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Thankful for Excellent Workforce

If there’s one thing that Justina Penner loves to do, it’s to offer encouragement and support to others. It is this quality that brought her from a small community up north to Abbotsford to care for her aging father. It’s what informed her career direction as she found work in helping professions, caring for children and youth and caring for people with mental health challenges.

And it’s what brought her to Communitas, first as a worker in our Supported Independent Living program and now as our Chief Human Resources Officer. For Justina, the opportunity to work in a place that seeks to support, encourage, and care for others with genuine compassion was irresistible. The values that undergird the work of Communitas are foundational in her own life.

“I love that we look at the whole person, not just a person’s diagnosis,” she explains. “I love that we see all people as created by God, that people with disabilities have equal value. Our faith base informs that and that’s important to me.”

For the last 17 years Justina has been giving direction to the Human Resources Department and she has found this work to be very satisfying.

“I’ve always loved helping people. Now I help staff to grow and learn and we support them as they support the people we serve.” Justina Penner

She recognizes that the most important resource that Communitas has is its dedicated workforce. Communitas holds its staff to high standards and while this can make it challenging to find the right staff people, Justina says there is no way that the organization would look to lower our standards to fill an employment need. Finding the right people takes time but it is always worth it.

When Justina and her HR team are looking at resumes and conducting interviews, they are looking at much more than education and training.

“We can teach someone how to complete certain tasks but we cannot teach compassion, care or integrity,” she says.

Finding the right people means looking beyond the text on a resume to the life experiences a person has had and the way in which job-seekers answer the thoughtful questions that are part of the application process. A person may not need to have had direct experience working with people who have disabilities. There are many jobs that will give people the skills and values that are transferable to the Communitas workplace.

“If I see on a resume that a person has worked at a summer camp for more than one summer, I see that they’ve got initiative and that they have a heart for caring for people,” she explains.

Justina firmly believes that the reason Communitas has grown to have over 400 staff serving more than 500 people across the province is because the organization has excellent staff who provide quality care day in and day out. This commitment to excellence is self-perpetuating.

“If you have good people who make up teams that are committed to excellent care, then you’ve got positive peer pressure that demands all members of that team are committed to the same standards,” she says.

And maintaining that excellent workforce also means supporting staff so that they can do their jobs to the best of their ability and reminding them regularly that they too are valued and appreciated. This means offering training that applies directly to their work. It also means offering incentives through health and wellness initiatives, celebrating milestones like birthdays, and taking the time annually to give each staff person a token of appreciation. Essentially, it is applying the same care and compassion to the staff that they provide to the people Communitas serves. It all comes back to giving encouragement and offering support.

“That’s a wonderful part of my job,” Justina says, with a huge smile on her face.

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