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Organizational Identity- More Than the Sum of Our Services


This next blog is written by my guest blogger Mike Coxon from Mills Community Support Corporation (The Mills) in Ontario Canada.  In 2009, The Mills started learning about and using person-centred thinking and practices within their teams and in their supports to people.  Mike has agreed to be a regular blogger and share their journey and learning with others so stay tuned for follow-up blogs from Mike.

Over the past few months, the Mills has been "rethinking" its Mission, directions and organizational identity. One of the "traps" we've encountered and managed to make peace with, is that of identifying ourselves as solely as a service delivery agency.  The Mills' new strategic directions put community development and capacity building first. The provision of "supportive environments" (e.g., support services and housing) is positioned as an important means but not an end in itself.  As it now stands, we are now looking at ourselves as community builders. We look at our service provider role and the services we provide as means to support individuals to move from presence (as clients) towards contribution (as citizens). The impact we are seeking isn't "x" people supported. What we are hoping to be a part of is the development of welcoming, healthy communities.

We're used to seeing organizations such as the Mills portrayed in brochures which list a menu of programs or in Organizational charts. These portrayals make it easier to understand what a combination of staff, volunteers, building and funding is supposed to do. It helps to understand "how" we work, not so much ""why".

In this post, I want to take a somewhat different look at the Mills. I'd like to introduce several themes which I believe "weave through" the work that we do. I think that these themes might be a better portrayal of "who" we are and what we are truly about.  As good people who work in good organizations continue to experience diminishing support from funders, we need to think about ourselves not simply as part of this service system or that sector, we need to rethink who we are and what impact we want to have as "associations" of committed citizens.

The Mills' "tag line" is "People Helping People" - Although I think there might be a couple of other organizations who use this line too, I'd hope that we are able to see ourselves not as a "vending machine" for services, but as a network of caring people who support each other. It's a challenge, but I hope that peoples' experience of the Mills is that we are compassionate; person centered/family centered and trustworthy.  Whether it's through the provision of affordable housing, support services, activities and programs or public education there are some common themes in what we are hoping to accomplish and how we work together:

Connecting People - help people to be connected in their community (community presence) and support people to be active members of the community (participation). This ties in very closely with… Relationships - we help people to form and sustain relationships. We support families (e.g., to support loved ones and to stay together)

Inclusion - people of all ages and abilities to belong and to be accepted; we support people and families at various life stages.  We work with other organizations to remove barriers to a "welcoming community".

Transitions - support people with transitions in life/lifestyle. Historically, this has focused on helping people to move from institutions (e.g. Rideau Regional Center) to community living.  It also takes the form of supporting older people to "age in place" and, in relation to housing that we provide, to support some people who have been victims of violence to re-establish themselves

Good Life and a Safe Life - regardless of the population /group that we are serving, two common threads are: Promoting healthy, active lifestyles (holistic health) and promoting a safe community and safe living environments

Community Capacity Builders - The Mills has a network of community resources and partnerships. We support/engage volunteers to contribute and to grow (community engagement). We also try to serve as a catalyst and supporter for projects which benefit the whole community. We believe that everyone has gifts. We see it as part of our work to help people identify their gifts and to share them in efforts to build community vitality.

The Mills "engages" with over 1000 people in Lanark County. What's important about this number is that it reflects a caring community, characterized by "People Helping People". The organization is a means by which people connect and a structure through which energy and resources get aligned. Our services, our relationships with funders, our affiliations with the "sectors", the brands and movements and even the communities in which we work, combine differently for different people.  We care a lot about how people see us - it has a huge bearing on support and credibility. That said, we want to help create more welcoming communities … to be generative … to be more than the sum of our services


Mike Coxon, CEO Mills Community Support Corporation
67 Industrial Drive, Box 610 Almonte, ON K0A 1A0 613-256-1031 Ext 26

Our work in health care settings is fairly new in Canada

Our work in health care settings is fairly new in Canada.  In November, I worked with the North Bay General Hospital's Mental Health team and I am quite excited about the direction they are taking in terms of listening to the patient voice and focusing on being more person-centred.  We spent two days focusing on person-centred thinking and one day on person-centred reviews.

The hospital's mental health department is currently transitioning from traditional multi-disciplinary team meetings where the focus is often on clinical goals and meetings are lengthy, to what they call the 'One Patient One Plan' approach where mini-team meetings occur weekly with a core team of supports and focus on the patient's priority goals.  We will be working together to look at how person-centred thinking skills/tools can be helpful with this approach.

Soon, I will also be spending time with key leaders from both the mental health and the medicine departments of the hospital to support them to develop their one-page profiles.  The hospital would like to start with its leaders who will then support their staff in developing their own one-page profiles.  This is a very important step. One-page profiles in hospitals could totally revolutionize the way patients and staff are supported. It means that healthcare workers will be supported to understand the person, not just the condition and that patients will be able to communicate what is important to them and how best to support them. Starting from within means we can really embed the concept of using profiles deep within the culture of the hospital and this will give it the commitment it needs to grow and be used well by both staff and patients.

Our colleagues in the UK have already introduced one-page profiles into two hospitals and their recent pledge for NHSChangeDay (to support patients and colleagues working and using health services throughout England to create one-page profiles) has significantly raised the profile of what this tool could achieve in health. Nurses, Hospital Chaplains, Patients, Therapists, GPs and Hospital CEOs are mobilizing to have their own one-page profiles in support of the pledge. I'd love to see something like this happen in Canada.

I'll keep you updated on how our own health one-page profiles are progressing and leave you with these thoughts: Imagine you were in hospital and your healthcare team really got and understood you as a person. Now imagine you are a health professional and because of a simple, easy to use tool you had all the information at your finger tips to make someone feel understood, well cared for and well supported when treating them. This is what one-page profiles in health could help us to achieve. To my UK colleagues - I wish you every success in your pledge. To my Canadian friends - what about doing something similar here?!

A growing momentum in Canada!

Over the last few years, Canada has grown from a handful of Person-Centred Thinking Trainers to 50 or so trainers in three provinces!  It is fabulous to see a growing interest in person-centred thinking and person-centred practices in Canada and a determination to personalize services.  To support Person-Centred Thinking Trainers in their efforts, various activities took place in British Columbia (BC) and Ontario Canada in 2013.

DEC 13In January 2013, BC Trainers met with Paul Wheeler (former TLCPCP Board Member and Mentor Trainer) and held their first BC Trainer day.  The group met again in March to review the new curriculum and to plan a session with Michael Smull in May to think about building a BC Learning Community.

Dec 13-1The event in May brought together Person-Centred Thinking Trainers as well as various agencies such as Inclusion BC (advocacy group) and Community Living British Columbia (Funding agency).  The focus of the day was System Change and the launch of the British Columbia Learning Community. The day's agenda included spending time looking at the purpose and benefits of building a Learning Community, creating a vision, mission and core values, exploring hopes and fears as well as next steps.

Dec 13-2In Ontario, Helen Sanderson Associates (HSA) Canada hosted a Learning Community Gathering in the Niagara Region.  The gathering included an evening session with 18 trainers and two full days with 130 participants, which included trainers, parents, self-advocates and providers. Participants had great feedback about the presentations, breakout sessions, the Learning Marketplace and of course the candy buffet afternoon break!  It was great to have participants join us from the United States as well as Helen Sanderson who provided great presentations about best practice in the United Kingdom.

Dec 13-3The youngest presenters at the gathering in Ontario were Maggie (age 9), her sister Ella (6) and Maggie's friends who co-presented with Maggie's mom Erin.  They talked about Maggie's Person-Centred Review, her one-page profile and the positive difference it has made with for her at school.

Click on the picture if you would like to see the notes from Maggie's Person-Centred Review.  Click here if you would like to see Maggie's one-page profile.

At the gathering in Ontario, HSA Canada launched a Canadian Learning Community for Person-Centred Practices Groupsite.  The purpose of this online forum is to create a space for us to share and learn together about person-centred practices in the Canadian context.  We are excited to see that one hundred people have joined the site.  If you are interested in joining our groupsite, simply follow the link to see the summary page: join here and then click the Join This Group Now tab on the right hand side.


We are also pleased to be seeing a growing interest in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and look forward to supporting the growing interest in person-centred practices across Canada in 2014.


Season's Greetings and Happy New Year everyone!


Lessons from an amazing woman

KatherineKatherine Fleming was a dynamic woman who not only talked the talk of the importance of being person-centred, she also walked the walk in work and in everything she did.  It is with sad hearts that we say farewell to a friend and colleague.  It is also with grateful hearts that we, the HSA Canada family, say thank you to Katherine for what she has taught us.


Katherine, you taught me to follow my dreams; to be patient and things will work out. I have learnt that when you know in your heart it is the right thing to do and you are truly being person-centred, you do not have to justify your work. I have learnt to be creative and to think outside the box more because Katherine, you had no boxes! You taught me to never be ashamed to make mistakes, never apologize for mistakes (unless I have hurt someone of course); everyone makes mistakes and it is a good thing that helps us learn and grow.  I have learnt to step into the conflict because, really, what is the worst that will happen? I have learnt that when someone is valued and truly supported by another person, they would do anything for them; they would follow them and work their butt off for them and support all their ideas! Katherine, your memory and knowing what was truly important to you, will not only be honored by us at Centerpoint Facilitation, it will be our guidance in the work we do.



When I think of you Katherine, I think of laughter. I have laughed with you until my cheeks hurt and tears flowed. When I think of you, I think of strength and audacity. You were a leader and never afraid to tell it like it is.  You will be one of those people I never forget, because you shaped my future. At a time when I was at a crossroad, you helped me see the light down the terrifying path. You inspired me and continue to inspire me. I will miss you greatly, but what you have taught me will last my lifetime. Katherine, in your honor I shall have a glass of vodka and laugh until I cry no more.



Katherine, your zest for life and your way of taking the best from every experience has taught me that this world is not as scary as it sometimes seems to be.  Your vision and ability to put an idea into concrete actions that make a difference have taught me to go for it and take risks because it is the only real way to make a dent in this world. I have also learned that it is better to try and fail than to have never tried at all.

Katherine you were not only a visionary, you were also an innovative trailblazer and I learned that there is no reason why I should shoot for the stars when the moon can make a bigger difference.  You taught me that it's important to follow my gut and to explore new territory; I will be amazed by what I discover and learn.

How you prioritized family and friends and looked out for their wellbeing was impressive.  You were not only a strong advocate in your work but also for your family so that they received person-centred supports and services with their own health needs. Spending quality time with others was important to you and I always felt that you were present in the moment with me.  Thank you for listening deeply.

You will continue to be part of my life because you have left a positive mark on my mind and my heart. Thank you for being you my friend.


How a one page profile saved friendships

My mother Monique was 64 when her husband of 44 years Gaëtan, my father, passed away from an extremely aggressive cancer.  My parents were in the process of selling their home and moving into an apartment when he was diagnosed and then passed away.

My mother was a retired school administrative assistant and my father was a retired teacher.  They were selling the house in order to have more money to travel and enjoy life.  As a couple, they had lifelong friendships with other couples they either met in high school or met early in their careers.

When Dad passed away, Mom felt not only lonely from the loss of her husband but also hurt by the absence and lack of support from some family members and more importantly, from the lack of support from some of their friends.  She understood that they were also grieving and that it must be awkward for them as couples to visit or invite her for visits but the loneliness and hurt was unbearable.

At that time, I received a one-page profile example from a Learning Community for Person-Centred Practices colleague who had lost her husband.  She shared this example of a one-page profile, developed to help family and friends understand what was important to her in the grieving process, and how to best support her.  I shared this with Mom and that night she went home and developed her own one-page profile and then next I typed it up for her and added a picture.

Writing the one-page profile helped Mom sort out the different feelings she was experiencing and better understand what was important to her during this difficult time, and what supports she truly needed and wanted while she was grieving the loss of her husband.  Mom said that putting pen to paper was what helped her see through the fog of grief and understand herself and the situation better.

May 13Mom chose to share the profile with her sisters (not her brothers) as well as a few close friends.  She was surprised at some of the reactions.  Many thanked her for sharing the profile because it helped them understand how to better support her.  A few others didn't seem quite sure what to do with the information.  One friend in particular didn't say anything after reading it and Mom was saddened by it and the disappointment made her contemplate letting go of the relationship.  A short while after this experience, this friend started visiting Monique and invited her for a meal.  Sharing the one-page profile with this friend actually saved the relationship.

Many people are hesitant about sharing stories and talking about the person who is deceased.  Mom needed and desperately wanted to talk about her husband and best friend.  Writing a one-page profile helped her talk to family and friends about this need, even if she didn't share the profile with them.  The profile helped her find her voice.

I’m out of a job….yeah!

Our guest blogger this month is Jill Faber (HSA Canada associate). Jill shares her experience with what happens when people are given a chance to take the lead.

As I sit down to write this blog I'm not sure where to begin or end because the month of March has been a whirlwind.  What happened, what I witnessed - well I needed it. I needed it to be a better trainer, to be a better person.

It was during this whirlwind in March that a staff member approached me and said "This day reminded me my job should really be to work myself out of a job". I was shocked; I've been using this mantra for myself for years, but have never heard someone else say it so freely.

So, let me tell you how what started as a simple project to provide direct learning to people who use services about their rights and responsibilities when planning with agency staff, turned into something more remarkable and beautiful.  This project did put me out of a job- at least for a couple of days.

It started with some listening to my friends who have disabilities. I asked them how to develop a workshop that is seen as neither condescending nor driven by agency intent.  They gave me some very clear and specific instructions:

April 13-1"Make sure the people with disabilities are in the front of the room". Theresa told me how she was sick and tired of going to conferences or workshops where they were the token people with disabilities. She wanted to go where she could hear from and speak to other people with disabilities, not with support staff and not with family.

"You better tell the truth. I hate planning with my agency and I wish they understood that I am capable of planning on my own". Stephanie was puzzled why I approached her to help me develop a workshop about planning when she had only negative things to say about it. Of course it was for this reason I desperately needed her input. Honesty from the person's perspective had to be a running theme throughout the day.

"You better make it in plain language and you better use pictures to help people understand what you're saying".  Yvonne, who also could be referred to as my final editor, scrutinized and critiqued every PowerPoint slide to ensure the messages were clear and understandable. She is my jargon sheriff.

And so the workshop was developed and then redeveloped. It became the My Life - My Plan Workshop. And though the messages were not new, the delivery and process of learning was. From all the feedback from staff, participants and the self-advocate trainers, the following two decisions, made very early on, had the biggest impact on the positive outcomes for the day.

April 13-2The workshops were co-facilitated by a person with a disability. There were 10 self-advocates who worked as both table facilitators and some as new trainers.

When I finally realized I needed to step back and let them fully take over, I witnessed how the trainers' energy and leadership washed over the entire group and all the participants were suddenly "in the front of the room".

I have never witnessed a group of people with disabilities become the majority, the only right ones in the room, the ones with all the answers. It was spectacular. It was amazing.

Support staffs were not welcomed at the group tables, nor were they allowed to participate, or contribute in any fashion. Most of the day was done in-group discussions, again led by self-advocates at individual tables. Support staffs were asked at the beginning of the day to remain in the back of the room or at a separate table. They were asked to not support anyone in the room unless requested.

April 13-3So, when left good enough alone at the tables, I watched as the participants and self-advocates supported each other:  helping each other read, helping each other learn, helping each other share.  What I saw was support that I have so rarely seen. Support absent of any judgment, support with honesty, support with true empathy and true consideration. It's the kind of support we read about in textbooks and those whom we label as needing this kind of support were doing it naturally and easily.

It happened over and over again - the less staff in the room, the more I saw it. Participants eventually stopped turning to the back of the room to their staff and turned to each other. One woman grabbed another woman's puffer and set it up for her, another woman decided she was going to help a man with a visual impairment all day, guiding him through the room and setting up his meal. I could see the amazement on the staff faces - for which I'm sure I had a similar expression.

The remarks from the staff were equally compelling. "I can't believe they're doing this all on their own". "It's so hard to step back, but I can't believe what I'm seeing".

And then there were the conversations. Participants who had never spoken to a group before stood in front of strangers and told their stories. By the end of most sessions almost all the participants willingly stood and spoke out.  It wasn't because I encouraged them - I had nothing to do with it. It was the encouragement and faith from their fellow self-advocates at each table that made them feel they were capable and worthy to speak out.

April 13-4I finally stepped back.  I gave up my reigns as co-facilitator (I know now anyone who has facilitated with me is having a good laugh - I don't let go of the room easily). They asked it of me. The self-advocates kept saying, "We want to do more. Jill you need to do less". Then it was like watching super heroes reveal themselves. I know this is a silly analogy, but truly it's what I saw. In all my desire to believe in them, they proved they were so much more. I was ashamed of the assumptions I had made and equally delighted for being so so wrong.

So I sat and watched. I sat and listened. I sat…and I sat in the back of the room. I watched them lead, tell stories, take care of the group.  I sat…and watched as they put me out of my job because they asked me to, because I did, because they can.


Note: In Canada "self-advocate" is how some people with disabilities have asked to be referred as when doing work such as described above.

Why are we (society) judging fish based on their ability to climb a tree?

I just love it when I read or hear something that makes me think and reflect.   These last few weeks I have been meeting with parents to explore their thoughts on what it means to them to be part of a supportive community.  These sessions have been very interesting and have helped me do just that - reflect on my beliefs, values and views.

For years, support services agencies have been working hard at changing their language because they realize that words have power and meaning and can hurt others even if unintentional.  Parents of children (or adult children) with disabilities have also been struggling in describing their child's disability and/or support needs in a way that is respectful and celebrates their loved one's differences rather than place a judgment on them.

Sometimes the word 'normal' is used to make distinctions between people who have physical or intellectual abilities and people who might have greater support needs.  I must admit that I cringe every time I hear that word.  I always wonder what is meant by 'normal'.  I don't know two people who are the same and I am glad for this.  Life would be so plain and boring if we were all identical.

Yesterday, during one of my family sessions, a father talked about his son in a way that put a new light on the word 'normal'.   Paul described his son and other people with developmental disabilities or other differences as being normal.  Paul said that 'everyone is normal for their DNA'.   I find this simple statement very powerful and thought provoking.  This morning I read this quote by Albert Einstein:

Feb 13'Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.'

I think we need to celebrate people for who they are as unique individuals.  We also need to celebrate ourselves for who we are.  It is great to learn something new or challenge ourselves to grow but it is not okay to do it in order to change our measurement of ourselves in comparison to what some would call 'normal'.  I am not a fish and I don't want or need to learn how to climb a tree to be considered 'normal'.  Who I am is who I am.  I am normal for my DNA.  People with disabilities are also normal for who they are.  Let's celebrate this and focus on what they bring to our world rather than try to teach them to climb a tree.

Passions can create countless opportunities for community connecting…

I have always been a foodie.  I love cooking, eating, watching cooking shows, looking at cookbooks, swapping recipes, browsing kitchen appliance stores and even getting kitchen gadgets at Christmas and my birthday!  Anything food is exciting for me.

Last spring, my husband Gerry and I attended a local fundraiser (yes it was a dinner gala).  A childhood friend was sitting at our table and we started talking about how we both liked cooking and baking.  Dominique said that she always thought that it would be fun to have a dinner club and I jumped at the idea!  Yeah!  A foodie buddy!

Jan 13-2A few weeks ago, Gerry and I were the first to host a dinner party and I decided that our theme would be Thai food, my favourite.  I have to admit that I had the greatest time planning it:  searching for new recipes, shopping for food, exploring my town and the city next door for exotic ingredients (well exotic for January in Ontario). I even watched cooking videos on YouTube and dreamed about cooking and eating Thai food.  The dinner was a success.  The food was fabulous - we ate from 7:30 to 10:30 and had the greatest time talking and laughing late into the night

What strikes me the most in all of this is how many new people I connected with while searching for my ingredients and how my energy was different while talking about the dinner I was planning.  One day my mom pointed out how fast I was talking and how excited I seemed.  It had been a while since something had me that excited - and yes,  it was just food and friends but very different than simply having dinner guests.

Jan 13When facilitating Community Connecting courses, participants often talk about how difficult it is to help people connect and build relationships.  One exploration and planning tool that we work with during the course is the Presence to Contribution tool (click on the image to see how my dinner club experience has impacted my life).   I think that this experience with the dinner club is an example of how uncomplicated we need to keep it.  Starting with common interests and building on these is the best place to start. I am excited about our next dinner club evening.  I hear that the theme is comfort foods.  Yummy!


Important to and important for this Holiday Season

It seems that these last few weeks, people are getting busy with Holiday Season preparations.  Many people hold family traditions close to their hearts.  This can bring out the best in people and the worse in people.  People don't always agree with their loved ones about traditions including religious practices, decorations, baking, gift exchanges, parties, visiting schedules and getting everything ready.

When people agree about Holiday Season events and customs, it is most likely because they have similarities in terms of what is important to them.  The other explanation is that their priority in terms of what is important to them is their relationships and getting along.

Nov 12-1This year November has been and December will be an especially busy time for me, and what is important for me is not to overdo it and burn myself out with the baking, decorating, shopping and visiting.  Listening to my own important for my health priorities has also made me re-examine my own list of what is important to me for the holidays. Instead of making 3 to 4 dozen each of our 8-10 favorite cookie and squares recipes, I will be making only three recipes, one for each of my children and one recipe for my husband.  This year, I will enjoy tourtière (meat pie) at other people's homes and not make my own. I also asked my husband for help with shopping and we've simplified gift exchanges with our extended families.  Decorating my tree with loads of lights and hundreds of ornaments that I have collected over the last 25 years was also always very important to me.  This year, I asked my children to make decisions about where to place the tree and how to decorate it.

The differences this year are that we will have our favourite baking, but not loads so this will definitely be better for our health and waistlines.  My husband was glad to do some of the shopping and we feel like a team this year and we are only exchanging gifts between my children and my brother's children and eliminating the exchange between the adults.

Nov 12-2The most valuable lesson I learned is that it is important for me to better listen to others, even when my own priorities are extremely important to me.  In letting go and relaxing about the holidays, my children had more fun decorating the tree and told me that in the past there had always been too many decorations.  The tree is a bit different but just as beautiful.  In talking with my brother and listening more closely to his own priorities for a gift exchange, I have understood better.  He is happier about us focusing on the children and not exchanging between adults.  And I am truly okay with this.  I resisted in the past because I only heard his words (why do we need to do an exchange anyway?) and not the message behind it (children okay, adults not so much).

The Holiday Season will still come whether or not we do things the same way every year and it has been a blessing to do what is important for me instead of what is important to me. I am grateful for the opportunity to listen more deeply and learn more about others.  Season's Greetings everyone!

I would like to introduce you to two new members of our HSA Canada team.

Oct 12-1

I hope you are all enjoying the fall weather and getting ready for winter.  I have to admit that I absolutely love the Ontario maple tree colours in fall.  The only thing I don't like about fall is that winter is just around the corner.


In this blog, I would like to introduce you to two new members of our HSA Canada team.  Tammy Ouellette is our new associate in Alberta and Barb Swartz-Biscaro joins me in Ontario.

TammyI met Tammy in 2009 when I first delivered the Person Centred Thinking and Person Centred Teams courses in Alberta.  Tammy works with our very own Katherine Fleming at Centerpoint Facilitation and is a strong advocate of person centred practices.  Tammy provides independent facilitation and has been part of the innovative work being done with people who are homeless or those who are at risk of becoming homeless.  Tammy also provides person centred planning facilitation to older people and people who have a disability.  HSA team members appreciate her attention to detail and analytical skills.

Many of you have already met Barb through our facebook page.  BarbBarb regularly posts her learning and examples from using person centred practices in her own personal life.  Barb leads our work with school in Canada and last year supported teachers in helping 500 students develop One Page Profiles.  Appreciation activities are common place in her family and her children's One Page Profiles and stories have been topics of my past blogs.  Recently, Barb developed a 'mommy profile' and a friend will be hosting an evening with friends where they will be developing their mommy profiles.  Barb is passionate about making a positive difference in people's lives.  Her creative approach to introducing person centred thinking tools in new settings is appreciated by the HSA team.

Oct 12-2If you are interested in getting to know Tammy and Barb, have a look at their One Page Profiles on the HSA Canada webpage by clicking the maple leaf to the right.  You can also find Katherine, Jill, Hilary and my own profile on the same page. Have a great Halloween everyone!