Darlene Lewis has loved her job since day one. She was just 18 when she went to work for a brand new organization in the community called Highland Community Residential Services (HCRS). She thought it would be a summer job. It turned into a 40-year career of supporting people with developmental disabilities to lead rewarding, enriching, independent lives in Pictou County.
“It’s the little things. It’s the love and kindness that I see being shared among our residents, the special relationships that develop. It’s the joy that bubbles up and overflows continuously. It’s getting to see their accomplishments or accomplishing new things together.”
More of the outdoorsy type, Darlene laughingly admits she had a lot to learn herself, suddenly responsible for providing personal and home care services.
HCRS was the first of its kind in Pictou County, offering persons living with disability a home-based, non-institutional setting in which to live. Living side by side and being there to help residents grow in the ways they wanted, meant that the bonds between staff and residents became strong like family.
Darlene remembers trying to hide while ensuring sure a young man was making his way to the store safely on a busy street. “This was what he really wanted to do to gain some independence. We practiced what he needed to do, but that first time, I had to be sure he was going to be okay.”
Darlene is pictured in front of the Temperance Street home that was the first group home HCRS opened with in 1967.
Helping the residents establish their lives within the community had very few low points but they did happen, like the day a child shouted something cruel to a resident. “I introduced both of us and said something like we are all what God makes us, we’re all special and nice people. We don’t have control over how we’re made. Whatever I said, the child’s expression changed immediately and he said hello to the resident, calling her by name.”
Many more of the memories are joyful like at Special Olympics when a young man in the 100m Dash stopped and began to cheer everyone else on to cross the finish line before him.
Darlene provided direct services to residents for 12 years and has served as a supervisor for 28. It’s an organization she’s incredibly proud to have devoted her life to.
“The vision and mission are still fundamentally the same, but today we are much better at accepting our residents as they are, helping them express their individuality, and helping people find and pursue their individual paths in life.” Today, there are more opportunities for the residents to pursue school, work, volunteer, social and recreational activities in the community too.
HCRS is celebrating 40 years of ensuring inclusion in community life for persons living with intellectual disability or mental health challenges. The organization supports 90 persons through its residential services, 180 persons through its respite and day programs, and 200 staff who provide personalized supports promoting wellness, personal dignity, and human rights.
To mark this milestone, we will be hosting a special reception at the Pictou County Wellness Centre on November 17 at 7 pm, which will feature a photo essay exhibit called “A Day in the Life of HCRS”. The community is invited to come hear some of the stories that are the hallmark of the kinder, more joyful community HCRS is creating. To learn more visit HCRSweb.ca.
For Darlene Lewis, the best part of HCRS is the dear and enduring friendships she has made. Like Darlene, Gordie MacKinnon has been a member of the HCRS community since the beginning. “Even though he doesn’t use words to communicate, Gordie is very expressive,” says Darlene. She describes him as a laid back, easy-going guy who loves to laugh, collect baseball hats, and follow sports.