In the 1980s John Gregg graduated with a degree in Sociology from the University of Western Ontario. John moved from Ontario to Alberta and was hired at Michener Centre in Red Deer to work in Residential Services. John says he originally just “fell into” the job, but soon found that he really enjoyed working with the handicapped.
John’s first job at Michener was in a ward setting. He moved on to work in a group home where he recalls that some of the resident clients were so capable that “there is no way that they would be institutionalized these days.” Despite finding the work compelling and the clients fun to be with, John reached a saturation point and made the decision to move on.
John moved to Grande Prairie from Red Deer and took a position with Behaviour Outreach Services, which was a start-up organization at the time. The Association was the first organization to refer clients to Outreach, which operated as a resource for clients. Through Outreach, John collaborated with the Association over a period of thirteen years to develop behavioural strategies for clients in care.
In practice, it was more a partnership. So you’ve got an outside and maybe a little bit more objective observer of what’s going on. And then you work with the people who live with this client and know them better than you ever will to develop some sort of plan.
In his thirteen years’ involvement with the Association, John saw it as a strongly ethical organization operating in difficult climes. He acknowledges that it is tough to continue to attract the best people to work with the handicapped, especially in these economic times. John has a great deal of respect for the way the organization has been able to operate. “They do it as well as anybody could.”
John attributes the strength of the Association to the consistent values and evolving vision that Executive Director Barry Bucknell has been able to communicate to his staff.
Barry respects and brings out the best in good people and has an ability to retain key people.
The Association’s values are stressed when behavioural issues must be dealt with and there is pressure to bring the behaviour in line. In situations like these, the commitment to these values comes into play. When John was working with clients, the Association had established a behaviour review committee to ensure that methods used in treatment were consistent with its values.
John refers to the Personal Planning approach as a “nice step forward” in dealing with the clients. He notes that there is great strength in collaboration and, in the end, it’s the clients who benefit. Occasionally John has the opportunity to visit the clients at the workshop. He says it is one of the few places you can go where you are greeted by people who are genuinely happy to see you. He appreciates the lack of artifice in their interactions with others.
The sheltered workshop has been criticized as offensive and unnatural. The workshop is like the clients’ “legion or elks” club. This is where they really feel at home and they are not judged. They are comfortable with everyone there because they all have the same backgrounds, experiences and interests.
In the earlier days, there was heavy stigma where the handicapped were concerned. There was a lack of social support for families. Assumptions were made about an individual’s ability to acquire independent living skills. John says that, these days, the thinking goes far the other way. “The expectation of continual progress for everybody is not realistic.”
When John considers the contribution of the pioneers of the Association, he admires the fact that they were not willing to accept conditions as they existed in society in the 1950s.
Good for them. When there’s whole lot of people society has set up as experts that people are conditioned to listen to, it takes tremendous courage and strength to say, “I don’t know exactly what should be done, but I know you’re wrong.