This Place is Like Family
As Elli Hiebert prepares for retirement, she thinks back to that day at her church choir practice when a friend recommended she apply for a job at Communitas. That recommendation, which led Elli to apply for and be hired as a receptionist, was 25 years ago. It’s a decision she has never regretted.
“After 25 years here I can honestly say that I never thought about going anywhere else,” she says. “I’ve never been stifled or bored and there’s always been lots of opportunity for growth.”
That’s not to say there have not been challenges. When she began, she had been out of the workforce for 13 years during which time technology had changed.
“I remember being scared of computers,” she says with a laugh. “We had gotten an Apple ‘baby mac’ computer for home use, so I was relieved to see one at the reception desk when I arrived.”
There was no multi-line telephone and no automated message system so messages were written on pink pads of paper and left in mailboxes. At the time she was hired, the organization was much smaller but had a growing workforce of nearly 100 people. To manage this growth, a Human Resources department was created and Elli had an opportunity to help shape the department, setting up some of the structures and systems needed to keep track of staff.
“Back then we were a department of two and used a Claris Works database. We had one, tall, four drawer filing cabinet,” she remembers. “Now we have five filing cabinets, more staff and a much more sophisticated computer system.”
The rapid growth of the organization, with nearly 500 staff working in 3 geographic locations in BC, is the one thing that has been challenging in her work in HR. The need for more staff is constant and some days it has felt like they can’t keep up.
“But you learn to accept that feeling of never being caught up and adapt,” she says. “It just becomes part of the challenge of your job.”
What hasn’t changed is Elli’s enjoyment of her work. She has always enjoyed the actual tasks associated with her work and the feeling of completing these tasks each day. She also notes that the culture of the workplace has been consistently positive, encouraging and welcoming.
“I think a lot of credit goes to people like (founding executive director) Steve Thiessen and others in leadership who created and maintained that culture,” she reflects. “And that really has not changed over the years.”
She credits her own longevity and that of many other long-serving staff to this consistent and positive work environment. She is also cognizant that this is a reflection of the way the organization engages with the people it serves, seeing people with developmental disabilities as equals who contribute to our lives.
When asked what she wishes people knew about those who live with developmental disabilities, she responds by editing the question.
“I just wish more people knew people who live with developmental disabilities because then there would be more understanding.” – Elli Hiebert
As she looks forward to her retirement, Elli will take some of the organizational skills learned at the office into her home life.
“I have a whole bunch of photos that need to be organized,” she says, wistfully.
She also hopes to travel, tend to her garden, and spend time with her grandchildren and her aging parents. And, she says she’ll be back to visit her colleagues at Communitas.
“Oh yes, I’ll be back,” she says. “This place is like family.”