At the time of our incorporation as the Lower Mainland Regional Society in 1989, we had just 15 staff people working across the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, and even in federal and state institutions in the Pacific Northwest, USA. Fast forward 30 years and a lot has changed, including our vision, mission and core values; the ever-evolving continuum of programs and services that we deliver; and the demographics (and sheer volume of people) that we are able to serve.
While lots has changed over the years, our ultimate goal has stayed the same: to assist vulnerable community members achieve greater independence and other self-determined needs and goals.
But what does this actually look like? How is that goal operationalized across programs? We interviewed two long-standing JHSLM staff members to offer a glimpse into a day in the life of a JHS team member.
Meet Shiv, a Senior Residence Worker at Elliott House, one of our Community-Based Residential Facilities (CRFs; also known as a Halfway House) in Abbotsford.
Shiv has been at Elliott House since 2015, initially starting out as a criminology practicum student. “I’ve done almost every position at the house” he says, making him an ideal person to speak to about his experience working with the JHS and within our Justice Services in particular.
As a Senior Residence Worker, Shiv provides support to incarcerated individuals in their pre-release planning and their reintegration to the community. He also assists in developing strategies to maintain community safety and uphold the goals of the program.
When he goes into a prison, “I meet with the guys, talk with them about their goals, and build rapport with them [to set them up for success when they transition back to community]. I ask them things like, ‘What do you have in the community that makes Abbotsford a worthwhile place for you? What’s your plan for employment and housing when you get released?’… This is totally different for every guy I meet with. Some guys don’t have a plan for their release yet, which isn’t a bad thing, it just means that we then work with them more to build that plan. Some guys don’t have anything for them here in Abbotsford, and that’s okay too, a fresh start is needed sometimes.”
For the people that come to Elliott, Shiv is there to support them throughout their time at the house, along with the rest of our CRF team. “Being a familiar face to them as they enter brand new territory is really helpful for the guys. I’m also there all of the time to talk with the guys and to support staff.”
Within the first 10 days of being at the house, residents meet with a residential worker who becomes their caseworker.
They go over a range of topics to help determine their needs and goals, and how they can work together to achieve them. From then on, residents meet with their caseworker each month to go over their goals and make ongoing plans accordingly.
“We also see them on a day-to-day basis, so it’s not like we wait until the meeting to check in with the guy. We are always there to support them” Shiv adds.
If the residents continuously meet and achieve their goals, such as a goal to get employment training, to reconnect with their pro-social supports, or to get set up with government issued ID, “we can then advocate for them. Our casework notes are seen by parole and it can go a long way in supporting their case for gaining more independence in the community if we can show that they are achieving the goals that they set for themselves.”
Shiv and the other staff at Elliott are also in frequent contact with CSC and residents’ parole officers, support residents in accessing community services and resources, and assisting them to thrive independently in the community.
When it comes to the Elliott team, “I think of us as a unit. Some [residents] have an us vs. them mentality, associating us to authoritative figures they’ve dealt with in the past, and I don’t want to uphold a culture of being unsupportive. Our team really works together to help these guys get out and live on their own, and we receive an immense amount of support from both Meaghan [the Elliott House Residence Manager] and Pam [the Director of Justice Services].”
– Shiv, Senior Residence Worker
From speaking with Shiv and seeing the clear passion for what he does, we were curious to know what motivates him in his work.
“The success stories of clients are by far the best thing that keeps me here. When you read their file before they get to the house, to see where they are now, blows my mind. To see people living in the community with a job, a home, a family, and doing so well despite the various barriers or experiences they had before… it’s amazing.”
We also had the opportunity to sit down with a member of our Community Living Services team to learn more about a day in the life of this seemingly different area of service delivery. While our Justice and Community Living Services may seem different, it was clear through our conversations that there are more similarities than meets the eye.
Meet Tomáš, a Community Living Outreach Worker who has been a part of the JHS team for over 11 years and is one of our longest standing outreach workers.
As an Outreach Worker, Tomáš works with individuals with developmental disabilities under the care of Community Living BC, who have selected the JHS to provide them with services and support.
What does it mean to do outreach work? Tomáš puts it best: “it’s different every day, and different with every client” he says with a chuckle.
In sum, outreach assists people to identify, work towards, achieve, and maintain their needs and goals so that they can live more independently in the community while also experiencing community inclusion.
This can mean working with them to find and maintain employment or volunteer opportunities; helping them with day-to-day tasks like personal hygiene, cooking, or budgeting; scheduling and assisting clients to get to/from appointments or activities; and much more. As a person-centered program, it all depends on the client, and their self-determined needs and goals.
When Tomáš is paired up with a new client, “I assess their needs with them, then we create a care plan based on that. It’s strengths-based, so we focus on their strengths and work to develop those strengths further.” Care plans evolve as the client’s needs and goals change.
– Tomáš, Community Living Outreach Worker
If assisting people to achieve greater independence and community inclusion is the goal, than relationship building is the key to achieving it.
“In order to effectively assist our clients, you have to have a relationship first. They need to feel safe and to trust you”
Tomáš explains that people are more likely to reach out for support when they need it once that relationship is established, and he can more effectively work with them on meeting their needs as a result. That relationship also allows Tomáš to be a better role model and to share experiences with his clients. This is a key reason that he likes working in outreach.
“I have the privilege of having the same clients over a very long period of time, so it allows me to see the progress that they make. If you were working with someone for a few months you might not see it”
– Tomáš, Community Living Outreach Worker
“We are helping them figure out how to live and those things take time. Most of us have spent our whole lives learning, and we’re working with people whose capacity of learning have been somehow impacted, so it takes them more time, but they learn as well as we do.”
While the ability to build rapport with his clients to better assist them in their lives is one of his favourite things about outreach, like Shiv, Tomáš emphasized that their success is what ultimately drives him.
“I see the progress that clients make and that’s what fuels me, that’s what keeps me doing this every day.”
The success experienced by the people that we serve is something that we are proud of throughout the organization, and a source of constant motivation.
This post is a part of a featured series celebrating John Howard Society Week 2020, an annual campaign that spreads awareness of the incredible work being carried out by John Howard Societies across Canada. To learn more about the JHS across the country, click here.