My name is Christina Scott; I am a former employee of the Southern Alberta Individualized Planning Association in Lethbridge (SAIPA).
SAIPA is a small non-profit organization in Lethbridge whose mission is to “Inspire people with developmental disabilities to drive change in their communities as engaged and empowered citizens.”
For any organization, this is a substantial goal that requires ambition, dedication, and passion. I am proud to say that my two colleagues, Sharon Rempel and Anna Olson possess all of those qualities and much, much more as they work hard to better the lives of people with disabilities.
I joined SAIPA in 2015, taking on the position of Workshop Facilitator. My role recently changed to focus on marketing.
I had previously worked with both women on committees in the community, and admired their drive and work ethic. However, it was only when I received the chance to work with them more closely that I witnessed how much they cared about their jobs, and how immersed in them they really were.
SAIPA achieves its mission in three ways: offering training and workshops that help people with disabilities gain life skills; providing the community with various resources related to disability; and managing an advocacy program for people with disabilities that encompasses Alberta’s south region, extending from the U.S. border to Nanton and from British Columbia to Saskatchewan. This program, called the South Region Self-Advocacy Network (SRSAN), currently has 114 members and is the largest advocacy group in the province.
Upon learning of the depth and breadth of SAIPA’s services, I was amazed that all of it was being handled by two people. I can think of no two people better suited for the task. Sharon is SAIPA’s executive director; she has a degree in Community and Disability Rehabilitation and several years of experience in the disability field under her belt. She joined SAIPA in 2012 because, she says:
“I thought that SAIPA’s services were extremely unique compared to any other service provider. I thought SAIPA was an opportunity to make large scale difference.”
Sharon has definitely made a difference. Sharon is extremely ambitious, fun, creative and outgoing. She thrives when at work on multiple projects and is never too busy to take on special requests from the community, including giving presentations on our services, meeting with families or guardians, or teaching additional workshops.
SAIPA currently offers nine different workshops, ranging from self-esteem and self-determination to sexuality and individual rights. Demand for our workshops is high; as such, SAIPA can teach between 20 and 30 workshops per year. More impressive is the fact that Sharon often tailors the workshops to meet the needs of the advocates enrolled in them. Even though this means spending long hours reworking the material to suit her audience, Sharon does so happily because she wants all advocates to have the same opportunities to learn and grow.
Sharon says meeting the needs of the community is key, and to do that, it’s simply a matter of prioritizing what’s important.
Along with this, Sharon handles the duty of executive director with grace and skill; she is extremely personable, funny and easy to work with. She is always open to new ideas for SAIPA and has plenty of her own. Her enthusiasm for her work shines as she continually helps develop new programming and partnerships. She has also been amazing in securing additional funding for my position, always making me feel fully supported and valued.
She and Anna work extremely well together, each bringing their own unique skill sets to the job. Anna joined SAIPA in 2009 as our organization’s advocacy co-ordinator. Anna also has a degree in Community and Disability Rehabilitation, along with a diploma in Disability Studies. Before joining SAIPA, she also spent years in the field filling different roles.
As advocacy co-ordinator, Anna spends much of her time meeting with self-advocates, listening to their concerns and ideas, helping them achieve their goals. Anna can often be found meeting with self-advocates, for work, or pleasure. She often invites people to join her for lunch, or just to come into her office to talk. Anna’s “open door” policy creates a welcoming, warm and safe environment for people with disabilities and only strengthens our ability to deliver quality programming. Anna can meet with up to 100 advocates per week to discuss various projects and tasks, including SRSAN and its various committees, supporting advocates to speak up at provincial meetings, and helping them plan our biennial self-advocacy conference. She also assists individuals to be part of Albertans Advocating for Change Together (AACT) and the PDD Self-Advocates Advisory Committee.
“Every voice matters,” says Anna. “This is something that I believe in, but this job has just reaffirmed this belief in so many ways. It is important to listen and really hear what people are saying.”
Anna also feels that self-advocates have knowledge and expertise that we can all learn from. Anna loves seeing people become leaders in their lives to achieve what they want.
Self-advocates have grown exponentially under the guidance of these two wonderful women. Their deep belief that people with disabilities have the power to lead their own lives has given advocates the confidence to co-facilitate workshops, volunteer for leadership roles, move out on their own, change service providers and much more.
“They’re always there and have helped me throughout the years,” says one self-advocate. “I feel more open and not as shy as I used to be.”
In short, SAIPA is a wonderful place to work. I am learning so much from my co-workers and feel very lucky to be part an organization making such a difference!