Curiosity and an open mind guided Ana Bolanos toward her career as a Residential Coordinator with the Association. Ana used to live across from the Association’s 109 Ave residence. She noticed all the comings and goings at the home, so one day she decided to visit Myriam Uribe, the group home supervisor, who was out planting her flowers. During their conversation, Ana discovered that an aide was needed for one of the residents in the group home. She decided to fit the aide position into her already busy schedule.
In the late 1990s, the 109 Ave residence was running very short of staff and Ana was asked to work more hours, including very many evenings there. A full time residential worker position became available and she applied. Through spending time with persons with disabilities and watching them find ways to communicate, Ana was inspired to deal with her own goal, which was to improve her English.
As Ana’s work progressed at the group home, she began to feel a need to for more training. She enrolled in the Community Rehabilitation Program course at Grande Prairie Regional College.
I think, for me, going back to college helped me not just to understand the individuals with disabilities but to learn about the system.
The Rehabilitation Program included an overview of attitudes prevalent in the field thirty to forty years ago. Ana does not use the term “retarded” and considers it inappropriate and offensive. Advocacy was an important issue covered through the college course. Ana sees diplomacy as key in dealing with individuals and the organizations involved in providing services to clients.
Sometimes there are roadblocks in trying to put the needs of the client first. Ana finds that the Association, as a whole, works very hard to advocate for client needs. The process can get very complicated because, first of all, the client must be able to receive good service. But if problems arise, there must be a system in place so that staff is able to answer to parents, guardians and funding agencies.
In the area of funding, Ana’s experience is that “we are not getting the funding that we need to continue operating our programs.” Many clients work and Ana would like to see them getting paid fairly for the work they do. In the woodshop, the clients currently work for an incentive pay, but it is not the minimum hourly rate. A dream is to see the Association’s businesses doing well enough to survive and provide a competitive paycheck to all the employees, including the clients in service.
Communication is essential to developing good client relationships. Ana believes that “lack of communication is a main reason for client behaviours.”
If you think about it, perhaps a behaviour occurs when they are trying to communicate something. If we are not receptive about what they are trying to communicate, we are going to be dealing with the behaviours because we are not finding ways to communicate with them.
Sometimes working in residential or day programs you end up doing a lot of investigation to find out what is going on with each client. The job gets demanding and overwhelming. You are in charge of figuring out what is going on for more than one client at a time and to find solutions to their issues".
Ana has found what she loves to do. In some instances, there is not much that Ana can do to help a client in service. But in the cases where she is able to help and the system is working, she finds satisfaction in seeing the client get what he or she needs.
The support of the Association helps Ana to get through the rough times and bad outcomes that are inevitable in the job. It can be very overwhelming and she relies on the support of the people in the organization who have been there for many years.
To me, every single day is a learning experience, every single day.