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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
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
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
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
Mike Coxon, CEO
Mills Community Support Corporation
67 Industrial Drive, Box 610 Almonte, ON
K0A 1A0 613-256-1031 Ext 26 email@example.com
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
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
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
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?!
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
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
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.
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
The 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
Season's Greetings and Happy New Year everyone!
Katherine 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.
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
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
Mom 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.
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:
"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
The 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.
So, 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
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
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.
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
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
'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.
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
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!
A 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.
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.
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
This 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.
The 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 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.
I 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. Barb 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.
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