Value. It’s something that doesn’t need to be earned. We all have value. Within our own circle of support that value is magnified and can be easily recognized. But every once in a while a person we may not even know does something special and it takes us back. Maybe they spark up a conversation with us at the coffee shop when we least expect it, or maybe they hold open a door or plug our parking meter without us even knowing. How do we recognize and give thanks to the people that brighten our days?
Well….. let me share something exciting with you!
During the remaining weeks of our wintery months here in Regina, COR is bringing to our community the 100 Acts of Kindness Campaign. Over the next 10 weeks we are going to do our very best to recognize the many folks in both our lives – and the people we support — who make us smile. We will be recognizing people who go out of their way to make our days better by doing the little things (or the big things) that reflect the value they place on all those around them. These are the very people who exemplify what it means to be become more loving (the 3rd pillar of Gentle Teaching). We are going to recognize people for making the ordinary seem extraordinary!
Do You Want to Show Someone the Love!?!
It feels great to receive kindness, but it also feels good to give and value others as well. On our website, you will find a COR A-OK! button. Simply click it and get started on brightening the day of someone connected to the greater COR family. The A-OK! team will receive your submission, review, and plan to hit the streets to bring your nomination to life!
We want EVERYONE in the COR community to get involved! Ask your team about their local heroes – big and small. Join our street team to bring joy and thanks to others. Join with us to celebrate the unsung heroes of our city who bring warmth to our hearts and smiles to our faces.
Take a peek at our week 2 highlights…. a special thanks to Atlantis Coffee!
Dr. John McGee’s Gentle Teaching has transformed the person I am by helping me to understand that everyone deserves the help that they require. This is beneficial to me as I start my internship at a local inner-city school through the University of Regina Faculty of Education. As I start this journey, the teachings of McGee will continue to guide and shape my thought process by helping me to understand that there are reasons behind any action, as well as by helping me recognize the difference between equal and equitable. Together these teachings help me to better support those around me.
The realization that there is a reason behind any action will help to guide me in the future. The importance of recognizing things like attention seeking behaviours helps me to understand that some “negative” behaviours may stem from a negative experience or that a person may be lacking positive attention so they are seeking that attention through behaviours. A key for me to deal with this is to remember the four tools of gentle teaching; presence, words, hands, and eyes. By having a welcoming presence, words of encouragement/recognition and to spread conversation throughout the class, using my body language to show that I am calm and accepting, and my eyes to recognize everyone’s presence I will be able to provide positive attention to all students.
Along with the tools, the pillars of Gentle Teaching (safe, loved, loving, and engaged) have taught me the difference between equal and equitable. This will guide me in supporting individuals who I serve with COR as well as in school. This is important because the pillars can be used as categories of self-fulfillment. When considering a person’s level of content with their pillars, there may be pillars where that persons level of content is higher than others. This is similar to using a wellness wheel to measure different areas of health like physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual. By using the four pillars of gentle teaching I am able to better understand that everyone feels more content and less content in different areas so everyone needs equitable treatment that focuses on the pillar(s) that they need to improve the most in order to make that individual feel fulfilled in all four pillars. Where as equal treatment would focus on helping everyone progress in the same way without considering individual needs. Considering the four pillars will help me to make sure that people feel fulfilled in those areas and are able to say “in this place I feel safe, I feel loved, I am able to love and I am engaged with the people and things around me”. This helps me to better understand that everyone needs support in their own specific way.
Gentle Teaching has helped to transform me into the person I am today. The teachings help me to better comprehend the idea that every person needs a different form of support. Through critical thinking I am able to understand that there are reasons for any action and that people deserve to have support that suits their needs instead of one uniform approach. Gentle Teaching has helped me to grow as a teacher, support person and most importantly as a person.
COR Family Member
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.
COR Family Member
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
“Although our vulnerabilities and the external threats to our wellbeing are in many ways nothing compared to those of the persons whom we serve, it is important that we recognize our own before dealing further with the vulnerabilities of those whom we serve.
We are all vulnerable to breakdowns in our personal values. Sometimes these can be due to how we feel and what we are experiencing within ourselves; at other times we can be part of a system that makes it harder for us to respond to our shared values. If a caregiver is afraid of being hurt, he/she then becomes more likely to use restraint to control violent behaviors. Or, if a caregiver is depressed, then it is extremely hard to bring joy to others. If we are being beaten and de-valued at home, it is hard to bring non-violence into someone else’s home.
Many of our vulnerabilities are worsened by lack of adequate training and hands-on supervision. Some caregivers are quite isolated and seldom have the opportunity to discuss their problems and search for new responses to challenging situations. It is critical that caregivers recognize their weaknesses and find ways to overcome them. Community leaders need to listen to caregivers and find ways to offer support and encouragement.
Caregivers need to find their own self-worth from themselves, talking frequently, sharing their anxieties, and pointing out their goodness. Our own worth has to be generated from within ourselves. We need to form strong communities.
The question of burnout seems to be always present. Some caregivers give up and attribute their burnout to poor supervision, working in violent settings, receiving little guidance, or low pay. Since we are not only teaching feelings of companionship, but also a sense of community, it is important for caregivers to look at themselves, question their reality, and search for ways for themselves to feel safer, more engaged, and more valued. The first step in this is to step back and examine those things that make us vulnerable.
Let us take a moment to reflect on these aspects of our lives — recognizing these will help us understand better the needs of those whom we serve.”
~Excerpt from John J. McGee’s “Mending Broken Hearts” — CPLS Newsletter.
Gentle Teaching has become a main part of my life. During my university career, I have done many presentations and projects based on gentle teaching because it applies to so many different areas of study; whether it be Psychology or Kinesiology and Health Studies. As Assistant Home Team Leader, I dedicated most of my support times (and outside support times) to making sure the people I support are physically healthy. I continue to do activities to keep the guys active and engaged, but allow them to decide which activities are right for them! I pre-cook and freeze meals so that it is easily accessible for the rest of the team. This is done so that supports aren’t tempted to buy unhealthy food! Since this started, I have continued to encourage others on the team to do the same as well. As a result, the team has all begun to contribute to grocery shopping and cooking wholesome meals. This was not so they could be “fit” or “skinny”, but to better compliment one’s overall quality of life. I am a strong believer in how physical health affects one’s mental health, thus my pursuit of a masters degree in sport and exercise psychology.
Although I recently stepped down as Assistant Home Team Leader, I have continued to keep many of the same responsibilities. The title of ATL was not my motivation to be a leader! I will continue to be passionate about caring for the people I support, as that is the foundation of Gentle Teaching. Their companionship and presence in my life is enough to want to help with the quality of it. COR has shown me that I am capable of my own academic accomplishments. Sport and Exercise Psychology is not popular in Canada just yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to follow my interests and turn them into my passion. Even though I have stepped down from my ATL role, supports still contact me when certain issues arise; they still want to hear my advice and experience. I love this! For the first time, I feel like I am a mentor. I like knowing it is not my leadership status that motivates them to ask me for help. I feel as though they ask because they know I am effective at solving problems while still keeping one’s emotions in mind. It has become a very empowering experience. I love the leader that COR and Gentle Teaching has enabled me to become!
Kyla, COR Support