When Sandra Alstad started to work with the Association, she had no idea that she would be involved with the organization twenty years later.
A graduate of the Lethbridge Rehabilitation Program, Sandra started as a summer practicum student in Day Programs in 1982. She hired on with Residential Services in 1983, and in 1985 took a position in Day Programs, which is the department she still works in today. It was her continual progression through supervisory positions at the Developmental Activities Program (DAP), Swan Industries and New Generations that contributed to Sandra’s longevity by engaging her in many aspects of the organization. Sandra’s experience qualified her to assume responsibility as Director of Day Programs, the position she holds today.
When Sandra first started with the Association, there wasn’t a community employment program. The organization operated on “almost a graduation model” with clients moving from school to Association businesses. If they were ready for employment, they were referred to the Regional College program to find jobs. “Twenty years ago, the way we did things made sense. Now when we look back we think, why were we doing that?”
Wanting to make changes to the ways clients accessed community employment, summer students were hired to accompany them into the community for work experiences. Based on the success of the summer placements, extra funding for a job coach became available. In 1987 the Community Services Options program was born. “We really needed our own employment program and continue to need that today.”
Now, approximately three quarters of the clients in the Community Access & Employment program have some type of employment in the community - a half day or a couple of half days a week, up to full time employment for some. Some use the Association businesses as a base from which they access the community and others prefer to stay within the Association businesses for their work. With the existing staff ratio of one to five, the Association is pleased with the progress that has been made.
Many different perspectives and ideas contribute to a strong senior management team at the Association. Beliefs are constantly questioned. Within the Day Programs Sandra tries to hire different personalities to keep that dynamic alive in the decision-making.
Day Programs works at trying to provide the services people want and accessing the resources to do that. “People’s expectations are more diversified than ever before, which is good, but at the same time we have had few increases from the government over the years. That, in itself, is frustrating.”
Clients who require a lot of support in the community probably do not get out as much as they would like to because funding is short. “Lack of funding means that there is not enough staff to provide the 1:1 support some of the clients require to maintain employment.”
We have some very, very good and dedicated staff who put their heart and soul into doing what they do to make a difference in people’s lives. As these people leave or move on, it’s hard to find people to fill their shoes, especially with what we’re able to pay to attract them. It’s not easy.
Community integration is something Sandra considers to be a positive factor for the clients. Interpersonal skills contribute much to success on a job. Clients whose families had high expectations for them from childhood on do better in employment situations.
Sandra describes the early stages of the Personal Planning process very formal. “We used to come into plans with a review of the current year and plans for next year. The introduction of Person Centered Planning changed the way we did things. The focus moved to the clients and what they wanted to achieve vs. what staff felt they needed.”
Staff and participants have to be very careful that words are not put into clients’ mouths, which can happen so easily. For some clients, it is still an intimidating experience to sit down and talk about your life with a group of people. It is tough to “lay it all out on the table.” The Association has some very good facilitators who are able to ease the anxiety in those situations.
Changes and expectations in the field have had an impact on staff training. The training has become more consistent and more formalized since the 1980s. The Association has been ahead of the field in certain ways for many years. An example is the Behaviour Review Committee, which was implemented by the Association in the early ‘80s to ensure that actions taken with respect to clients were in line with the Association’s mission and policies.
The Association’s profile of services is kept separate from the businesses. The public is sometimes surprised to find out that the Association is comprised of many different segments. Swan Industries’ profit is split back out between the clients who work there. “They are paid back more than they ever did before, but it is still not enough.”
The Association provides a good combination of independence and support for staff. “I’ve always had a really good team around me. We’ve had some low times but for the most part we have had a good experience.” Many co-workers have been with Sandra over twenty years. The relationships are strong.
A highlight for Sandra is to see clients reaching their outcomes. “When they succeed, you feel as though you’ve succeeded.”