Category Archives: Our Stories

Our Stories: Taylor Arnold

This is Taylor Arnold’s story, our Program Assistant.

Taylor has been with ASLS for just over two years and was originally hired as a Community Support Worker.

Her dedication and hard work soon earned her the promotion to Supervisor-Team Lead and current position of Program Assistant.

Taylor is originally from the border city Lloydminster and is a sister to eight and mom of three. Right now, the family pet is a bunny.

This line of work can be stressful and when Taylor is having a tough day, she tells herself “that we are making a difference in the lives of these Individuals with complex needs. I remind myself how far each of them has come.”

“I have learnt many things working for this company,” Taylor adds. “I have gained self-confidence and many skills that can translate to my own life.”

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.

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)!