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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 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!

COR Festive Party 2019

Proud to be a 2019 Top Employer!

Preparing employees for tomorrow is what makes this year’s ‘Saskatchewan’s Top Employers’ stand out from the crowd

 

REGINA, Feb. 13, 2019 /CNW/ – A lot of employers talk about the need to train employees to make sure they have the skills needed to create the products that will be in demand tomorrow. But only a few leading employers have put these words into action. That’s the message from this year’s Saskatchewan’s Top Employers, announced today by the organizers of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project at Mediacorp Canada Inc.

Saskatchewan is unique in Canada in having a significant public-sector component to its economy combined with relatively modest levels of immigration,” says Richard Yerema, Managing Editor of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project. “For employers, this makes it even more important to ensure their existing employees have the skills needed to succeed in tomorrow’s economy. More than in other parts of Canada, Saskatchewan employers have a significant incentive to develop the skills of their existing workforce.”

“We see Saskatchewan employers taking a greater role in preparing their employees for tomorrow’s skills,” adds Kristina Leung, Senior Editor at the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project.  “With softer prices for many of Saskatchewan’s primary commodities, more organizations are realizing they have to move up the value chain to compete internationally.  The best way to do this is with employees who have the skills needed to create products and services that the world needs.”

Here are some of the notable initiatives that the editors recognized this year:

  • Regina-based ISM Canada, a subsidiary of IBM Canada Ltd., operates a company-wide program called ‘Think 40’ that strongly encourages employees to complete a minimum of 40 hours professional development each year.
  • Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. encourages ongoing employee development through full tuition subsidies for training courses, whether or not the course is related to an employee’s current position.
  • Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies builds on its role as an educator by promoting employee skills development through in-house courses and subsidies (to $1,500) to obtain various professional certifications.
  • Saskatoon Police Service reaches out to the next generation through a dedicated summer jobs program for Aboriginal students, as well as a special outreach program to youth who are newcomers to Canada and interested in a career in policing.
  • Synergy Credit Union in Lloydminster encourages a culture of learning with tuition subsidies for courses that help employees improve their skills, plus cash bonuses (to $1,800) on the completion of particular training programs.

Now in its 14th year, Saskatchewan’s Top Employers is a special designation that recognizes Saskatchewan employers that lead their industries in offering exceptional places to work. Employers throughout Saskatchewan were evaluated by the editors at Canada’s Top 100 Employers using the same criteria as the national competition: (1) Physical Workplace; (2) Work Atmosphere & Social; (3) Health, Financial & Family Benefits; (4) Vacation & Time Off; (5) Employee Communications; (6) Performance Management; (7) Training & Skills Development; and (8) Community Involvement. Employers are compared to other organizations in their field to determine which offer the most progressive and forward-thinking programs. The annual competition is open to any employer with its head office in Saskatchewan; employers of any size may apply, whether private or public sector.

Founded in 1992, Mediacorp Canada Inc. is the nation’s largest publisher of employment periodicals. Since 1999, the Toronto-based publisher has managed the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project, which includes 18 regional and special-interest editorial competitions that reach over 13 million Canadians annually through a variety of magazine and newspaper partners. Mediacorp also operates Eluta.ca, the largest Canadian job search engine, which includes editorial reviews from the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project and is now used by almost 8 million users in Canada each year. Mediacorp also organizes the Top Employer Summit, Canada’s largest annual conference for senior-level HR professionals.

The full list of Saskatchewan’s Top Employers for 2019 is attached. This year’s winners were announced today in a special magazine published in the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Detailed reasons for selection, with dozens of additional stories and photos, were released this morning and are accessible via the competition homepage.

Saskatchewan’s Top Employers
2019 Winners

3sHealth / Health Shared Services Saskatchewan, Regina
Access Communications Co-operative Ltd., Regina
ClearTech Industries Inc., Saskatoon
Cornerstone Credit Union Financial Group Limited, Yorkton
Creative Options Regina, Inc., Regina
Group Medical Services / GMS Insurance Inc., Regina
Harvard Developments Inc., Regina
Information Services Corporation / ISC, Regina
ISM Canada, Regina
K+S Potash Canada GP, Saskatoon
Pattison Agriculture Limited, Swift Current
Ranch Ehrlo Society, Regina
Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission, Regina
Saskatchewan Blue Cross, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association, Regina
Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation / SCIC, Melville
Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority / SIGA, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies / SIIT, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Research Council / SRC, Saskatoon
Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board, Regina
Saskatoon Police Service, Saskatoon
Saskatoon, City of, Saskatoon
SaskPower, Regina
SaskTel, Regina
Solvera Solutions, Regina
Southeast College, Weyburn
Synergy Credit Union Ltd., Lloydminster
University of Regina, Regina

SOURCE Mediacorp Canada Inc.

For further information: Anthony Meehan, Publisher, 416-964-6069 x1464

Two organizations prove that nice guys can finish first!

Mastermind Toys and Creative Options Regina

September 17, 2018
Your Workplace Sept-Oct 2018
While they may not seem that similar on the surface, Mastermind Toys and Creative Options Regina (COR) are two organizations proving that when you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your clientele. One is a toy retailer and one is a non-profit providing services to people with disabilities, but both focus on creating a warm and caring atmosphere and building a culture based on shared values.

The result? These two organizations have earned exemplary reputations with the communities they serve and enjoy unusually high staff retention rates for their industries.

Mastermind Toys

Mastermind has a unique philosophy for selling children’s toys and books. By fostering an educational approach, the company enriches not only the customer experience but the employee experience as well. In fact, they enjoy an average employee tenure of close to seven years — an almost unheard-of retention rate in retail stores.

Ryan Thorson, store manager of Mastermind Toys Terra Losa in Edmonton, Alberta, believes that the company’s workplace culture promotes a fun and inviting atmosphere that lives up to their motto: “We take play seriously.”

“I wanted to find a company where I could not only pursue career advancement,” Thorson says, “but also have it be a place that shares my values… a family-like atmosphere and a track record for treating its employees with fairness and respect.”

Mastermind was originally opened in 1984 by brothers Andy and Jon Levy in Toronto to sell educational software to families excited about their new home computers. Two years later, they opened a store in the Ontario Science Centre. Now with 60 stores across the country, and growing, Mastermind’s CEO, Jon Levy, understands the impact that his company can have on the communities where the stores are located.

In 2015, the company launched a partnership with WE (formerly Free the Children), a charity that supports youth education in Canada and overseas. In 2016, Mastermind stores raised $400,000, but the initiative isn’t just about giving back to the community; it’s also about engaging employees.

“Anne [Baston, vice-president of marketing] and I started to talk about the charitable side of our business and what we could do to broaden our horizons from the standpoint of how our employees were engaged charitably,” says Levy.

After much deliberation and brainstorming, the company selected WE. Its educational mandate plays well with Mastermind’s objective to sell toys that educate.

When they launched the initiative, many of the company’s younger employees were already familiar with WE from their school days. Selecting a charity with broad appeal, and that their employees were already comfortable with, made for a smooth, easy transference of enthusiasm from the top down. To drive home the impact that they are making through their charitable efforts, Mastermind takes managers of the stores that raise the most funds to Kenya on a yearly basis.

“Behind every great manager is up to 60 employees that get that store to greatness. Two store managers went with me and my wife, Karyn, who also works in the organization, the first year. The rest of their teams back in Canada got a fantastic reward package … Even though they didn’t go on the trip, they were highly congratulated with lots of prizing.”

Levy is always on the lookout for ways to connect with his employees. He started creating videos for the staff that, in addition to educating about a product, also introduces him to all employees in a playful, easygoing manner. This, in turn, helps break down uncomfortable hierarchy in the organization.

“Our inner kid, the way we like to play and what we think resonates with the community, really comes through in a personal way [with this] video program… so, it’s kind of fun,” he says. “When I visit stores, the newly hired staff say, ‘I know you, you’re on the video.’”

“Every store you go into, whether it’s out in B.C. or in Nova Scotia, it feels like family,” says Baston. “There’s a community feeling to all of the stores. Despite the fact that we’re growing… Mastermind does a really good job of hiring people with similar values. You can feel that when you walk into the stores, into the home office. I think that makes it very different from other retailers.”

Creative Options Regina (COR)

A culture of gentleness is woven into all aspects of the organization at COR — not just in how the individuals and families COR serves are treated, but in the people it hires and how each employee is mentored.

Michael Lavis, executive director, says that their method of “gentle teaching” is not specific to disability but rather can be applied to all people constructing supports for marginalized populations. “There are a handful of organizations — I think there are four of us now in Canada — working on this philosophy… which is really the foundation, the bedrock of the work that we do. And this is rooted in whether or not a person feels safe and valued — putting relationships at the core of care giving,” says Lavis.

The company is the seventh-largest care provider in Saskatchewan and employs 200 staff who serve 20% of the most challenging cases in the province’s service delivery system. Like other service providers, COR is contracted by the government to provide personalized support services for people with disabilities. What differentiates them from other providers, though, is the intentional shift they made to focus on their employees — the caregivers.

“By making that shift — by making sure we are nurturing our caregivers and that our employees are feeling cared for — what ends up happening is they give the utmost care to [our clients],” says Lavis. “So, it’s shifting the focus as an organization to our employees — to what the employee experience looks like, what the employee wants, what they need from us to feel supported and how we can really understand what is meaningful to our employees.”

Organizational culture is a popular topic these days, but Lavis challenges people to go one step further and work on shared values, as he feels that that has the greatest influence on culture. “What drives culture is value alignment. That’s something we’ve focused on, understanding the values of our employees … and where we see that alignment and shared common purpose,” he says.

In the Saskatchewan disability services sector the employee turnover rate was around 60% in 2015. By contrast, the turnover rate at COR has remained at a steady 9 – 14% since the company’s inception.

Creating a caring staff atmosphere is about understanding who is working for you and what is important to them. For most employees, a fair wage is critical. But for many that is only a small piece of a larger picture. There are other crucial factors, such as whether or not employees feel engaged and if their ideas and suggestions are listened to and valued. At COR, they have found that exploring employees’ passions and helping them bring those passions to life in the workplace is key.

“We have to have that conversation with our employees, because we need to know what it is that they want and need and whether that is something we are able to provide,” says Lavis.

Helping employees bring their passions into the workplace enables them to impart important life skills. For example, one COR employee who loves cooking offered to teach other employees to cook. As the average staffers’ age is 28, this is a skill that some of them may lack. COR helped the employee develop a monthly cooking class with regular attendance of 10-15 staff, who can now pass that skill onto COR clients.

Lavis says they plan to develop an art initiative next. The idea was brought to him by two employees who wanted to share their passion for art. “It’s a pivotal moment,” says Lavis. “A matter of us saying, ‘Yeah. I’d love to help you. How are we going to do this?’

“It’s easy to think of barriers of why they can’t do it. And that takes the wind out of their sails. But, by saying, ‘I love this idea. We just have to think it through a little bit more. Let’s talk.’ — Then, they are motivated and energized, and you know what? [Here we are now] developing an art studio. There were lots of barriers, but we have been able to work through [them] to be able to see it realized.”

Lavis believes that a customer-centric focus has actually harmed many companies. “People tend to focus on the customer and forget about their employees,” he says. “I think that, whether it’s a for-profit or not-for-profit business, if we want to provide the utmost care for those we are contracted to provide services to, that starts with us caring for our employees. If they feel well cared for, they are going to provide great care.”

 

Click here to view on the Your Workplace website.

 

I have seen tremendous transformations in the people I support

I, Jusinda, have had the opportunity to work with people who each have their own unique abilities. I have been able to become creative in a variety of different ways to create a barrier free environment for the individuals I support. The training I received — Gentle Teaching and application has given me the tools to give value to relationships. I have come to have more compassion for individuals that have been in the system for most of their lives. It can be very complex; respect is not complex. Since I have been able to apply the skills I have acquired at COR I’ve come to realize our time and attention are our most valuable resources as people. So when we choose to focus our time and attention on people, and with that compassion, beautiful things can grow.

its what i look up to

I have seen tremendous transformations in the people I support at COR with Gentle Teaching tools I have utilized. I have had the ability to learn from mistakes and grow through relationships. I have learned that relationships are not easy in this context, but I have chosen to give my time and attention to the individuals that I serve because I genuinely care about their progress and passions. I truly pride myself in being a part of the COR family, because COR is not your typical 9-5 job, as a support worker my job has taught me to be patient in the process of growth, and that growth is ongoing. The individuals I support at COR are my equals, my friends and the level of passion I see in them are what I look up to. They have shown me more about myself than I ever imagined. Gentle Teaching is effective and in line with my values about the approach taken when having a working relationship with individuals with varying abilities.

 

Jusinda

COR Family Member

I love the leader that COR and gentle teaching has enabled me to become!

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.

what I learned at COR

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

Gentle Teaching has become a main part of my life

Culture of Gentleness: A Promising Practice for Supporting Vulnerable Individuals

Global Regina Click here to watch the interview on Global.

 

CTV Morning LiveClick here to watch the interview on CTV Morning Live.

 

Culture of Gentleness