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.

This is Geoffrey Sutherland. This is his WHY!

Creative Options Regina has over 220 employees, all with different stories. This blog series will highlight some of the amazing people that work at COR and what fuels their passion and purpose.

This is Geoffrey Sutherland. Geoffrey is a Youth Experience Advisor and joined COR in March of this year.

What brought you to COR?

I had been engaged in a leadership role in agency run foster care.  My team and I had the honour of ensuring the unification and ongoing support of families in the community. As an early childhood educator, Gentle Teaching is interwoven throughout my curriculum and approach.  This had provided me with the foundation in practice and the evidence I sought for a better way to serve. What had occurred to me was that it is senseless to give both value and safety to the individuals we serve, but less so to the community who support them. Highly motivated to be a different kind of leader, I had reached out to Michael Lavis for guidance.  He astonished me by generously offering his time and insight tirelessly encouraging me to build the structure needed for a culture of gentleness.  A culture that would, in time, extend affectionately to supports, clinical and educational professionals, and most rewardingly, the loving families of the children now flourishing in their rightful homes. Finally, fully committed to Gentle Teaching as a philosophy and worthy vessel of compassion, it had become abundantly clear that to deepen my practice, a new place to call home would be needed.  One with a different kind of leadership: clear, kind, intentional, and open hearted.

Why do you stay?

I serve for its own sake. I have in my past been called passionate and enthusiastic, but these purposes have their limitations. Passion is about feeling strongly. Strong feelings can get in the way of the work I do. It can make me forget to listen and be present with an open heart. Feeling strongly can urge me to forget about the feelings of others. If ever I find myself feeling unclear or hesitant, it becomes improbable for me to know my purpose and show the consistency of intentionality that is deserved by those I support.  Not only is passion fleeting, it can encourage me to think of myself or my own values first. Instead, I must meet the individuals I support where they are at placing them at the centre of their own lives.  That is what’s needed from me. Likewise, enthusiasm is a powerful and tempting reason why. I can fondly and clearly recall holding babies as they fall asleep in my arms, or one of a child’s many memorable, “first” moments that have filled me with pride and gratitude.  The individuals I serve though, like all humans, also face many difficult times. Because I sincerely love the good people I greet everyday, it pains me to watch them struggle, or suffer the despair of broken hearts. If I were only able to support when it feels good, I might not last long in my work. Everyone needs someone to show up tomorrow and the next day. To be present with the same desire and open heart as today and the day before.  To support through both the ups and the downs. So what sustains me? What is my reason why for rain or shine, good or bad, simple or challenging? For its own sake. I am compelled to serve others in need when I have the power to do so. It is a drive, a curiosity and fascination that leaves me unwilling to look away for fear of missing a thing. It is the drive that fills me with the desire to feed the hungry, console the broken hearted, and to be a companion to the lonely.  A feeling that if it needs to get done, I want to be the one to do it, to do it well and to offer my service freely without resentment or regret. Then COR is the place where I can fulfill this drive. It is a safe place I know I can go every morning to do the only thing I really want to do. Be there for others.

What is the best part about your job?

If “for its own sake” is the reason why then what is “it” and what is its sake? I have encountered many senses of the word, compassion.  Some say to care for oneself in the face of caring about others. Others use words like sensitive, justice, or even pity to describe it. So why do I feel compassion even when there is nothing I can do for another except be present? When it is not in my power to offer justice or fairness? Why do I crave the feeling of compassion even when it pains me to bear witness to the hurt of others? Why does compassion give meaning to all other endeavours in my life? In my experience, what I know to be true is that compassion is above all else, the immense gratitude and the joy I can only experience feeling connected to another human being. That for better or worse, I’m so thankful I am going through this life together with someone else. Even better, with so many others.

What’s been the most impactful or meaningful experience you’ve had?

Over the last decade and a half, I have had the time to reflect on why I do what I do, and what I get out of it.  What I have enjoyed about COR, is meeting others who know their “Why” too. To watch them flourish in a culture of gentleness that praises and encourages each of them as individuals connecting with their own precious and ever changing purpose.

What do you wish others knew about supporting at COR?

It takes an open heart to come to COR. It takes an open heart to stay at COR. If we can remember this one thing, everything else falls into place. What takes time to realize is that only an open heart can be full.

 

This is Michael Wiebe. This is his WHY!

Creative Options Regina has over 220 employees, all with different stories. This blog series will highlight some of the amazing people that work at COR and what fuels their passion and purpose.

This is Michael Wiebe. Michael is a Home Team Leader and has been at COR for two and a half years.

What brought you to COR?

I previously worked in construction for seven years and was ready for a change. I had no idea where I wanted to go next and my wife suggested I apply at Creative Options Regina. She knows people who support within COR and heard great things about the organization. I looked into COR and was hesitant at first, as I had zero experience, but decided to go out on a limb and give it a shot. Looking back, I had no idea what I was getting into, but that was one of the best decisions of my life.

Why do you stay?

I stay because I am passionate about working with people. Being able to be a part of these individual’s lives is incredibly humbling. The people within this organization have given me just as much love and support over the years as I have given to them.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing about supporting with COR is that it doesn’t feel like a job. I show up and get to hang out with the boys I support and the team I support alongside. We play basketball, play video games, spend time outdoors and watch TV.

 

This is Daidre Delorme. This is her WHY!

Creative Options Regina has over 220 employees, all with different stories. This blog series will highlight some of the amazing people that work at COR and what fuels their passion and purpose.

This is Daidre Delorme. Daidre is a SLP (Supported Independent Living) Support Worker and she has worked at COR for almost two years.

What brought you to COR?

I had experience working with at-risk youth who had disabilities. In the other organization I worked for, I felt like there was something missing in the way we provided support. I attended a Gentle Teaching training at COR one day and had a life changing experience. The focus was on relationships. It wasn’t about changing the individuals we support, but rather accepting who they are and supporting them in anything and everything they wanted to do. It was from then on that I knew I wanted to be a part of COR.

Why do you stay?

One reason is, I’ve learned a lot and I’m still learning everyday when I’m at COR. I’ve learned so much about caring for people and being there for them along with building meaningful relationships. I started to understand gentle teaching more each day I supported and the more I learned about it the more I love the approach of it. Another reason I stay is because I care for the people COR supports and happy I get to be a part of why they feel safe, happy, and loved.

What’s the best thing about your job?

How supported I feel by COR. It’s not just support from my entire team, but from everyone in the entire organization. We deal with struggles together, as a team and we face challenges, head on as a team. We go through things together as a team, and we all care for one another. That’s the most special part of working at COR.

What was the most impactful experience you had at COR?

It was when our team celebrated the one year anniversary of the individual I support. The girl planned a big party and I loved how happy it made her to see everything she had planned come to life. While celebrating her one year anniversary, I could see that she was feeling more safe and loved and all of us felt more connected through the experience. She even made each one of her supports a bracelet which I still wear till this day.

What do you wish people knew about COR?

It’s an amazing place where you get to build so many amazing and strong relationships. It changes the way you think about caring for people. I also don’t think of COR as a job or work. I feel very fortunate to be a part of COR and get to support along side so many amazing people and support some amazing people.

 

This is Julian Seilman. This is his WHY!

Creative Options Regina has over 220 employees, all with different stories. This blog series will highlight some of the amazing people that work at COR and what fuels their passion and purpose.

This is Julian Seilman. Julian is a Home Support Worker and has been at COR for three and a half years. This is his why!

 

What  brought you to COR? 

In 2017, I started my application process to apply for a position at Creative Options Regina as it was recommended to me by a professor of mine.  At first, I was a little hesitant to apply because I did not feel confident in the skills I had.  After a coffee conversation with my professor, I was convinced to apply.  I heard COR’s presentations in a few of my classes with Michael and Jim and I loved the philosophy of the organization, supporting people in a culture of gentleness, rather than using physical management.  At COR, people are treated like people, they’re not defined by their disability and it was clear that everyone at COR was one big family!

Why  do you stay? 

I believe the work we do at COR makes a difference in the lives of those we support. It’s neat to see how much progress and personal growth the people I support and support with, have accomplished over the years.

What’s the best thing about  your  job? 

When you leave your support time you feel a sense of reward, you know you are making people happy and allowing them to create healthy lifestyle choices on their own.  I like making people happy and when I see the people around me smiling and laughing, it makes me happy and it’s such an awesome feeling!

What’s been the most impactful or meaningful experience you’ve had? 

When I first started to support at COR, the team I started with had other new supports starting at the same time as I did. The new supports and I created games with one of the guys we supported. The games we created impacted the life of this individual that it made his mother cry tears of joy during a visit to the mall. In the past, the individual would be steps ahead of his mother ignoring her, but this time during their visit, he talked with his mother and stayed by her side. It was such a meaningful experience and I will remember it for the rest of my life.

What do you wish others knew about supporting at COR? 

COR is not your typical job; the relationships you make become long-lasting friendships and everyone becomes like family. The activities they plan at COR are fun for all with arts, crafts, music, sports and BBQs. These activities bring everyone together! Also, the culture of gentleness grows on you and anyone who becomes a part of COR will grow as a person carrying these amazing experiences with them throughout their entire life.

 

Safety Centered Leadership Award Recipient — Thank you Service Hospitality!

Earlier this month, we were honored by our provincial safety association as the recipient of their annual Safety Centered Leadership Award. We are beyond grateful for Service Hospitality’s continued support and guidance in assisting us in keeping our COR family safe! Read their article below:

Our 2019 Safety Centered Leadership Award Goes To…

Michael Lavis from Creative Options Regina!

“Thank you Service Hospitality! I am humbled by this recognition. People are at the heart of our organization — our approach to safety is holistic ensuring everyone feels safe and valued:  employees, people supported, families, partners, volunteers and stakeholders — everyone! Our success has and continues to be, the result of a highly committed, compassionate, creative group of people that make up the COR family. Even during these challenging times, we are growing stronger together, rallying as one and discovering innovative ways to build community while adhering to strict health and safety protocols. We are determined to challenge the status quo and demonstrate that care can be done differently. We are so grateful for the support and guidance you — Service Hospitality — provide us and look forward to continued partnership into the future. Thank you.”

This year we presented the Executive Director of Creative Options Regina, Mr. Michael Lavis, with Service Hospitality’s most prestigious award, the Safety Centered Leadership Award. Michael’s commitment to health and safety doesn’t arise out of needing to meet legislated requirements – he truly believes a healthy and safe workplace is a productive and sustainable one. While the health and safety of his staff at Creative Options is a priority, he also demonstrates a passion for the safety of all workers in Saskatchewan.

Creative Options Regina, and Michael himself, are known for starting trends – not following them. He thinks outside the box and offers various resources to his staff to support their physical and mental health. An example of this is when Michael realized, although nutrition planning was provided through their employee benefits package, it was not being utilized by staff. So instead of waiting for staff to seek out nutritionist services, he brought the nutritionist to the office so the support was easily accessible to all employees.

Michael has also shown a passion for health and safety by…

  • Being a valued member of Service Hospitality’s Mental Health Best Practice Group, where he has led in the area of psychological health and safety in Saskatchewan community organizations.

  • Not being afraid to challenge big ideas and make insightful recommendations in front of the Health & Safety community. This shows he is not a complacent bystander, but an active participator.

  • Has sat on the Service Hospitality board of directors for 3 years and advocates for what he believes in and what is right in the community and industry.

  • Being heavily involved with Youth Safety Education Day by sponsoring and attending YSED events, and joining forces with Service Hospitality for Smile Cookie Day at Leboldus High School in 2019.

Michael is passionately committed to strengthening the disability services sector in Saskatchewan and to forge out new beginnings for the province’s most vulnerable citizens. He understands that the business of caring for people starts with the wellness of its own employees.

Thank you to Michael for being a leader, setting an example, and always breaking through the glass ceiling of health and safety in our province and beyond its borders!

View the article on Service Hospitality’s website.

 

Proud Recipient of the Starbucks Foundation 2020 Neighbourhood Grant

The COR Studio; More than Pencils, Paper, and Paint!
We are all sparks. We are all flashes of genius and we all have the potential to glow brighter than we ever dreamed. We all have ideas and carry sparks of potential. Every once in a while those ideas have the potential to ignite and if we are in the right place at the right time, that fire can turn ablaze in a way that is staggering.
In the summer of 2018 Creative Options Regina introduced the COR Studio to its supports and those they serve. It promised a place where all people could learn new skills. It demonstrated new ways to create connections. It has slowly become a hub in the COR community, and has put smiles on the faces of all who enter into its potential. But it has done one more thing: it attracted sparks.
Those sparks brought their ideas and those ideas have ignited into programming that people want to show up for. Passionate photographers are coming out to learn how to share their view of the world. Musicians who once marched to their own beat have found a place to nurture their unique interests. Even gamers and passionate readers have uncovered fellowship in this truly unique space.
It is our hope that by encouraging people to follow and share their passions with our community, we are also aiding in the development of our future leaders. People often believe that we need to grow taller and get higher than others to achieve or demonstrate our potential, but we often forget about the importance of mastery and growing stronger in our core before reaching new heights. By nurturing sparks, we are investing and strengthening in our own future.
Thank you for supporting our entrepreneurs, artists, and community difference makers. The work they do changes perspectives, challenges us to dig deeper, and learn more. The world needs sparks and thanks to the generosity of The Starbucks Foundation, Starbucks Canada and our local Starbucks on Gordon Rd., we are able to continue to serve our communities and help make them brighter!
On behalf of our entire COR family, THANK YOU!