The year is 2012 and the month is September, and for the first time in 41 years, I am not returning to school at the end of summer. Instead, I am driving to my first day at work at Semiahmoo House Society. Curiously, I do not feel nervous. This is odd because over the past four decades the first day of school, as a student or educational professional, has come with a high degree of anxiety that has only been assuaged after getting into the rhythm of the school year. Yet, here I am calmly sipping coffee and listening to another discussion of Canuck goalies on the radio as I drive to a new job in community living. My jaw is not clenched, my stomach is not tense, and I wonder why.
I pull my truck into the parking lot and take a moment to look at the Treehouse, Semiahmoo House’s west coast style building, and realize why I am not anxious: I have come home.
In a sense, my new career path is not so new. In my twenties, while going to university, I worked as a Child and Youth Care Counselor with youth who had autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or other characteristics that put them at risk. I loved that job, which focused on community integration. Having worked a variety of other part-time jobs, from dishwasher to bartender to insurance agent before that, I was happy to have a job that allowed me to be creative in thinking of ways to include the youth I worked with in their communities. I am sure that I would have continued working in the community living field if I could have supported my family on the wages that I was earning. Unfortunately, I could not, and I completed my education degree and became a teacher, a job that I also loved. Now, after 17 years as an educator, I am returning to community living.
I get out of my truck and carry some pictures and art work that I will be putting up in my new office across the parking lot and into the building. Immediately I am greeted by my friends Larry and John, former self-advocate Board members, and other program participants and staff. After meeting some participants and staff that I did not already know, I go into my office, which is located at the entrance to the Treehouse, and put some family pictures on my desk and hang artwork done by my wife and my children on the walls.
The last picture that I put up is not one that was done by a family member. It is a colourful impressionistic piece bought from a second hand store near my house and painted by a man who has an acquired brain injury. According to the store owner, the man used to be a successful engineer until his injury. Since the injury he has lost his work, his friends, and his family. He lives alone and finds solace in his art. The painting of his that I am hanging on my office wall is called My Home. It is there because Semiahmoo House is one of my homes but also to remind me of why I am here: to support all people in finding a home in their community, which means much more than having a physical place to live (although, to be sure, this is of great import these days in community living). Home is also everything that I was told the artist has lost: a sense of belonging, a meaningful job, a way to get around, friends to go out with, a place to be creative and learn with others, and a loving family. At Semiahmoo House I am comfortable and feel at home because I am with caring people who are fully aligned with community living: staff, volunteers, and participants who believe in and work hard at building a community where everyone belongs.