“Jobs of the Future” is a series focusing on career paths, local job opportunities, programs, and tales of success that highlight North Bay's diverse job market.
For 65 years Community Living North Bay has been providing quality services to residents with an intellectual disability and their families in North Bay and area.
For Krista Gibson, working at Community Living has been a meaningful career choice.
“When I first started I really didn’t know if I was going to enjoy working with people with disabilities because I really had no idea what that even looked like,” says Gibson who is the Director, Clinical And Treatment Services at Community Living North Bay.
“I did a placement and it was absolutely fantastic. I think people get stuck on the idea of providing personal care but really, that’s about five minutes per person per day and that’s it. It ends up being such a little part of your day and everything else is such a big part of your day and it is so awesome and so engaging and those small bits become so insignificant.”
Gibson says to work in the Developmental Sector you would have to be open-minded and not get fixated on what she calls a small part of the job.
“Everybody has a part of their job which they don’t enjoy and it’s usually not even the biggest part of their job. If it were, they wouldn’t stay. You just get sucked into the atmosphere and the culture of support working at Community Living.”
Born and raised in North Bay, Gibson went to Canadore College for the Social Service Worker program and then got a degree in Psychology and Sociology through Nipissing University, but it was a field placement at Community Living that set the wheels in motion for where she would spend the next couple of decades.
“I did my field placement at Community Living around 1999-2000 for my Social Services Worker program. It was something I really enjoyed, and I ended up getting a part-time job while I was doing my university degree. It gave me a chance to see all of the different avenues you could work in within Community Living,” says Gibson.
“I felt that a degree would help me move more into the clinical aspect of what I was interested in, and it worked out, I ended up working with the clinical team.”
Gibson says that a part-time job had her placed in one of the group homes and once she finished her degree, she moved into a full-time role.
“In total, it was only about 2-3 years before I landed a full-time job, which allowed me to work in the direct care programs and providing support to people with intellectual disabilities and assisting them with daily life tasks, as well as engaging them with the community and ADL (activities of daily living) which include showering and bathing and eating,” says Gibson.
However, she says she was in the right place at the right time as that’s not normally the career trajectory someone has when starting out at Community Living.
“Usually someone would go from a part-time support worker to a night staff position before becoming a full-time support worker. Night shifts are not as beautiful as the day or evening shifts are, but it actually worked out for me because I was doing that when I was in university and so I was getting a lot of those hours. Once you’ve worked a certain amount of hours you can then start applying for a full-time position and so as soon as I was done school I was able to do that.”
Gibson says the experience of being in different group homes taught her what the different needs are and showed her different ideas on how they could build up the programs.
Gibson then moved into the transitions programs, which would support teenagers in high school who are transitioning into adult services.
“Often, when youth finish high school, they aren’t left with a whole lot and it’s hard for them to make those connections into the community and adult education and so we would help them do that.”
The next stop for Gibson was a management position, managing one of the group homes, which had 18 people living in that home.
“We started to downsize our program because nobody wants to live with 18 people and so I moved people into a couple of different group homes and I managed those,” says Gibson.
“A position for the clinical manager became available and so I started managing the clinical team, which I loved, and it is made up of clinical technicians. I did that for quite some time and then an opportunity came where we could submit proposals to our Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Canadian Children Services.”
Gibson says they had a partnership with the Forensic Hospital and opened up a dual diagnosis transitional rehab-housing program.
She adds, “There were only four of these being opened in the entire province and North Bay got a position and it had a two-bed unit. We opened that program and worked with the Forensic Health Unit to try to help individuals that were charged with crimes but had done their time at a Forensic Unit and were ready for a transition to community services. I set up that program and managed that program.”
Gibson says working with those partners led to a great collaboration. She says, “It really assisted people from being stuck in a hospital, and hospital beds cost a fortune, but we were able to transition people out to the community and that program is now in its fourth year.”
Gibson’s described her path through all of those different avenues to showcase the variety of aspects of Community Living someone can work in.
She adds, “There is residential, student nutrition, early years, include and support programs, there’s our recreational program as well. It is so diverse in terms of what you can do at Community Living, it's not just providing residential supports, but there are so many other opportunities here and lots of opportunities to apply to different agencies and move around within Community Living. You don’t ever have to be stuck in one area here, and you can work with the same people just in different types of environments.”
Gibson says it's also a career where you really see the impact of the work you are doing.
“Three years ago there was a story about a young lady with autism who was really struggling with self-injurious behaviour and even though we didn’t have a children’s home at the time, we felt we really needed to step up and so we opened the first children’s therapeutic care home in northern Ontario,” says Gibson.
“That was quite the ride, considering the level of self-injurious behaviour, setting up a staffing team and really focusing on supporting this young lady and getting her to a really great place in her life. She had been in and out of the hospital and she was really struggling with being successful and not having to be sedated her whole life and we started those conversations of moving ahead with the children’s home.”
Gibson says they had already been providing some services to this young lady and therefore had a really good idea of what that behaviour looked like. Gibson says, “I knew we could provide supports to her, it was going to be really hard, and it would take a lot of staffing dollars, in the beginning, to make it successful. There was a lot of pressure on our ministry because this was a pretty public case and so they were really open to seeing our proposals.”
Gibson says there are youth that are struggling and in the past, they would end up having to go down south in order to have those supports. Gibson says they were adamant in their proposals that it included clinicians, “So that behaviour could always be analyzed and supported and the staff could do some mentoring as well as a program manager. When that proposal first went in, it was about a 5-1 staffing level ratio because of the level of aggression and the supports it needed and I just supported that proposal through the data. We were able to see success within eight months of opening the program where she was no longer a risk to herself or a risk to our staff to being successful.”
Gibson says, “She was able to have visits with her family and they were able to build a relationship. The Ministry saw how much of a need this program is. However, there is still a ton of youth in our community that are intellectually disabled or have autism and are really struggling to be successful and so we have to do something to make the world work for what they need.”
Since then Gibson has become the Director of those programs and says, “It has been such an amazing journey and opportunity to start as a placement student in an education classroom to opening programs that didn’t exist to really setting up our community and supporting their family with the right resources.”
Gibson says they are hoping to see an interesting start peaking in people choosing to work in the Developmental Sector.
“There is a need,” she says.
“There is a need for more beds for individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities. We need more funding, more support, and trained staff who can provide that support. Lots of people come up to our ministry because they are struggling so much and for the most part the ministry has been looking at ways of how they can support people in the community. And really it is because of Robyn’s journey and how successful she has been through that stage of her life that we have hope that there are more programs and supports that will become available to those individuals in need.”