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Author Archives: CareHelps

Our Stories: Erika Gilroy

This is Erika Gilroy’s story, our Residential Program Manager.

Erika has been with ASLS since December 2012 and is proud to say she has held seven positions in seven years! Erika applied for a CSW position, but management felt she was better suited for the FASD and PCAP program and from there held numerous titles including Team Lead and Scheduler.

Born in the Okanogan, Erika grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario and moved to Alberta at the age of 11. She attended school for social work in Slave Lake and during her practicum in May 2011, was displaced due to the devastating wildfire that destroyed most of that city. Erika was informed she could not return for two weeks and that is when she decided to move to Grande Prairie to pursue other opportunities.

What do you enjoy most about working at ASLS? “Seeing the achievements made in people’s lives, watching parents take a vacation they couldn’t before and celebrating all the successes big and small for our Individuals.”

“I never thought that working with disabled individuals is where I would find the most joy,” says Erika. “I wanted to work in the mental health and drug addictions field. I am more satisfied supporting people with disabilities and their families.”

Erika and her husband are celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary this Spring. She is a pet momma to a couple cats; Shadow Panther and Mittens and yes, her husband named Shadow Panther.

One of Erika’s talents is working well under pressure which she needs because along with her full-time, on call 24/7 job, she is also attending GPRC part time to attain her Bachelor of Social Work degree.

What is something most people don’t know about you that you would like them to know? “I am shy when first introduced to someone new but as I get to know you and warm up, you’ll find I am funny and goofy. Sometimes staff see me as stone faced and cranky, but I do have a lighter side.”

Our Stories: Liz Merlo

This is Liz Merlo’s story, our Director of Support Services

Liz grew up in Midhurst, Ontario about an hour and a half north of Toronto, and is from a large, loud (her words) Italian and Irish family. She is the second youngest of four children and has been married for a year and a half. She lived in Victoria for almost 6 years while she completed her education, attending both University and College. She relocated to her husband’s hometown of Grande Prairie just over a year ago and loves the small-town feeling compared to larger cities she has lived in like Calgary. One of her and her husband’s first priorities after buying a house was adopting rescue dogs, she currently has two mix-breed dogs, Happ and Gracie, who were rescued from the Grande Prairie Pound and Bandaged Paws. You may catch them visiting the office occasionally, and they love any attention they can get. Liz has been with ASLS since October 2018 joining as the Support Services Manager and recently promoted to Director of Support Services.

Why did you apply to work with ASLS? “I was very interested in working in the not-for-profit industry again, with a specific focus on social assistance and healthcare, and ASLS sounded like the perfect fit”

Why do you stay? “This has been the most challenging but most rewarding job I have ever had. I enjoy coming to work every day to work alongside people who are so passionate, dedicated and hard-working to help the individuals we serve. I appreciate the adaptability of ASLS and am truly excited to be a part of its future.”

How does Liz self-care after a stressful day? “First priority when I get home every day is to get a big hug and snuggle from my puppies, they are always so happy to see me it’s hard not to smile and be happy with them around. My husband and I have recently built a home gym, so we try and utilize it every other day. We also really enjoy cooking together, my favourite is cooking Italian. My love of cooking came from my Nona when I was young, she would give me and my siblings two options: cook or clean. I always chose cooking so I could taste test before dinner and then hit the couch after! Luckily, my husband shares my love of cooking, so we like to spend a good amount of our evening in the kitchen trying out new recipes or recreating some of our favourites. My other way to relax is to take a nice hot bath and settle down with a good book. Currently, I am reading some books by Patrick Lencioni titled ‘The Ideal Team Player’ and ‘Death by Meetings’.”

What is your hidden talent? “No hidden talent comes to mind, but what people are sometimes surprised about when they come to my house is how many house plants I have. There are probably close to fifteen in my living room alone. To the chagrin of my husband, I find myself bringing a new plant home every few weeks, but I argue that’s better than bringing home a new dog or cat! So, I guess you can call me a Crazy Plant Lady, and a green thumb is my hidden talent. I wish I could have more around my office, but without the natural light, it is harder to find the right plants. I’m always on the lookout, though!”

Anything else to share? “If you’ve been around the Grande Prairie office at all you may have noticed I LOVE shoes, and you’ll probably always find me in some type of heeled shoe, no matter the activities of the day or how much snow is on the ground. I also love when there is a puzzle or challenge. I recently tried out Trapped with some friends, and now my husband will have to put up with me asking to go every week. I like when people ask me challenging or difficult questions. I have a lifelong passion for learning new things, and I have found there is not a shortage of that here at ASLS!”

Our Stories: Sterling Andrews

Sterling Andrews began his career with ASLS in 2012, being hired on as a Community Support Worker. In total, he has had four official titles with the organization; Residential CSW, Behavioural Assistant CSW, Residential and ILS Program Manager and Director of Programs.

Sterling made the move to Alberta from Newfoundland with his partner just ten days after graduating from the College of the North Atlantic on June 15, 2012.

Along with his current role at ASLS, Sterling is also a Village of Berwyn Councilor, an ACDS Government Relations Committee representative and most importantly, father to a recently adopted young boy.

Why do you stay with ASLS?

“I really enjoy working for an organization that is able to be flexible in the way we do things. It’s not rigid that if we see that something that could change to improve the quality of life for our Individuals for support or for our staff in their workplace that the organization can be flexible and do that. I do see at the end of the day how ASLS is a person-centred organization, sometimes that means we have to make hard decisions of graduating Individuals out of service or transition them to another service provider, but at the end of the day, I believe the people here in northwest Alberta who have developmental disabilities, who are the most vulnerable and have the least services offered to them are the ones ASLS are willing to say we are going to make this work, we are going to put the effort into it so they have a good quality of life and I so appreciate that.”

Sterling feels his passion to support individuals and commitment to this organization led him to his management position and he will always fight for the underdog and ensure their voices are heard.

What would you say to the founding families and community members if they were here today?

“What they tried to do 50 years ago obviously worked and made an impact on the region and the people in the region. Here we are 50 years later we are still providing quality services to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Not only have we grown with numbers and dollars over the years, I find ASLS stays one step ahead of where the Industry is, in regard to being progressive and advocating for the rights of individuals. I think that is because of the volunteers years ago that really put in the effort to establish that type of organization and for all those who follow.”

Sterling is a proud member of the LGBTQ community and has always felt included, respected and as valued as anyone else in the community. “I feel so happy with life, that I’ve been able to come here to Northern Alberta and be able to fit into the community despite any of those different diversities I might have in comparison to my neighbour on one side or my coworker on the other.”

In his spare time, Sterling enjoys spending time with his family, camping and researching his family history and traditions passed on through the generations through his English, Inuit and Irish ancestors.

Changes Are Coming to Behavioural Supports

Recently, our Behavioural Supports Team asked for some feedback from our staff and the response was fantastic! The suggestions, concerns and comments were evaluated, and some changes have been made as a result. Have a look!

Behavioural Community Support Worker – Schedule Change:

· BCSWs will be moving to a four on two off rotation, including afternoon and evening hours to ensure there is better Behavioral Support coverage

Monthly Conference Meetings:

· Behavioural Support Coordinator will hold a monthly meeting with BCSWs, Residential Coordinators and Teams Leads

· Behavioral issues will be reviewed, and interventions will be discussed to ensure consistent protocols and communication

Behavioural Support Coordinator:

· Twice a month the Behavioural Support Coordinator will provide one on one feedback with CSWs in a private and distraction-free environment, CSWs can request to meet via ShareVision

· Will attend staff meetings to introduce, train and review protocols and other behavioural material

Front-Line Behavioural Support:

· 24-hour Behavioural Support will continue to be available to all staff

· Look on ShareVision for the on-call phone numbers, there will be one number to be contacted between 7am-11pm, and a different number for overnights from 11pm-7am.

Thank you to all staff for participating in our survey, your feedback is valuable to our continuous mission to improve our program.

Erika Gilroy, Program Manager

Sterling Andrews, Director of Programs

Saying Goodbye and Thank You

Today we say good-bye to a few of our programs at ASLS.

The Brain Injury Supports, Community Access for People in Continuing Care (CAPCC), and FASD Support Program/ Parent-Child Assistance Program (PCAP) programs are moving under the umbrella of other local service providers.

“It was a fantastic experience over the past decade to be involved with the programs and to be a part of the successes and growth of the Individuals accessing those supports throughout the region. We are confident that our colleagues at Blue Heron and the agencies will continue the work and facilitating those success stories, and we appreciate their interest and willingness to take on these contracts as ASLS turns its focus to providing 24/7 residential supports to Individuals with Complex Needs.” – Rilla Websdale, ASLS CEO

“We have seen a lot of amazing progress and changes in the individuals that we have served throughout the years. I always tell our brain injury clients that they are my heroes because I get to watch them as they’re persistent and resilient and working through phenomenal incredible life-changing things to make themselves the best that they can be now. And although we will no longer be with ASLS, which has been our home for a good many years now, we will continue to work with the individuals who are part of our programming now and the new individuals who will come in the future to do the very best that we can do to support them to be the very best that they can be. Working at ASLS been has been a lot of fun. We have had a lot of good staff through the years and a lot of very incredible amazing individuals.” – Laurel Christensen, Brain Injury Team Lead

Leading up to today, all current clients in these programs, as well as their legal guardians, were made aware of and involved in the transition to different service providers.

Thank you to all the staff over the years who provided guidance and support to the many Individuals involved in these programs. Your dedication and passion not only inspired the Individuals, but co-workers as well. Thank you.

Our Stories: Ruth Styles

Just over 18 years ago, Ruth Styles stepped off a plane hailing from the United Kingdom and into an interview room for a position as a CSW within ASLS.

“When I started on July 7th, 2000, I had only been in Canada for less than a week. I was still jet-lagged! I had my interview at 4 pm on the 6th and I started at 7 am the following morning,” recalls Ruth Styles.

At that time, ASLS only operated in Peace River and Grimshaw and had just opened its second group home in Grimshaw. “I attended a strategic planning meeting. The CEO (Shannon Websdale), all the board members and all the staff could fit in a small kitchen.”

ASLS also had far less technology, “the only computers belonged to the accounting and admin persons. Everything was handwritten – logs, incident reports, med incident reports, file notes. The first computer at Wilcox didn’t arrive until a couple of years after I started. It wasn’t Microsoft it was this horrible thing called a Corel and it had floppy discs!”

After her promotion to working supervisor of Wilcox cottage, ASLS sent Ruth to a year-long supervisory course. “That really helped me early on in my experience because in England I worked as a nurses’ aid – never in a supervisory role. That was the best thing they did by putting me on that course.” Ruth recalls, “It was the first time I learned about paradigms. Learning about paradigms is huge as a supervisor dealing with people because it is the way someone views the world. We all work within a certain paradigm. I really liked learning about that.”

During the course, Ruth was able to expand her own paradigm, “The most impressive thing was that they taught that to be a good supervisor, you have to be a good leader – and a good leader is someone who draws people to them and leads by example. Coming from England, I thought to be a supervisor you had to be like the teachers at school – strict, and horrible, and unapproachable. You just tell people what to do. That whole year came down to you inspire people. You’re a good leader if you inspire people and lead by example and I thought, Oh! Perhaps I can be a supervisor because that’s me!”

It turns out Ruth was right as she maintained her role as a working supervisor at Wilcox for 12 years and successfully advocating the inclusion of palliative care for ageing Individuals in Wilcox. Since her time at Wilcox, Ruth has occupied many roles within ASLS including Team Lead, Acting Manager of Stone Brook, Quality Assurance, Accreditation Coordinator, and CAPCC Coordinator. Learning new skills and growing and evolving with each role much like ASLS has over the years.

Currently, Ruth works as a coordinator in ASLS’ Brain Injury program in addition to running staff training courses such as NVCI and Abuse Protocols.

Our Stories: Terry Weber

Our Stories: Terry Weber

Terry Weber has been with ASLS as a PCAP Mentor (the Parent‐Child Assistance Program) for two and a half years working out of Fairview and Grimshaw.

She recently lost her husband and would like to thank everyone for being so very supportive during his lengthy illness.

In April of 2018, Terry’s husband became sick and was admitted to an Edmonton hospital. Treatment lasted for six weeks and during that time they were advised to call family in on three separate occasions.

“He was supposed to have died three times but pulled through,” Terry shares.

He was later released from hospital and it was at that time the couple moved to Fairview.

This past December he became ill again and passed away after being treated in hospital for three weeks.

Terry says during the months of his illness and following her husband’s death, her co-workers have been nothing but supportive.

Specifically, Madonna, Kristen and Sharon who work directly with Terry.

“They helped look after my clients and made sure I didn’t feel like I was neglecting my job because I couldn’t be there.”

In the third installment of Our Stories, we sit down and get to know Terry Weber

Thank you, Terry, for sharing your story with us and thank you to all who have and are still supporting Terry through this difficult time in her life.

Our Stories: Rilla Websdale

Rilla Websdale, our CEO, has been employed by ASLS for over 10 years. Originally from Grimshaw, Rilla and her partner, Ryan, live in Grande Prairie along with their two adopted dogs, Lola and Teddy. Recently, she sat down with our Marketing Coordinator, Glory Przekop for an interview:

Why did you apply? What position were you hired for?

I was hired into an office manager role in Grande Prairie in 2009. The Grande Prairie office and programs were going through transition at that time, and they needed someone who wasn’t afraid of helping to support the implementation of new processes and assist in getting the office organized. Prior to that, I had been involved with ASLS for several years, first as a volunteer, a Residential CSW at 49th Ave Residence, an ILS Community Support Worker in Grimshaw, and at one point I was helping with Administrative Support work in the Grimshaw office for a few years before I moved back to Edmonton a second time for post-secondary opportunities.

Why do you stay?

I live with a belief that the pursuit of perfection requires constant change, and that moving the goal posts regularly so that we are stretching and growing is essential to staying relevant and a valued organization to our funders and society as a whole. Being good enough, frankly, is never good enough. ASLS has a history of being an organization that is never afraid to try something new, and this requires a flexibility and personality that isn’t afraid of failure because there’s a greater belief that something fantastic can be accomplished.

Why did you want to take on the challenge?

I was living in Lloydminster at the time, and while I had been staying in touch with the Human Services sector by working casual shifts at a residence supporting people moving back into community after receiving treatment in a psychiatric hospital, I was primarily doing administrative and HR roles. I enjoyed aspects of both roles, and I knew that this role with ASLS could be an interesting combination of both.

What is one of your fondest memories so far?

When I reflect on the combined total of 18+ years that I’ve worked with ASLS, what I remember most are my experiences providing direct support to ASLS Individuals; some experiences have been inspiring, some have been a bit heart-breaking, and more than a few have been humbling – not limited to the time that someone was upset at me and communicated that by throwing a giant plastic jar of Salsa down the aisle at IGA, splattering me and everything around us with chunky tomatoes – but they all have given me an appreciation for the individuality of the people we support.

What do you tell yourself when it is a stressful day? How do you self-care?

To a certain extent, I am most alive and happy when I’m stressed, so I enjoy opportunities that enable us to pull together as a team and find solutions, and I take stressful situations as a learning opportunity that identify areas of deficiencies that need to be addressed. The Senior Leadership and Management team at ASLS isn’t afraid to embrace humour, and to see the lighter side of stressful situations.

My self-care involves constant learning, as I’m always reading, working on university and related courses, and pursuing new DIY hobbies; my longest-term hobby is making soap and related bath and body care in a little workshop of mine.

What would you say to the founding parents if they were here right now?

I would want to acknowledge their courage; inclusion in community of people with disabilities was not recognized as important at that time. When I was looking at some newspaper clippings to learn more about the origins of ASLS, I was surprised to read an article that referenced that our original residence, Sunshine House, was the first of its kind in Alberta. Even today when we open new residences for Individuals, while we do see occasional support and positivity from the community, we also see discrimination and resistance to the principal of all citizens leading valued, community-based lives.

How has the company changed/evolved since you started?

The most obvious change is that we have grown – in communities supported, programs offered, number of Individuals served, and employees employed. In my role as CEO, we have had to adapt to changing demographics in the province as a result of the update of Individuals with increased complex support needs, changes in management style and employee benefits due to a younger workforce, shifting public and political ideology of support models, and frequent restructuring of organizational structure to be able to address deficiencies and make improvements. The only thing that hasn’t changed since my initial involvement with ASLS, is that we are always changing!

How has ASLS impacted your personal life?

My involvement with ASLS dates back to when I was six years old, and my older sister moved into what is now the old Wilcox Residence in Grimshaw. Because of Tricia, who passed away in 2010 at age 37, I have been involved with ASLS in varying capacities for 30 years; my career in Human Services was something that may not have been the path that I’ve taken, if it wasn’t for Tricia and my involvement I’ve had with ASLS in that time.

What do you do in your spare time?

When it’s cold and I’m avoiding the outdoors: Courses, reading, organizing (apparently it isn’t ‘fun’ for most people to spend free time organizing and labeling storage boxes?), crafting things, whipping up meals in my Instant Pot, baking, genealogy, and Pilates. In the summer I like going out to the mountains to quad and camp.

If you could not work here, where would you work?

My next phase would ideally include owning and operating a Bed & Breakfast or Inn.

What is your hidden talent that can be shared with the public?

I’m oddly and alarmingly flexible, which I finally found out last year is due to having a condition called Joint Hypermobility Syndrome. If you’re going to have a disorder of any kind, you may as well find the positive in it!

What do most people not know about you that you would like them to know?

I am the textbook definition of an Introvert, so those of you that are extroverts don’t quite understand us (as we don’t understand you sometimes)!

Our Stories: We Started as a School and Dormitory

In 1968, a group of parents and community members came together forming an organization that would advocate for the education of children with developmental disabilities. At that time, children with developmental disabilities were not accepted into the regular school system.

The organization was registered under the Societies Act in 1969 under the name Peace River and District Association for the Mentally Retarded.

That same year the Association purchased land in Peace River for a school location and a classroom was rented in Falher to teach children with developmental disabilities. In 1970 there were two classrooms in Falher with 12 students.

By November of 1971, a portable classroom called Cosmos School was moved onto the land purchased in Peace River east of Glenmary School. It sat next to a dormitory called Sunshine House on the same property. That year both facilities became operational making Cosmos School the second school under the Association’s operation at that time.

Soon after the opening of Cosmos School and Sunshine House, Falher members of the Association formed their own society.

An official opening for Sunshine House was held in 1972 that was attended by numerous community members as well as government officials including the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta who unveiled a plaque and planted a spruce tree in front of the home.

In 1973 the Peace River School Division took over the responsibility of operating Cosmos School and Sunshine House became a full-time group home.

What is Positive Programming?

Positive programming, in nerd speak, is “the longitudinal instruction designed to teach skills and competencies to facilitate behavioural change.” – Institute for Applied Behavioural Analysis.

That’s a mouthful, let me translate…

Positive Programming means teaching new skills and abilities over time to replace behaviours of concern.

There are two keys words in that sentence: teach and replace.

The Individuals we support are very complex people with complex histories and often there have been significant gaps in their learning. When we develop protocols, we do so based on those gaps. What skill does this person need to achieve greater wellness and greater independence? Perhaps there are a number of smaller skills they need to learn before they can succeed at a desired goal. If that’s the case, we may design a protocol to address those smaller skills in order to build towards something bigger. A great example is taking place out at Saskatoon Lake. Using a visual (picture aided) communication system, we are working towards enhancing communication. Now, if we simply handed an Individual cue cards and said, “Here, use this,” without teaching them the basics that we know are lacking, like how to say “no” to something, then we’re not likely to be very successful. Programs build one upon the other and the role of the Community Support Worker (CSW) is to provide the Individual with consistent teaching so that they have a good foundation for the next step. Consistency is incredibly important in this process. If a protocol is only followed some of the time, it will delay an Individual’s learning.

When we consider protocols and programs for the Individuals we support, we have to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the Individual respectfully. This is why we teach with positive reinforcement. When someone is rewarded for a positive behaviour (a thumbs up, a sticker, one-on-one time with a favourite CSW), they’re more likely to want to perform that behaviour again. And who wouldn’t!?

Punishments for behaviours of concern are not part of this process. Though a punishment may result in a quick decline in a behaviour of concern, it simply doesn’t work in the long run for the Individual. This is because the Individual may not be able to understand why they are being punished. Also, a punishment doesn’t teach an alternative to the behaviour of concern.

This leads us to the second part of the definition of Positive Programming: Replace. Once we’ve identified a behaviour of concern, we look at its function. The “why” behind the behaviour. If someone is hitting because they find a task too difficult, but don’t have a means to express this, we need to look at offering alternatives to hitting. What can we teach that satisfies that function? Well, that all depends on the person. Perhaps we teach them how to exchange a “Break” card with their CSW when they feel overwhelmed by a task. Maybe we teach them the sign for the word “No” or “Break” so they can express themselves in a more functional and less harmful way. Once we teach an Individual an alternative behaviour, we encourage and reward them every time they use it.