5 min Read

Reflections on Our Employees

DDA will be going through its sixth accreditation review in mid-May so we are all busily preparing for CARF surveyors to visit each site and report on DDA’s compliance with CARF standards. Accreditation offers us an opportunity to review our work over the last three years and reflect on where we need to evolve to more fully realize our mission. Helping people realize their full potential is hard work that runs all the way through DDA!

Our excellence is thanks to the dedicated staff who work for DDA. Remarkably, many have worked with us for over 10, 20, 30 and in a couple of cases, 40 years. We have childcare workers who have supported and taught almost two generations of children. Residential staff who have become like family to the people with whom they work. Vocational and community support staff who have motivated and supported many people to reach their goals and become more independent. Truck drivers who have braved snow, rain and repaired vandalized clothing bins that help us raise money to enhance DDA services. Everyone who has ever worked at DDA, and there have been thousands since 1952, has left their mark on the people and culture of our organization.

The first employee at DDA was a school teacher. Families who did not place their children in institutional care at the “Woodlands School” had nowhere to send their children to learn. Some policy makers thought people with developmental disabilities could not learn. To prove that community was for everyone, these families formed the first Board of Directors, with Bea Purdy as President. They found church basements where they could teach a small group of children, while moms took turns picking up and driving kids to school and teaching classes. After a few years of this, they finally got a grant and hired one qualified, trained teacher, and very soon afterwards, hired another.

Eventually, these families founded the Oakridge School – which is still well remembered by some of our older clients. Eventually Oakridge School was incorporated into the Vancouver School District and then integrated education came to all regions of
British Columbia.

Once groups of graduates left the Oakridge School, they needed jobs or some sort of work to occupy their day. This resulted in DDA’s Sheltered Workshops opening and operating throughout the city for several decades. Some of our current staff can still remember working in Sheltered Work. Once the Employment Standards Act was changed to include people with developmental disabilities and required all people to be paid minimum wage for work during the final years of the last millennium, DDA closed our Sheltered Workshops and, after meeting with every Workshop participant to find out what they wanted to do next, we opened all our current day program sites. Some folks did want to work and they found employment in the community or at Starworks. Others wanted to learn life skills, participate in recreation activities, or volunteer in the community without the pressure of a paid job. Deanne Ziebart and her team did a great job of finding new locations, designing new programs and individualizing all services.

Once students left school, parents wanted them to live regular lives in the community, so DDA opened group homes to welcome adults who wanted to live away from their families but not necessarily alone. The famous Garry Street group home was large and understaffed, but it did provide an opportunity for folks to learn life skills and become more independent. Respite and supported apartment services were also initiated so people at all levels of independence could be accommodated. DDA opened only a couple of group homes in response to the closure of Tranquille and did not participate in the closure of Woodlands, but rather developed housing for folks in the community who needed more support. In the 1970’s, Arlington was developed. Every staff member who worked in residential programs added to the diversity and comprehensiveness of residential services. In the early 2000’s, with a change in government and a change in philosophy, the province formed CLBC and suggested that agencies close their group homes in favour of home share. At DDA we decided that, although group homes were not for everyone, a small percentage of people with developmental disabilities would need more support than home share or apartment living could offer. Under the leadership of Danielle White, our residential services changed to become more efficient and effective. By 2010, we were already utilizing advanced technology to plan for residents and assistive technology to help adults become more independent.

Child care at DDA started at Berwick, when families wanted specialized services to ensure their children developed along typical milestones. In Partnership with U.B.C. and community donors, Berwick became a special needs child care center visited still by professionals and students from all over the world. As the number of special needs children in Vancouver grew, DDA responded by developing more specialized programs until the province developed a policy of integration and a rule that only 25% of any given center could have a disability. Teachers and staff adapted and created new methods of teaching that maintained their high standards while welcoming all children from the community. With Andrew Roets at the helm, DDA teachers and assistants maintained high educational qualifications and continue to produce some of the best special needs childcare environments in the Lower Mainland.

Very proudly, the Infant Development Programs operating throughout the world started at DDA. Dana Brynelson, a DDA employee, took a special interest in early infant development and supported by the DDA Board, developed the first IDP methods and processes. Dana partnered with U.B.C. to develop a body of research that supported IDP development throughout the province, the rest of Canada, the United States, Europe, and in some parts of Asia. With the help of our IDP consultants and U.B.C. academics, it has been exciting to see IDP develop in previously communist countries in Eastern Europe and East Asia.

Throughout these developments, the commitment of all the DDA boards of directors and employees is evident and has grown. From those early days with only two employees compared to today’s roster of about 500, everyone who had worked here has contributed to the lives of the infants, children, families, adults and seniors who are served by DDA. They have saved lives, expanded horizons and added quality to the development of all our services. Without our staff, we are only dreamers with goals but no way of reaching them. Without our Board, we are only workers with a job but no sense of purpose. Together, we make a dynamite organization.


by Alanna Hendren