Serving on the Other Front Line
When you think of “frontline workers” in the midst of a pandemic, your mind automatically goes to those who are working in the thick of the crisis, caring for those who are most vulnerable. This is true at Communitas where our residential support workers and care givers are providing excellent care to the people we serve.
But there are several people who have always worked on a different front line, who also continue to serve in the midst of this pandemic. They are the first faces you’ll see or the first voices you’ll hear if you visit or call our offices in Abbotsford and Campbell River. They are the people who make up our reception teams: Sharon Adams, Shauna Alisch, Michelle DeJong, Diane Rempel, and Sarah Rempel.
“Our admin team comes to work every day with the same warm, welcoming demeanor,” says Karyn Santiago, chief executive officer for Communitas. “I deeply appreciate how they continue to be person-centred and continue to live out the values of the organization with a welcoming, ‘can-do’ spirit.”
The administrative team share many responsibilities: answering phones and directing calls, dealing with mail and email, booking vehicles and meeting rooms, and greeting people as they enter the offices of Communitas. Some also process payments and donations. They all see themselves as problem-solvers and helpers, coming alongside others to help them with whatever it is they need. They all say that COVID has impacted their work experience.
Sarah says that the pandemic has added to some of their work and changed the way other tasks are done.
“While we have always sanitized the office during flu season, this has become a task we do more frequently due to COVID,” she explains. “We have also had to adjust to the fact that many of our staff are working from home and must direct people’s calls and mail accordingly.”
Sharon is the office coordinator in Abbotsford and oversees the staff there. She says that the biggest impact of the current pandemic on their work is the quiet. Because services have been redeployed to maintain social distancing, fewer people are working in the building and fewer individuals are coming through the doors.
“It has made it much too quiet around here,” Sharon says. “I’m getting lots of tasks completed and one could say that it’s because there are no interruptions. But ‘interruptions’ are our work and because they are usually in the form of a person with requests and laughter, they are very much missed.”
Diane agrees. One of the things she most loves about her work is meeting the people served by Communitas and watching them interact with staff. This absence is deeply felt.
“COVID has temporarily robbed me of the joy I experience from the people we support,” she says. Her response to this ‘theft’ is to turn to her faith. “I am praying more for them and for the staff, so crisis can bring about opportunity!”
Perhaps the reception person most impacted by COVID is Shauna. Her son lives with a heart condition and so Shauna took some time off in March to ensure that he was safe and healthy. She has come back part time now and is grateful that she can come back to work with confidence.
“Communitas has done a fantastic job in making us feel safe. Sanitizing is done twice a day and plexiglass has been installed to protect the front staff. Social distancing is practiced in the office as well,” she says, adding how much she appreciates seeing the people she has missed so much.
Michelle works at the Brandon Centre, Communitas’ office space in Campbell River. Just as in Abbotsford, that space is normally shared with day services and she misses seeing individuals or joining in activities. She also misses these interruptions.
“Sometimes when your head is down and you’re focused on the administrative side of things, it’s nice to get a reminder of why we are doing the paperwork that is in front of us,” she says. “It’s moments where I see the individuals we support fulfilling their goals, making connections, and having fun that brings so much joy to my job.”
Diane Bieber, program director on the North Island, says that she appreciates Michelle’s work and her creative problem-solving skills, particularly in the midst of the pandemic.
“Michelle came up with a unique way to celebrate birthdays. Instead of having the birthday person blow out candles on a cake, Michelle holds the candle in the air, waving it back and forth like at a concert while we sing happy birthday,” Diane explains. “Being part of the team is helping us find our new normal!”
The staff working in these spaces are grateful for the important work that their administrative team do. George Jacob is the chief operations officer and works at the offices in Abbotsford. He appreciates the proficiency and thoroughness of the team and says he couldn’t do his work without their support.
“We need to celebrate them because they truly are heroes,” he says. “They constantly represent us with such high quality to the community and do so with a great attitude.”