“It was supposed to be a part time summer job…that was my intention when I applied part time to Reena.”
It was 1992, and Joanne has just graduated from Psychology at York University and was set to do a youth child worker program in college the following September. Originally from Quebec City, Joanne wanted to stay in Toronto to explore the city and after hearing Reena was hiring, she applied for a summer job at Camp Reena. While she did not get the camp job, she did get offered a part time overnight job at one of Reena’s housing complexes. “At that house most people went home for the weekends,” says Joanne, “but there was one individual who would stay. He would point in the newspaper to an event, or movie that he wanted to go to that day, and we would just go. I got to learn Toronto! By the time August came along, that’s when I decided, I’m having too much fun here, I don’t really need to go to school.”
Joanne applied for a full-time position and began the first placement on her 30+ year ‘tour’ of Reena facilities. At the next home she worked at, while dealing with higher needs individuals, Joanne continued to organize outings for the residents, using a Reena van to take individuals to activities and outings, including synagogue. “We used to visit other houses, after dinner, we would just get in the van, drive to another house and hang out with other individuals.” After a stint as a Day Program senior support worker, Joanne moved to another Reena home where she says, every weekend they would take outings exploring the community, checking out Toronto neighbourhoods like Kensington Market or visiting Fire stations or Canada’s Wonderland. Not only did Joanne enjoy the opportunity to explore the city, but she also had fun doing it. “What really motivated me was working with staff of the same mindset, wanting to go out and explore. For us it was a challenge because some of the individuals were grumpy and really didn’t want to go, but it was a challenge for us to see if we could just get them out there and enjoy. It was all worth it just to see them happy and really enjoy it.”
Her next position took her to the, then new, mixed housing complex where she supported high needs individuals in need of more complex support. “But I still managed to find places for us to go. I would book Wheel trans and go…basketball games, whatever there was.” Through her work in the building, Joanne got to meet supported independent living (SIL) residents who she decided to try to take on a trip to Montreal. The trip, while challenging, was an enormous success.
Joanne continued to work at different Reena homes until her maternity leave in 1999. When she came back, Joanne returned to supervise the mixed housing complex she used to work at. “The SIL individuals recognized me and wanted to go on another trip. One of the individuals was a big Elvis fan and he asked, can we go to Vegas?” And off they went on the first of two trips to Las Vegas where Joanne made sure they went to see “everything Elvis including a Cirque De Soleil show where he had such a good time.” Joanne says she recently ran into that Elvis fan at the Lou Fruitman Reena Residence where he had moved, and the first thing he asked was if they could go back to Vegas.
By 2012, in order to accommodate family life with a 9-5 job, Joanne moved to Reena’s Learning and Development department where she did a lot of training but missed the front line and individuals. Working on policy and being involved in accreditation eventually led to her current position of Quality Assurance Specialist where it is all about compliance, updating policies, accreditation. Joanne says she still misses the front line and dreams of wanting to get back to it before she retires.
“For me, it’s surprising…how I ended coming in not wanting to stay and how I have ended up not wanting to leave. I have come full circle.”