One of things that amazes James Sejjengo the most about his almost 35 years with Reena is Sandy Keshen’s vision. Over the years James had conversations with his boss and mentor about what the future of Reena would look like, and most of the things they talked about did, indeed, come to pass including The Toby & Henry Battle Developmental Centre, the Reena Community Residence, and the Lou Fruitman Reena Residence.  

James began his career at Reena in 1988 as a part time support worker. He was a student of social work looking for a part time job at a job fair when he spoke to someone to find out more about Reena, and by the time he got home, he says, there was a voicemail offering him the job. Even though James had never been exposed to this field before and didn’t know anything about group homes, he accepted the position. He finished school and found another voicemail offering him full time employment at Reena. When a Supervisor position came up a year later, James reluctantly agreed to apply, “I didn’t see the role of social work in this field”, but as time went by, James’ role at Reena evolved and he realized it was exactly what he wanted to do, and the kind of organization he was proud to be a part of. 

“When I first met Sandy, I was a frontline staff and I was running a program that achieved a certain level of success, and my supervisor said that the CEO, Sandy, wanted to come and visit the home to see what I did. So, she came and introduced herself…that was the first time I met her, she was so respectful of people, she paid attention to everything that was going on. How many CEO’s come to a group home like that to meet staff?” says Sejjengo. 

Amongst other activities, James work at Reena involved developing and maintaining living and social skills programs. Moving the programs to the newly built Toby & Henry Battle Development Centre was a huge moment recalls James, “When we first walked into the building we said, ‘This amount of space, what are we going to do with it?’ Coming from one floor of offices and space for a day program…to a huge building that had all this space was wonderful.” But it wasn’t just the physical space says Sejjengo, “The Battle Centre meant a lot to Reena in terms of image. From the Dufflaw office to the Battle Centre was like day and night. It meant a lot to staff. When you walk into the building you feel good.” The Reena Community Residence and the building of Reena’s first Intentional community was also a huge part of Sandy Keshen’s vison for Reena, says Sejjengo. “When we first had a conversation about the RCR,” he says, “she said we should have an apartment building where the people we support are not picked on.”  

Another one of James Sejjengo’ s cherished experiences with Reena took place when he accompanied Reena supported individuals on an integrated group trip to Israel in the 1990’s. He watched the fear and hostility from the group towards some individuals in the beginning of the trip change into respect and compassion by the end in what he calls an amazing transformation. “We watched the transition from people who were blaming us for bringing them, to people now thanking us for bringing them.” 

What has kept James Sejjengo at Reena for almost 35 years? “When your values and beliefs align with the employer, chances are you’re going to stick around,” he says. 

James is now the Manager of Residential and Family Supports of core residential clients and is also involved in the development of various Reena residential projects and the creation of a number of resource tools for families, clients and their staff.