Leaving a job; something many of us have done or will have to do. These changes are big and thoughtful decisions often supported by a good ol’ pros and cons list. Once the decision has been made there is the formal process, sending a letter of resignation and providing management with your two weeks notice; followed by the informal aspects, the goodbyes with co-workers, cleaning out your work space and maybe a “best wishes” card filled with doodled smiley faces and notes of “good luck” from colleagues. Then you walk away. There is perhaps a bit of sadness but some assurance that the wisdom from this job will support you in your next chapter, a hope that the organization will function without you and your work friends will post on your Facebook wall for your birthday. Leaving a job in developmental service work has some similarities to this standard process but it also holds a complex transition that feels more like a break-up then a resignation.
I have worked as a Direct Support Worker in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities for the past two years. I entered this work initially in 2018 as a university student seeking a part time job but ended up being a part of something so much bigger. This month I have received an exciting job offer to work on the Recreation Therapy team for a healthcare centre in Toronto, an opportunity I have been waiting for since I graduated in May. This new opportunity is an exciting step in my career but is a bittersweet transition as I leave my student-life and work in Waterloo.
Working in a group home is a unique opportunity. When I started this work I didn’t think about how the contract I was signing would enter me into individuals’ whole lives. I have worked constantly and compassionately with a small group of people in a way that is so personal and complex. I have fulfilled professional duties but I have also grown to deeply care about the individuals I support. Through every trip to the movies, community dinner and summer BBQ, I grew to be a more active and involved member of this household. These individuals trusted me and I them.
This work requires your whole heart. It is hard and it is often undervalued, but this work is important. You hold individuals’ lives in your hands and heart as you care for them, work with them and support them. Spending countless hours at this home granted me the privilege of becoming a member of a community that cares for each other. We grew in understanding, mutuality and respect, and learned how to work together and support each other.
And now I am just going to leave?
These goodbyes are complicated and delicate because this work is so much more than a job. I am exiting the lives of people I have interacted with consistently for the past two years and by default they are leaving mine. I find it hard to imagine never seeing these folks again who I have grown to be friends with and have taught me so much. These folks have taught me more about mutuality, integrity and positivity than I will ever be able to put into words. These are lessons I will think of often and hold in gratitude.
As I say these goodbyes I try to remain positive as I reminisce with the residents about our time together. I try to remain hopeful as I share the idea of a wonderful, new staff who will be excited for this opportunity.
Yet, these goodbyes still make me sad.
I hold this sadness. But I also strive to fill the space with hope and gratitude. I am grateful for this work. I am grateful for the opportunity to know these people. I am grateful our lives intertwined. I am grateful for what I have learned. I am grateful that I will always carry all these memories and lessons. I am grateful for the kindness and patience these individuals have shown me. I am grateful for dedicated staff and residents. I am grateful knowing they will continue to care for and create this community. I am grateful for a job that felt like home.
Most importantly, I am grateful for my sadness because a job that is this hard to leave is a job truly worth having.
Amy is a fresh grad with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. University does not come naturally to a person with a learning disability, making Amy uniquely proud of her undergraduate accomplishments. Amy is working to be more open about her disability and strives to view her learning challenges as an opportunity for growth in resilience and creativity.
She has worked with rehab patients, people with disabilities, veterans and mental health clients searching for more equitable access to community recreation. She believes wholeheartedly in the therapeutic benefit of doing what you love, as often as you can.