Editor’s note: In this Q&A Cristin Ladner, Community Living Brant’s (CLB) new executive director, discusses how she began her journey with CLB. She explores what in her work inspires her and what feels important to her. Cristin shares what kind of leader she wants to be and explores ways in which CLB can continue to evolve and shift to do things differently and provide the best possible support in community.
How did you get started with CLB?
I had just finished university and was supposed to start an additional program when a family member became ill. I decided to take time off to help care for them, but I needed a part time job to help get me through. I started with CLB and I couldn’t believe that I got to do this as a job every day. I was spending time with great people, forming relationships and supporting individuals to live their best lives possible. It was a job I had never considered, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me at that point in my life. I remember telling people on my first day that I would likely only be here for a year. That was almost 18 years ago.
I want to be the leader that recognizes we need to keep reaching further, and keep on learning in order to improve the work we do.
What inspires you most about your journey so far?
We know that we need to continue growing and learning to do better by the people we support. That is what is inspiring to me. I never want to be a leader that thinks we have everything figured out. I want to be the leader that recognizes we need to keep reaching further, and keep on learning in order to improve the work we do.
Why is it important for you to be a part of CLB?
I’ve always known I needed to work directly with people. To spend 40 or more hours sitting behind a desk would just not work for me. It is a privilege to play even just a small role in someone’s life where you can help them reach a goal or realize a dream. What could be more rewarding than that?
It’s not just about being included, it’s about finding where you belong.
What have you noticed in the evolution and history of CLB?
I think the way we have viewed community has changed the most over my time with the agency, but it certainly was evolving long before that. We have made every effort to ensure we are not creating or supporting segregated spaces for the people we support. That’s what I believe has been at the heart of the work we do and we have really shifted our approach. It is not enough just to be present, it has to be more than that. It’s not just about being included, it’s about finding where you belong.
What does community mean to you?
To me it means I have people in my life who take me exactly as I am and appreciate me for what I can bring to the table. These are the people who see past my faults and wouldn’t want me to be anyone other than exactly who I am. Whether I’m struggling with something or whether I’m looking for somebody to pull me out of a rut, I have those people and I have those places that are unique and important to me that provide that comfort and acceptance. Ultimately, that is what everyone should have — whether it’s myself, or someone we support.
Is doing things differently as things shift important to you, and why?
Absolutely. We wouldn’t be where we are today if previous leadership had been happy to stay in one place. We have always been an agency that is not afraid to think outside the box, and I have no intention of changing that. Each person we support is unique and has their own vision for what their life should look like. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the services we provide, and I’m so proud and inspired by staff who are willing to push the envelope and encourage the people we support to do the same.
We need to recognize, and the community in general needs to recognize, that every person, whether they have a disability or not, has something to offer.
What are some steps you think could be taken toward recognizing that vision?
The answer to that for me is obvious — we need to continue to listen! The people we support know what they want and sometimes what they need is for people to step out of their way and believe things are possible. We support people who have secured full time employment for years, when previously people in their lives thought they couldn’t. We support people who are married and live in their own homes, when people doubted they could do it. We support people who many thought were too anxious to be in big crowds and now we see them with friends who care about them going to concerts in Toronto and having the time of their lives. We need to recognize, and the community in general needs to recognize, that every person, whether they have a disability or not, has something to offer. It is definitely cliché but how boring would the world be if we were all the same?
What energizes you most?
The thing that energizes me the most is when my eyes are opened to something I hadn’t considered before. That could be a new way of doing things, or a perspective that is different than my own. More often than not it’s sitting and chatting with people we support and with staff and learning things I wouldn’t have known had I not taken the time to simply sit and listen. I love talking with people and am guilty at times of talking far too much. One of the best parts of this job so far has been getting to know people on a different level and I’m so grateful to the people who have trusted me with their stories.
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