Tony Bonise came to the Association in 1984. He had been previously employed as a youth worker in Grande Prairie and was looking for something different. With no prior experience working with the disabled, he was hired as a group home worker at the 96A St residence. Tony found many similarities between the two fields, but also found unique aspects to each.
Tony says that nature of residential work is “such that there are two sides to it” professional and social. “Your work team becomes your social network to an extent because shift work has you working off hours compared to the rest of the world.”
One of the first tasks for Tony as a group home worker was getting to know the other people in the home. Tony came to the group home as “a blank sheet ready to be written on.” He mentions Peggy Lawrance, Jim Olstad, Glen Elliot and Zelda Fraser as his first “teachers.” He says the residence was a very warm and friendly environment to work in.
During Tony’s time with Residential Services, he experienced two significant changes. First on his list is that he met his future wife, Linda Bonise, who was supervising the home at the time. Tony says it was not long before he was transferred to another home, in light of their budding romance.
The other important change for Tony was his move from 96A St to the 107th Ave residence.During Tony’s time as supervisor at 107th Ave, there was a radical change in the clientele at the home. Clients from Michener Centre were placed at 107th Ave and that changed the whole focus of the home. Staff was introduced to a whole new group of clients, many of whom had been accustomed to support in all areas of their lives. The transition was very difficult for clients and staff alike.
Tony had several opportunities to accompany athletes on trips to the Special Olympics. He says they were generally happy times, but not without some tough experiences. Tony was asked to be the speed skating coach one year. He took on the coaching position at the last minute and was unfamiliar with the speed skating rules. In retrospect, he says that it really was not a good idea. The athletes who were convinced to enter the speed skating event had no concept of the sport or practice with it and it turned into an embarrassment for them. Tony says his heart really went out to one particular athlete who gamely made his way around the arena in front of the public, stumbling and falling. He says everyone learned from that experience.
In the 96A group home, the connection with family was very strong for some clients and Tony says the families were “patient” with new staff as they learned to live with their children. New staff’s idealistic approach was paired with the attitude of the families, whose experiences were tempered with a keener sense of reality. The families were firmly grounded in what was reasonable and sensible for their children. Some clients had no family connection and in their cases, fellow clients and staff became their family.
There has always been support for frequent training and workshops within the organization. Tony says the Association fosters a sense of creativity, camaraderie and team work in its employees. It is courageous enough to let individuals experiment with ideas as well as being able to “pull back on the reins” when necessary.
Being a part of the Association was a powerful experience for me. I came to the field with a certain sense of humanity. It reinforced some things for me and strengthened it in terms of how people should be with other people and that’s a never ending life process.
It gave me a foundation in and an understanding of the discipline of rehabilitation as much more complicated and complex than it would seem on the surface.”
Tony has found that the depth of experience and education he gained while working with the Association is recognized in other areas as well. He now works for the Government of Alberta with Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) and says it all comes directly back to his first experiences with the Association.