognize the silent heroes in everyday life.

The success of the campaign came from community partners and the general public that nominated difference-makers in their circle. “These are the people that walk among us and bring us joy in the seemingly little things they do. Whether it’s providing change at a gas station, putting in overtime in the classroom, or keeping our community clean, these are giants that rarely look for appreciation — and that is why we need to recognize them,” says Ben Morris, COR’s creative director.

In 2019 COR partnered with Strategy Lab Marketing, My 92.1 FM, Campbell Collegiate, and students at the University of Regina to help expand the program reach.

“There are so many incredible stories to share. Like the university custodian who we were lucky enough to celebrate. We found him mopping floors, gifted him with a cupcake and t-shirt, and shared words of appreciation from members of the community. He was moved to tears by a level of kindness he had never before received. You really don’t realize how much such a small act can mean to one individual until you experience it firsthand.”

In 2020, the pandemic changed everything. Public recognition became impossible in an instant as everything shut down. “There was concern we may not bring the program back, but the community showed us some love and rose to the challenge. We partnered with our local high school and began socially-distanced, video-recorded surprises that were posted to social media.”

The campaign has become such a success that COR is now taking calls from communities across Saskatchewan looking to be a part of the 100 Acts of Kindness movement. “This inspirational program has taken our whole organization and philosophy and wrapped it in a blanket of kindness that we live, breath and share with others.”

View Article on the online.

Proud to be named a Saskatchewan Top Employer (2021)

On February 4th, COR was recognized as one of Saskatchewan’s Top Employers for 2021 – our 4th straight year to receive this recognition! We are both humbled and proud of this accomplishment. Thank you to our entire COR family; we are so tremendously grateful to work alongside such compassionate, caring people!

Dedicated employees propel leading Saskatchewan employers

Support workers at Creative Options Regina don’t see themselves as punching the clock, earning a wage or, to quote a classic rock tune, working for the weekend.

“It’s that whole sense of making a difference,” says Michael Lavis, chief executive officer of the non-profit organization that provides a variety of at-home social services for individuals with mental health and/or intellectual disabilities.

“We’re typically working with a group of people who don’t necessarily fit into traditional models of care,” Lavis says, adding that clients face challenges involving health care, mental health, social services and justice.

That means crafting care for each individual client.

“With us, it’s about meeting the person where they’re at,” he says.

Workers at the organization take that duty to heart, continuing to serve clients even in less-than-ideal conditions — such as a pandemic.

The importance of their work is one reason why Creative Options is among Saskatchewan’s Top Employers in 2021.

The Top Employers program, managed by Mediacorp Canada Inc., recognizes workplaces not only for offering excellent compensation, exceptional workplace culture and nifty perks. It also selects organizations that are exceptionally good at engaging their employees.

And no workers are more engaged than those who believe their role is to make the world a better place.

Employees at First Nations Bank of Canada — another Top Employer in Saskatchewan — also feel that sense of doing good through their efforts at the financial institution that serves Indigenous people, businesses and their communities.

“In some places, we are the only bank around,” says Leigh Solomon, vice-president of retail banking at the bank. “And so many employees have taken great pride in still being open to serve these communities during the pandemic.”

Their roles have included providing in-person banking to a handful of clients who lack internet and even phone connections. At other times, they have walked customers through the process of using online banking services so they don’t have to visit a branch.

Kevin Michael, vice-president of commercial banking, says First Nations Bank of Canada employees recognize their role isn’t just providing financial services. It’s about helping Indigenous communities build their economies and generate wealth.

“What we do really benefits people’s lives in northern communities,” he says, adding many employees are from northern Saskatchewan.

A similar sense of purpose is shared among Creative Options Regina employees, which is a good thing because demand for services has expanded during COVID-19, Lavis notes.

The fact the organization has been able to meet this demand is “testament” to the efforts of its staff.

“We attract good people because of what we do,” Lavis says. “Still, even I’m just really amazed how everyone stepped up in this difficult time.”

As an employer, Creative Options Regina has looked to help its staff be at its best by creating a workplace that meets their needs while addressing any concerns. That has built a united organization.

“When you have that sense of common purpose — you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself and you’re making a difference — the job doesn’t feel much like work anymore.”

 

2021 Winners

Here are the 2021 winners of the Saskatchewan’s Top Employers competition. Click an employer name to read our editors’ full Reasons for Selection:

Read the full article published in the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon Star Pheonix on February 4th, 2021: https://www.canadastop100.com/sk/

 

Recipient of Canada’s Healthy Workplace Great Employer Award

COR has once again received Canada’s Healthy Workplace Great Employer Award by Excellence Canada and Canada Life. We are so very proud of our COR family and tremendously grateful to everyone who has supported our effort in building a healthy workplace! Read about the award below:

Excellence Canada and Canada Life announce the 2020 Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month® Great Employers

TORONTO, Dec. 15, 2020 — Excellence Canada and Canada Life are pleased to announce the 2020 Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month® Great Employers. These organizations are being celebrated for their planning and actions to foster physically and psychologically safe and healthy workplaces, striving to continually improve across four main areas of focus, namely:

Healthy Lifestyles

This involves helping employees develop and maintain healthy lifestyle practices, eat well, exercise, drop unhealthy or risky habits, and make optimal use of the healthcare system.

Mental Health and Workplace Culture

Culture is created, reinforced and sustained by ongoing patterns of relationships and communications that can have an important influence on psychological health and safety. The organizational culture reflects values that support mental health, such as trust, fairness, respect, diversity, inclusion and teamwork.

Physical Environment

Aiming to reduce the risk of fatalities and workplace disabilities, this area of focus involves fully and continually addressing matters of occupational health and safety, including the possible impacts of new technologies, production changes, increasing demands on time, and cost containment measures.

Corporate Social Responsibility

The interrelationship between the community, the workplace and the employee can influence employee health and well-being, as well as the health and performance of the organization. CSR activities are often seen as voluntary, going above and beyond what is legislated or required.

This year’s recipients are, in alphabetical order:

Organization City Province
AGS Rehab Solutions Inc. Mississauga ON
AV Mechanical Inc. Vaughan ON
CanmetENERGY-Ottawa, Natural Resources Canada Nepean ON
Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Ottawa ON
Collingwood General & Marine Hospital Collingwood ON
Connecting Care & Points West Living Edmonton AB
Creative Options Regina Regina SK
Health Standards Organization (HSO) Ottawa ON
Lethbridge College Lethbridge AB
Mary Berglund Community Health Centre Hub Ignace ON
Vancouver Island Brewing Victoria BC
Victoria Airport Authority Sidney BC

Find out what it takes to be a Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month® Great Employer online.

Excellence Canada, an independent not-for-profit organization, would like to thank Canada Life for its generosity and support as the Presenting Sponsor of Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month®. Established by Excellence Canada over 20 years ago, Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month® is celebrated every October. Our website provides organizations with year-round resources, tools, and knowledge that they need to implement a long-term Healthy Workplace® strategy.

COR Recognized as Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures

It’s a big day for the COR family!! Thanks to you, we’ve proudly accepted a prestigious award: Waterstone Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures.

We have been grateful this year to receive several culture-related awards that truly embody both what it means to be a member of the COR family, as well as what we’re trying to accomplish at COR every single day.

What Makes COR Special?

For the third straight year we have been named one of Saskatchewan’s Top Employers, in 2019 we were recognized as one of Canada’s Healthiest workplaces by Canada Life and Excellence Canada, and now COR has been named one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures by Waterstone Human Capital; but why? If you ask around, you’ll find a common theme – it’s the people and their values.

Everyone at COR is a passionate individual who embodies our culture of gentleness to the fullest. We nurture a culture of belonging, lead with purpose and we approach people with compassion. 

When we embarked on this journey ten years ago, we were determined to challenge the status quo and demonstrate that care could be done differently – to afford the people we serve a real opportunity to have choice and control in their lives, putting each person in the driver’s seat of their own destiny. Moreover, we focused on our employees – the most important people in the organization – for if we take good care of all our family members, they will in turn provide exceptional care to the people we support and their families. It’s that simple! 

Staying true to our roots, we continue to be guided by the principles of Gentle Teaching and remain committed to nurturing within our organization a culture of gentleness and belonging, where everyone feels safe and valued. There has been an incredible amount of learning and growth over the past ten short years; we are forever grateful to the many incredible people who offered their wisdom and have served as mentors along the way.

As we forge ahead, we will continue to focus on:

  • our employee experience, with a particular emphasis on workplace flexibility and cultivating strong leaders;
  • strengthening our formal mentorship and leadership development initiatives, while deepening our coaching culture;
  • embracing a holistic approach to wellness by nurturing a healthy mind, healthy body, and healthy life;
  • building strong, resilient teams that will allow COR to further expand and support the evolving needs of our community;
  • ensuring values and purpose alignment throughout the entire organization;
  • supporting the people we serve and their families to live their lives to the fullest; and
  • establishing even stronger connections within our community, partnering with those who share a common vision of fostering a community where everyone’s gifts and contributions are welcomed and celebrated.

THANK-YOU — we are so very grateful for your contribution to our growing organization and we are proud to have you part of our family. 

 

Stay safe,

Michael Lavis

 

Link to November 26th, 2020 Press Release.

COR named recipient of Canada’s Farmers Grow Communities, supported by the Bayer Fund

It’s a win-win’: U of R and employees benefit from inclusive, diverse work culture

Dylan Morin and Jarred MacDonald are true ambassadors of the University of Regina, embodying campus values like calm, care, and compassion. Since starting their jobs as caretakers with the U of R’s Custodial Services in January 2020, they have been tasked with the critical role of ensuring that the University is a clean, safe environment for those who are on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also take pride in welcoming visitors, students, faculty, and staff to campus with a smile – from behind a mask, of course – and a cheery “Hello!”

Across Canada, October is designated as Disability Employment Awareness Month. Throughout the month, inclusive employers, such as the University of Regina, are celebrating their workers and raising awareness of the importance of providing meaningful paid employment for former students like Morin and MacDonald who experience intellectual disabilities.

“We are very fortunate to have Dylan and Jarred on our team,” says John Papandreos, Manager of Custodial Services, who has been instrumental in advocating for inclusive employment opportunities at the University. “They are outstanding workers who are contributing purposeful and essential work, especially during COVID when we have such a large need for a clean environment.”

Since the pandemic began, Morin and MacDonald have been working hard on the Custodial Services’ team to disinfect touchpoints around main entrances and exits on campus.

“Right now, I go to all the areas on campus and I’m wiping down touch points, like elevator buttons,” explains Morin, who seeks to make positive connections with people as he carries out his job tasks. “I’m just trying to do my best to keep the University safe.”

Students, staff, and faculty around campus know Morin and appreciate his outgoing, friendly personality, which provides him with a sense of satisfaction in his work and of belonging to the University community.

“I hear ‘thank you!’ from people,” says Morin. “From time to time, I get people asking where a building is and I’ll describe it the best I can. From being a student to being a staff member, I know the University well.”

Both Morin and MacDonald are graduates of the University of Regina and were supported by the Campus for All (CFA) inclusive, post-secondary education initiative, which provides adults who experience an intellectual disability with the opportunity for an authentic university experience. This initiative includes three pillars: academic, social networking, and employment.

“The students we support are no different than any others,” says Faith Savarese, Coordinator of the Campus for All initiative. “At the end of their education, they want to be employed and contribute to the community, so we created an employment project called 4to40 with our community partner Creative Options Regina. The staff at 4to40 identify potential employers and provide on-the-job support like job coaches, so that our new employees can more easily learn their job tasks and integrate into the workplace.”

Since the creation of 4to40, many current and former students supported by CFA are now employed, and more employers are realizing the benefits that hiring inclusively brings to their workplaces.

“Their work ethic is top notch,” says Papandreos. “Dylan and Jarred contribute to a positive work culture. It’s hard not to embrace these guys. There’s huge benefits to the U of R in terms of supporting an inclusive employment philosophy, which receives strong support from U of R senior administration. For the individuals, it gives them a sense of purpose and contribution to the greater good. It works wonders for their self-esteem and so they produce high quality work. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Recently, the University has extended the term positions of both Morin and MacDonald for another year, and Papandreos hopes to one day make their positions permanent.

Like any other workers, Morin and MacDonald look for stability, inclusion, and a sense of satisfaction in their jobs.

MacDonald cleans door and stair handles, as well as benches, and enjoys joking with his supervisor. “My favourite part of working at the University is my cart,” says Jarred, whose strong work ethic keeps him constantly on the go. “And getting a pay cheque.”

Murray Peterson, MacDonald’s job coach for the past year and a half – and close friend – is amazed by MacDonald’s commitment to doing the best job he can.

“He’ll never take a full lunch hour,” says Peterson. “Maybe 15 or 20 minutes and then we’re going back to work. Go, go, go.”

As a result of being University employees, MacDonald and Morin get the same benefits as other University employees.

“Sick time, vacation time, a pension – this is not something Jarred normally would have expected from any job, so the fact that he has that at the U of R is indispensable really,” says Peterson. “The quality of life here amazes me. I’m so impressed with everything the University has done for him and with him.”

Helping an individual to develop their strengths is an important part of empowering new employees.

“Dylan’s job coach used to be here five days a week and is now down to two days a week,” says Donna Flaman-Johnson, an inclusive employment broker for the 4to40 organization. “We want to see graduates of Campus for All gain confidence in their skills, abilities, and job tasks. Then, they can work more independently and may one day mentor others.”

 

By University Advancement and CommunicationsPosted: October 20, 2020

View article: https://www.uregina.ca/external/communications/feature-stories/current/2020/10-20.html

 

Celebrating Inclusive Employers: October is Disability Employment Awareness Month