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.
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.”