Judy Tremaine moved from Ontario in 1981 with a plan to work in Alberta for one year. She was young and “miserable” until an invitation to a Christmas dinner at the 109th Ave group home put her in touch with the people who would become her extended family. Twenty five years later, she calls Alberta home.
When Judy first started at the 96A St group home, each worker was responsible for four clients on a “live-in” basis. It was a family type environment and many long-term friendships developed during her years there. She progressed through the residential programs until she became Manager of Residential Services. Judy describes her early days as a social time in which relationships with co-workers were very close. “Every body knew everyone else because the organization was so much smaller in the early years.”
In the mid 1980s, Judy and co-worker Katherine Fleming attended a weekend workshop on Personal Planning. The ideas they brought back changed the current thinking with respect to the Association’s approach to client care. As a consequence of that workshop, she feels that planning in the Northwest Region was impacted in a powerful way.
The biggest and most significant change that we made within the Association was when we started doing Personal Planning with individuals. We took it from the case conference format to what it is today. Katherine Fleming and myself had gone away to a conference and came back and were able to convince senior management that this was something that would benefit the organization. We were supported in that and given the opportunity to run with it. As a consequence of that, I feel that we changed how planning was done in the Northwest region.
Personal Planning focused on looking at the non-verbal ways in which clients were communicating and looking at who they were as a whole person. With their personal interests at the core, the new approach had immediate consequences for many clients. One of the clients used to get all dressed up on Sundays, go to the back yard and preach. It wasn’t until the Personal Planning approach was implemented that it occurred to staff to ask if he would like to attend church or maybe become a youth pastor, for example.
The first Personal Planning sessions lasted one or two days and were very emotional for everyone involved. In the old model, parents were accustomed to hearing a skills review when meeting with staff. With Personal Planning, staff wanted to know about history and how the clients got to where they were. The parents felt as though they were being listened to for the first time in a long time. The control was given back to the parents instead of professionals telling parents the way that it should be for their son or daughter.
Judy cautions new workers to the field to “stay keen in the face of adversity.” Don’t listen to “we tried that, it doesn’t work.” If you are willing to try new ideas, the Association is very supportive. There is always room for growth as far as resources for the handicapped are concerned.
Judy is now Community Resource Manager for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD).