They’ve worked side-by-side for more than two decades and this spring two senior members of the Terrace and District Community Services Society have decided to retire.
Executive director Marilyn Lissimore and executive assistant Jeannette Anderson served the community organization for a combined total of more than 50 years.
“We’ve been working together since she started,” Lissimore said, referring to Anderson who joined the TDCSS several years after her. “We’ve worked together as peers, we’ve worked together as supervisors, we’ve worked together for a very long time.”
The duo both gained experience in the various social programs provided by the society before taking their roles among senior management in quick succession of each other.
Lissimore got her first gig with the TDCSS as a summer student in 1986 working in group homes and effectively never left the organization except to finish school.
Anderson switched into the role of child and youth worker for the society from her work in a daycare in 1993 and went on to manage Northwest Addiction Services.
She also had the opportunity to work across all the programs before transitioning into management, and brought those perspectives to the table.
Over the years, the duo has overseen the society’s 150 employees transition from separated programs to an integrated array of services and a “big team” atmosphere.
But they’ve also had to make some tough decisions as their funding comes with more strings attached.
“I think the jobs across the agency are probably a lot harder than when we started,” Lissimore remarked. “People are coming in with a lot more complex needs that they used to,” continued Anderson.
“Over the last decade, money has tightened up, the accountability has gotten bigger and bigger, reporting has gotten more complex. It’s more difficult to be responsive to the community. It’s always an issue, there’s never enough,” Lissimore said.
The TDCSS has reached some major milestones over those years, securing international accreditation as a nonprofit in 2003 for demonstrating quality services.
“Although it was a challenge at the time, having the whole agency accredited, I think it was our shining piece,” said Anderson.
Lissimore said that it’s the achievements of the staff being able to make a difference in people’s lives that is the society’s greatest accomplishment.
“We served a little boy – a year or so ago. He came to us spitting in our faces, swearing at us and not speaking at all, he was nine. He left us by knocking on my door very politely and excitingly saying that he was moving. To me!” she exclaimed.
“You don’t always know you are having that impact until years later when they contact you and say thank-you or you’ll see them and identify that they have made those changes in their lives,” Anderson said.
“It’s all confidential stuff, we can’t tell the community, but I do get to hear about that and I’m going to miss those stories,” Lissimore said.
Though they say they each have different styles of managing the organization, they both agree that the society must work to help everyone thrive in the community.
It’s about working to treat those who need counselling or other services in the community and keeping them away from institutions at all costs, Lissimore mentioned.
Back when they started working in the field, those with mental illness or developmental disabilities were often sent to separate schools and hidden out of sight, she said.
This in contrast to today where people with a variety of needs become friends, neighbours and workers in society.
“It doesn’t matter what the issue is, there is always some way it can be integrated into the community,” said Anderson.
Since officially retiring back in April, Anderson has been spending time with her children and grandchildren and says she will continue to volunteer in the community.
Lissimore is looking forward to more time to paint and watch her grandchildren grow.
Speaking as she prepared to depart from the organization last week, she said she hoped that the TDCSS would continue to develop specialized programs normally available in Prince George and Vancouver so that people do not need to leave home to seek treatment.
At the top of her list is a treatment centre for youth, she said.
Anderson agreed and said she will miss the people she worked with and is looking forward to seeing what they come up with in the future.
“I’m quite excited to see where the TDCSS is going to go in the future, they’re a strong team and they’ve got good ideas,” she reflected.