Jonathan Goertz has been on staff at Communitas Supportive Care Services since the early 1980s.
Born to career missionaries, Jonathan grew up in a family that served others.
He found his home at Communitas. He has worked as a residential home manager and continues to support people with disabilities today as a Community Living Program facilitator, helping people develop the life skills they need to live independently in their community. In his 20+ years of work, Jonathan has seen significant changes in the way society treats people with disabilities.
Change began when parents of people with disabilities living in institutions organized themselves and advocated passionately for their children, convincing the provincial government that this was not the way to care for vulnerable people in society. And so the de-institutionalization process began in the early 1980s, moving people with disabilities out of large-scale institutions and re-settling them into small group homes. Communitas (then a program of Mennonite Central Committee BC) was already leading the way with this model and was asked to assist in the process.
During his training with Communitas, to prepare people for the transition to the group home model, Jonathan visited these institutions. The memory of those visits still stirs powerful emotions in Jonathan. He blinks back tears as he recalls the conditions in which people with disabilities were forced to live.
“There was no privacy. Bathroom stalls had no doors. Bathtubs lined up in rows in a large open room. People slept four or eight to a room and spent most of their days in a large activity room with foam furniture and a TV that was bolted down behind Plexiglas,” he recalls.
Having said that, he finds that he cannot blame the staff who worked in these institutions. This was simply the norm at the time and it was the only way to operate an institution given the staff to patient ratio.
Jonathan clearly remembers the transformation of those first residents with whom he worked as the manager of a Communitas group home called Osprey.
“People living in institutions developed ‘behaviours’ to deal with the boredom of their existence. There was nothing there to stimulate their minds or develop their social skills,” he says.
The residents who came to live at Osprey were welcomed to their home. Interior doors were not locked. People were not tied down to their chairs or their beds at night. Staff spent one-on-one time with each person, helping them rediscover themselves.
“Even in two weeks we began to see changes,” Jonathan says. “Eventually, the ‘behaviours’ either disappeared or we’d adapt. There was still regular routine but the difference was, the new routines were active and tailored to the individual.”
Jonathan attributes this transformation to the vision of the organization and the attitude with which staff approached people in their care – an attitude of love and respect that continues to this day. This vision has been the unchanging foundation upon which Communitas continues to do its work and it’s what keeps people like Jonathan serving here for the long haul. For him, this is not a job, it is a vocation – a life’s calling.
“This is what I do, it is how I walk my faith,” he says. “I want to be able to live my passion and I can do that here.”