Judy Thiessen was seventeen years old when she applied for work at the Association. She had just graduated from high school and her first interview was at the Peace School of Hope. She remembers opening the door to enter the school and “here came a whole horde of young people down the hall to greet me. And I was petrified.” The first student to talk to her was Doug Whyte who, with his trademark enthusiasm, reached out his hand to greet her and welcome her to the school.
Judy remembers that she was initially unsure about whether she really wanted the job after all. She overcame her reservations and ended up taking a job at the Barrydale Dorm as a “live-in” girl.
Judy lived in a room in the girls’ section of the dorm. Her curfew was 10 o’clock every night because she was responsible for supervising her side of the building. “It was way too many kids for one seventeen year old to be responsible for. Nowadays it would never happen that way.”
Judy worked at the dorm for the month of June and then took a client home with her for the summer. “And what a summer that was.” It was difficult for everyone because Judy’s parents were taking care of foster children at the time. The client was thirteen and the foster kids were younger. “They made fun of him because they didn’t know how to relate to him.”
Personal care for clients in the dorm was difficult for Judy in the beginning. There was no specific training regarding the care, so she just learned as she went and eventually grew into it. She was reluctant to dispense medications because she had no training in that area either. She remembers that there wasn’t even a checklist to keep track of what was given to whom. The medicines were kept in a big caddy with a handle on top. It was packed from table to table. She is thankful nothing serious ever happened with regard to medication. The problem was complicated by the fact that there was always a shortage of staff and at times that made the working conditions very stressful.
We never had enough staff, ever. I think at the most, we usually had thirty-one or thirty-three residents, I think that was around the number that we had. And when the circus came to town, it was like, OK take the kids to the circus. Two staff, one at the head of the line and one behind the line, that’s how we’d take thirty kids to the circus.
The older children would help out by watching the younger kids. The residents had to watch over each other because there was not enough staff to do it. On the circus outings, staff would pack a bag of popcorn and a can of pop for each of the students to have for a treat. The kids weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom unless it was really necessary because one staff member could not leave the other with such a large group. If the case of an emergency, one of the older girls would be sent to take the little one to the bathroom.
The dorm had a fenced playground and after school, if the weather was nice, they would play outside in the playground, “all those kids with one staff to supervise.” Staff kept to a tight schedule and tried to keep the residents in a group as much as possible so that it would be easier to watch over them.
Judy came to realize that the children were no different than she was. She grew out of her initial fear and over the five years she worked at the dorm, she learned to enjoy the job. “It was sometimes a fun place to work”