In her eighteen years with the Association, Tammy Ouellette has had the opportunity to work in both the Vocational and Residential programs. During an eight year period, she was able to cross train as a Vocational Coordinator for the Developmental Activities Program (DAP) and also as the Manager of Swan Industries. Tammy is now a Residential Coordinator for the Association and has seen many changes since she started as a group home worker at the 109th Ave residence.
Tammy remembers that in her early years on the job there was a lot of overlap between her family life and her work life. Tammy once took a client shopping for a dress to wear to her wedding. She and her supervisor, Myriam Uribe, had their work cut out for them because the client did not want to try the dress on. She was more interested in the hats on display and it was hard to get her to ignore them and try on the dresses. Eventually a dress was chosen and purchased. Tammy learned a lot by watching how Myriam handled the situation.
It is not as common now for staff to involve the clients in their personal lives. She attributes the change to the Association’s tremendous growth and notes that the impact has also been felt within the organization. Group homes and the various departments do not interact as much as they once did. When the organization was smaller, staff turnover was low and it was easier for employees to get to know each other.
Personal Planning was just beginning to be implemented when Tammy began with the Association. She says it is a good program because it puts the needs of the clients first. She has become more involved with the process throughout the years and now trains new staff in the program. Planning and facilitating are aspects of the work that Tammy finds particularly interesting.
Tammy often hears the comment that people who work with the handicapped must be “very special and so patient.” She doesn’t see herself this way, but does acknowledge that she has become more tolerant of differences in people as a result of the work. Tammy did not ever have the expectation that she could “go out there and fix the world” but says that helping with the day-to-day issues has a profound influence in the clients’ quality of life.
Tammy has found that clients know if you are comfortable working with them. She has seen staff with the capacity to truly care about the clients leave the field because they were ultimately not suited to the demands of the job. Staff must be aware of the fact that in order to be successful, they have to be able to find the time and means to take care of their own personal needs as well.
Sometimes you try to take care of others too much and then don’t take care of yourself.
One of the responsibilities of Tammy’s job as Residential Coordinator is to help her staff to strike a balance between duties and compassion.