What is your name, title and how long have you been working in your current role here?
My name is Mickey Ferguson, Director of CAPSH. I have been with CASS for 10 years and 9 months. The CAPSH program was created a couple of years ago to encompass Langin Place and Stepping Stone Manor, which supports adults experiencing homelessness, mental health, and addiction issues to secure safe housing.
What other roles have you had with the agency?
I came to CASS 10 years and nine months ago as coordinator to provide support around case management in the Langin Program. The intent was to have a short time at Langin. Once I experienced harm reduction in true reality within an environment, I was hooked into staying on with CASS to support the evolution of the program further.
Coming from a diverse background of training (LPN, Registered Psychiatric Nurse, Social Worker, Honors Criminology Degree) and experiences (Health and Social Director for Yukon first Nations Governments, Executive Director of an addictions treatment centre, private consulting for southern Alberta Social Services, and Director of Staff health and Education in southern Alberta), I had numerous opportunities to learn and recognize that we, as professional services, were missing the mark. Langin provided the opportunity to learn from the population being served. The fact that CASS allowed autonomy and support, added to my commitment to the Langin program.
What do you want the community to know about the people we serve?
Everyone needs safe, decent, stable housing.
Supportive housing at Langin Place and Stepping Stone Manor, is a highly effective strategy that combines affordable housing with intensive coordinated services to help the most vulnerable people in our Calgary communities. We support people with mental illness, chronic health conditions, histories of addictions, trauma, and other struggles, to maintain stable housing and receive appropriate multi-disciplinary services. We put the emphasis on maximizing client choices: they can direct the types of services they receive and choose their own case management goals.
Our services are flexible enough to address each individual tenant’s needs, which may involve multiple service agencies working together. These teams also try to link people to mainstream service systems if appropriate. Living without stable housing can drastically worsen health. Homelessness can exacerbate mental illness, make ending substance abuse difficult, and prevent chronic physical health conditions from being addressed. People with these, and other health issues often end up in crisis situations while living on the streets, with emergency rooms being the only health care they are able to access.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
You’ve heard it again and again: Everyone needs a mentor in their career, if not several. Just like you want the kind of friends who can successfully guide you through life’s twists and turns, you want people who can provide that same level of support in your career. I look to my CASS Senior Leadership Team because they have so much relevant expertise & knowledge in their various fields, and they are enthusiastic in sharing their expertise. They genuinely want others to benefit from the hard-won wisdom they’ve learned over the course of their careers.
I get inspiration from the writings of Brendon Burchard…
“The most crucial task is to forge more life into your day. This does not mean new to-do’s. It means less. It means creating space to think, walk, eat, sleep, read, love, dream”.
I actually believe that as cultures continue to become more developed and as some work environments evolve to a type of freelancing: of very flexible workplaces and work ideas, that we will start to see more and more people getting away from this idea that they have to be one thing. You don’t have to be or do just one thing.
A lot of the great leaders, scientists, thought leaders of the past did lots of things; they had lots of goofy passions. Einstein didn’t just do one thing. He actually had an incredible diversity of interests. So did Leonardo da Vinci and so did Michelangelo, so does Bill Gates, Steve Jobs. It’s like very few people have just this one thing.
For me inspiration is looking deep within myself to live the best quality of life that I can: not focusing on one thing. It’s looking at my overall life and then asking myself these questions: Did I live? Did I love? did I matter?
How do you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
I love the quote from Robin Sharma:
“Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and to inspire your team-members and clients.”
One other thing that helps me grow and develop is the idea of understanding the importance of small wins and achievements, and also remembering those around us.
My Elders remain my guides and my push forward. They give me strength to fight when I think I have none left, they give me wisdom to advance my emotional maturity, they give me courage to tackle social justice, and fill my spirit with never ending love so I can continue to give to others.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from the people we serve?
I have spent many hours listening to the words of clients. Their words have led me to know that they are the survivors of this system we call Canadian life. These survivors of life have taught me many things. Mostly, they have taught me that surviving is neither easy nor for the faint of heart. Being broke, jobless, in poor health, homeless, abused, forgotten by family, or in tough relationship situations makes most people learn to live in spite of the odds against them. Here are some things I’ve learned:
Most people simply want you to listen. Our power can be for good rather than for punishment. We, as service providers don’t have to maintain a position of power and tension. We can relax and be present for people, even vulnerable: show compassion and still not lose authority.
You won’t be able to save anyone. You are not their savior It taught me, much later and after much thought, to recognize that in my work, few people will ever have the strength of mind to remember me or thank me. They are surviving. Hopefully, as team members we can help with that survival. But we are not saviors: we are merely resources for self-direction. Some will choose to grow, and others will choose to languish. It’s not our choice to make.
You can’t empower anyone. At best, you can encourage them to empower themselves.
Often I hear talk of “empowering clients.” That’s a nice thought, but breathing the will into a client towards change is ineffectual. Unless a person is ready to move out of their comfort zone and into a new space, the person will just sit there, despite the worker’s best efforts. You can’t mandate self empowerment. Remember, you are a support for when they stumble.
What is one decision you wish you hadn’t made?
Perhaps not pursuing a career as a forensic scientist. I worked on the forensic ward as a psychiatric nurse, which later led me into studying criminology at University. Forensic scientists use analytical and scientific techniques to examine evidence from crimes and prepare legal statements that summarize the results for court cases.
I love the job aspect of using strong problem solving skills. I look at it as solving a puzzle. It’s about collecting scientific evidence and then piecing them together to form the full picture of what happened. I am very analytical so this would’ve been an exciting challenge for me!
What three books can you recommend on leadership?
What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
I love spending my down time with my dog and going on those long leisurely walks come rain or shine! I am learning to play Bridge and of all the reasons to play the game (it’s just fun to play). It offers the suspense of poker, the cerebral qualities of chess, and the excitement of athletic sports, all in a social setting where you’re a participant, not just a spectator.
I have become quite the cooking expert. I like to experiment, and think of new recipes combinations. It gives me a feeling of autonomy and the opportunity to master something sometimes totally new. It gives me great personal satisfaction when it all comes together beautifully.
It’s also great to watch my grandson playing hockey! I also enjoy my Manitoba home team The Winnipeg Jets, and of course the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team.