Parents for Community Living (Waterloo, Ontario Canada)

22 June 2020

THE AGENCY THAT COULD The story of Parents For Community Living began over 30 years ago when a handful of visionary parents started a little organization called Parents for Community Living (PCL). The hero’s in our story are the dedicated employees who work at the agency today – most of whom are Direct Support Providers (DSP). With their help we offer meaningful services and supports to over 160 children & adults with exceptional abilities in the Region of Waterloo.

The Role of a Direct Support Provider at Parents for Community Living has many rewards including the privilege of playing an instrumental role in some very special people’s lives. DSP’s get a front row seat as they help our friends achieve independence, be part of the community and reach their goals. But as any Direct Support Professional knows, the job can also be very hard at times with risks of burnout. With this top of mind, PCL made it a priority to ensure that staff feel appreciated, listened to and supported.

Surveys were sent out to all Direct Support Professionals at PCL focusing on employee engagement, satisfaction and recognition. Valuable information was collected about the individuals who work for the organization including their interests, how they wanted to receive communications and how they would like to be recognized. It was also clear from the surveys that stress and mental health were of concern for a many of their staff.

With all this information in hand and guided by PCL’s core values and competencies, a small group of PCL employees made plans to address these concerns. Several different programs were created or enhanced to help focus on specific concerns and to engage as many people in the organization as possible.

PCL’s Health and Wellness in the Workplace Program is run by a small but mighty committee. In 2019 PCL created a customized wellness calendar featuring a new health focus and challenge each month. Challenges were created for both staff and the individuals supported to do together. PCL held a sleep challenge, spent the month playing mindfulness bingo, did a walking challenge, chili cooking challenge, a no junk food challenge and held Zumba classes. Prizes were awarded on a monthly basis to both PCL staff and individuals supported.

The Not Myself Today Program – “It’s ok, not to be ok”. PCL committed to promoting a mentally safe and healthy environment for their employees to work in. They partnered with the CMHA and the Not Myself Today Program to help reduce stigma and provide resources to reduce stress and anxiety in the workplace. PCL held a special launch event for the program and enjoyed a very exciting game of Family Feud! Materials and activities from the Not Myself today program were enjoyed at staff team meetings and trainings. PCL also started a new program to have a Wellness Ambassador at each home (Direct Support Professionals). The ambassadors were instrumental in promoting the program throughout the organization and ensuring that the importance of a mentally healthy workplace was not forgotten.

Leadership and Development – PCL listened when several employees shared an interest in developing leadership and professionalism skills so that they could grow in their chosen field. Together they created a Leadership from Within Training program and offered it to employees. 23 Direct Support Professionals attended and passed this training and have continued to learn and grow as mentors of the organization creating a culture of mentorship throughout.

Employee Recognition Opportunities – This past summer PCL introduced an Above and Beyond award which was peer driven. Employees sent in inspiring stories of fellow co-workers who had gone above and beyond the call of duty. PCL celebrated and recognized all the winners at a special event in the summer attended by staff, people supported and their families.

This isn’t the end of PCL’s story. There is an overwhelming need in the community for support and programs for people with exceptional abilities and there is a shortage of Direct Support Providers in the Province. Employee satisfaction and retention is going to be key to Parents for Community Living being able to continue to serve the community with excellence. We will continue to respond to the feedback we receive from employees, provide recognition, training and support as we build today’s workforce for tomorrow.