When Melissa Hanssen started working at the 83rd Ave. group home in 2004, one of the first things she discovered was that it was best to leave preconceived notions at the door. Her experience working with people with developmental disabilities in Medicine Hat prior to joining the Association taught her that there is “no standard model for dealing with all the different personalities you must deal with in the job.” The relationships she has built with clients and co-workers keep her interested in the work.
According to Melissa, life at 83rd Ave. “has its ups and downs.” Clients range in age from mid-twenties to mid-sixties. It can be hectic for everyone but there are some quiet times as well. Melissa says they all have a good laugh at least once a day and it’s “comedy central” on a Friday night. The staff and clients share a close connection that helps to make the group home successful.
Melissa rarely refers to 83rd Ave as a group home and usually says “home” or 83rd Ave. The latter, she says, doesn’t always give the right impression. One time she emailed a song request to the radio station and signed it “the girls from 83rd Ave.” The announcer chuckled as she read it on the air and Melissa realized it made them sound like “working girls.”
Melissa says that taking clients on outings in the community is not a problem and if attention is drawn to them as a group it is more than likely due to something she herself is doing “because I’m a fool.” The biggest problem she encounters is with store clerks who do not speak to the client when he or she is trying to make a purchase. When their questions are directed to Melissa, she just reminds them that the client is the customer.
Melissa finds it nearly impossible to stay detached emotionally. She knows that this has to be handled with care. In Melissa’s opinion, if you’re not emotionally attached, you’re not doing the job to its fullest potential. She still keeps in touch with the first clients she ever worked with.
I honestly think that once you’ve made that emotional attachment, you’ve made a lifelong commitment in some way.
Melissa says that there are times when the clients might think she is the one “cracking the whip” but she’s also the one whose shoulder they can cry on.