Taking Steps – 2016 Executive Director Report

Taking Steps…
Pace, stride, move, movement, action, measure, tread, rung, march, stair, footstep, stage, phase, walk…

By Skills Society Executive Director, Pat Conrad for the 2016 Skills Society Annual Report

Aleeya Velji ABSIThe life experience of Skills Society to achieve the goal of inclusive communities has required patience and determination. We have made strides over more than three decades to influence change, but change takes time and we are not finished. While preparing for the Skills Society Annual Report, the notion of Taking Steps was ever present as I reflected on our past year. The steps are diverse in nature; some took us to new horizons, while others took us backwards to places we thought we had left behind. The political landscape changed significantly in Alberta a year ago. The New Democrats, under the leadership of Rachel Notley, took over the controls from the long standing Progressive Conservative Party. Since then, the community disability services sector has faced the daunting task of providing first time MLAs with information and understanding about issues and services to people with disabilities.

We are relieved that the PDD Safety Standards were repealed by the Minister of Human Services, Ifran Sabir. The design of the Phase 1 consultation process opened the door for those impacted by the regulations to tell their stories and it is clear that they were heard. We are encouraged that the Phase 2 consultation will maintain this positive momentum with a reasonable balance achieved between safety and risk related to people’s lives.

Public criticism of the contracting practices of the previous provincial government has taken us into a whole new contract experience, since the current government has moved away from sole source contracting. We have undergone the Pre-Qualify Request process to be eligible to provide services and be in contract with the Ministry of Human Services. Unfortunately this initiative negated the years of collaboration by the PDD Contract Advisory Committee and the funder that worked hard to develop a contract which the disability services sector and government could agree to.

The Ministry’s decision to look further into the expressed concerns of the proposed new contract and the delay of implementing the new PDD contract to March 31, 2017 makes us hopeful. In addition, the Ministry of Human Services has responded to feedback from agencies that provide services to children and there have been some revisions made to the new contract template. This will impact our contract in family supports for children with disabilities related to the out of home respite services we provide through the Woodcroft home.

Skills Society underwent major changes in our physical office space in 2015. We managed to remain fully operational while in the midst of chaos while our work environment was downsized and transformed into a more efficient space. The complete loss of the main floor and relocation of all operations to the second floor was a big move. Now everyone is working in closer quarters and much more aware of the breadth of the organization and the diversity of the work that we do.

Action Lab Launch_DSC00336_2016The design concept of the Action Lab featured on the cover of last year’s annual report stepped into reality during this past year. We celebrated the official launch in February 2016 with keynote presentations on Social Innovation and Change Labs by Tim Draimin, CEO – Social Innovation Generation and Mark Cabaj, President – From Here to There. Mayor Iveson spoke about the importance of innovation as did MLA David Shepherd. We appreciated the Manasc Issaac Blue Sky Architect Award which sets the rung for us to reach high while developing a space that inspires creativity. We are off to a good start with the Action Lab meeting agency needs for training, learning, and meeting space. In addition, the Action Lab is providing some revenue back to Skills as outsiders rent the space. An employment opportunity has also occurred for some people supported by Skills to act as Action Lab Hosts. The successful application to Alberta Culture and Tourism for the Community Facility Enhancement Program Grant of $70,000 has been a big boost to supporting the development of the Lab space.

IMG_4372Team Leaders, Management, and Board Members took steps in fall 2015 to bring a focus to Skills Society’s Five Core Values through activities using Lego Serious Play. In this activity we connected agency initiatives and our roles in the organization to the core values. The experience was fun and supported further assimilation of the core values into our organizational culture.

In April 2016, the Senior Management Team and Board Members spent a day together building knowledge and preparing for a Strategic Planning retreat in fall 2016. Presentations were made by the Senior Managers related to their leadership role at Skills. This provided valuable information about what we have been doing in particular areas of the organization and where we are going.

There was a bit of a bounce in our step recently when we were notified that Skills Society had achieved Level
1 in the Creating Excellence Together (CET) accreditation standard. The preparation for this survey and audit process was extensive and included a complete overhaul of the Policy and Procedures Manual. A sincere thank you is extended to everyone in the organization as this was truly a team effort and a major achievement.

DSC_0061Partnerships, collaborations, and building relationships continue to be integral to our growth as an organization. The Skills Society Annual Day of Giving (a Pay It Forward event) was introduced this year in December and replaced our Festive Open House. We reached out to the Skills Society community, our friends and allies and invited them to gather items like winter clothing and toiletries which were donated to the Bissell Centre to support homeless people in Edmonton. It was a terrific couple of hours celebrated at the Boyle Street Plaza with live music from our talented employees, a photo booth, hot chocolate and cookies. This event will be repeated next year.

Over the past year, Skills Society was part of the creative collaboration with the Alberta Social Innovation (ABSI) Connect Fellowship. We were asked by Social Innovation Generation National (SIG) to be mentors and host an ABSI fellow. It was a privilege to act as a host and mentor to Aleeya Velji, one of three ABSI Connect Fellows. The opportunity to partner and explore Albertan social innovation through involvement in the project was inspiring.

UOFACSLThis spring, Skills Society employees were invited to participate in focus groups as part of the Community Service Learning (CSL) partnership. Under the leadership of Kathleen Lowrey, the students were enrolled in a course called the Anthropology of Disability. The CSL component focused on people who work with people with disabilities rather than involving a project working directly with people who have disabilities. Six University of Alberta students met in focus groups with Skills Society employees to learn about their work. The students combined their coursework readings with learnings from and conversations with Skills employees and reported their findings back to the rest of their class. It was a valuable experience for our employees and the students.

MyCompassThe collaborative partnership with Southern Alberta Community Living Association (SACLA) and Lift Interactive to build the humanized person-centred web- based App – My Compass has gained momentum and is close to being ready for action. Countless numbers of people have been involved in this project in an effort to ensure that we are building a tool that will be make a significant difference in the supports to people with disabilities. We are excited to get started.

As we welcome three new board members—Darcy McDonald, Carmen Norris, and Debbie Royer
—we also say farewell to board members who are leaving Skills Society this year. Thank you to Chair Cindy Imppola and Vice Chair Patricia Bokenfohr, who have completed three terms (9 years) of service, and Rhonda Penno Vernerey who has completed two terms (6 years) of service. Their commitment to Skills, contributions, and participation on various committees has been incredibly generous. These years have been tumultuous and having a solid board to support the organization through uncertainty is priceless. You will be missed.

I also thank our amazing and steadfast employees whose everyday work makes the difference in people’s lives.

As we embark on new projects or simply keep working on those we already have, friendships evolve, we learn more, we strive to do better, and ultimately, our community is stronger.