Office Coordinator, 1989 – 2016
When I started working at Stonehenge 26 years ago, drug use was not talked about as openly as it is today. Instead, people tried to cover it up to avoid bringing shame to their family and friends. Typically, harsh judgments were made about a person’s character if they were known to use drugs, none of them pleasant or worth mentioning here. If I’m honest, because I was new to the field and didn’t know anyone who struggled with an addiction, there were times when I too made some of these judgments. But working at Stonehenge has provided all kinds of insight and understanding in both my professional and personal life. Let’s just say it has been both an “eye-opening” and “heart-opening” experience to be part of this organization.
As the Office Coordinator and primary receptionist, I speak to a lot of people on the phone. I realize this is not everyone’s cup of tea but I’m very social and I like people so this is part of my role I really appreciate, whether it’s talking to potential clients, family members or former residents. Remember, this is 26 years of calls, going back to before computers, when everything was done on a typewriter. Wow, I have welcomed and offered support to well over 50,000 people during my time at Stonehenge!
As you can imagine, the reasons for calls are wide-ranging, from someone just needing information to someone who is absolutely desperate to know that somebody out there might be able to offer them a glimmer of light. Over the years several calls have stood out in my mind as ones where I felt, in that moment, I did something to change the course of someone’s life.
Many years ago, when the Stonehenge office was located on Farquhar Street, I took a call from a past resident who was suicidal. I could tell that he just needed to hear that his situation was not beyond hope – that it might get even a little bit better. I was able to provide support to him over the phone while staff looked up his address and dispatched police to provide immediate support to him.
More recently, a woman had left a message on our answering machine. The message didn’t say much, and she didn’t ask for anything. But there was something about the way she talked, the words she used, the finality of her tone. I had a gut feeling she needed help; that she was reaching out. After seeking help from Management, we were able to send an Outreach staff to her home, who then engaged crisis services and the woman received the support she needed.
As the first contact point at Stonehenge, my experience has been that when people reach out, they want help “yesterday”, not tomorrow – when they call, they are motivated for change. I hear it in their voices – they cannot take another rejection, another ‘no’. I feel their devastation when someone learns they have to wait months for treatment they believe will give them a second chance at life. I’ve been the sounding board for people who need to yell or the shoulder for people who need to cry. I have learned not to take it personally when I’m told their loved ones are going to die and it will be my fault. None of these calls are easy. It is heartbreaking to hear that kind of desperation in someone’s voice, or to know that they very well could die while waiting for treatment. Yet it’s during these experiences that I feel especially grateful that there is a service like ours in Ontario. We have the opportunity to help and support people, to be there when they’re ready to make a change; to lift them up.
Over the course of my time at Stonehenge, my thinking has changed. I’ve learned that people struggle with addiction for all sorts of reasons. What we may see on the outside and what is happening on the inside is not the same thing. It’s been a joy to see people who have arrived at STC at their rock bottom, leave as happier and healthier people with a positive outlook on life – a bit of hope and confidence.
As I prepare for retirement in June, I feel proud knowing that STC is doing everything it can to provide people the opportunity for meaningful change. In my case, I changed too. In 2010, I even let the organization give away my typewriter!