Mariann Watson was eighteen years old when she started as a group home worker with the Association. It was a different world than she had ever known and she remembers being very nervous on her first day. Despite being nervous, she knew she could handle it and the work seemed interesting. Her greatest initial challenge was to discover what needed to be done for the clients and Mariann learned early on that it was good to rely on common sense in many situations.
Consistent routines help with making things go smoothly in the group home. Mariann says that she herself has become part of the routine that the clients have come to expect. “I am a routine for them, in person, in a lot of ways. I hate to be that because life changes. But they know I’m consistent.”
When Mariann first started working there was a compulsory gym night for clients. Life is a lot less restrictive for clients now than it was. They are given the choice to participate in sports or not.
Personal Planning really opened clients’ lives up to diversity. Clients have a lot more say into what happens in their lives.
It’s not focused around you washing your hands or brushing your teeth or washing your laundry now. It’s about...you’ve got some awesome goals here, achievable life goals. When they first came out it was very confusing, but anything is.
On client vacations, the staff who travel with the group make such a great difference to the experience for everyone. When Mariann supervises a client vacation, she makes sure that the trips are a real break for the clients. “If you are on vacation, then that means that you relax.” Her policy is to schedule one or two activities per day so that clients can have enough time to find a balance between seeing the sights and winding down. She believes in giving clients input regarding their holiday activities.
When the Special Olympics was hosted by Grande Prairie in 1989, it changed the focus of the clients to bowling over the track and field events that had been the most popular when she first started working. Mariann thinks the shift to bowling might have to do with the fact that clients are aging.
Mariann finds that there is a lot of crossover to her personal life. If she is buying groceries she sometimes there will be items on her list that she remembers buying but confuses whether she bought them for herself or for the group home. She also recognizes that she uses many of her parents’ traits in her own interactions with the clients.
Mariann advises new workers to the field that the work can be overwhelming at first, but it can be fun. “You need patience but you also have to be able to put your foot down on important issues. “It is not a job you will get rich on. If you are here for the money, then you are in the wrong place.”