Pulling into the parking lot of Family Service Windsor-Essex, you might not have the slightest inkling of the benefits, opportunities, and support that are hidden inside this modest industrial building.
As you push through the front doorway, you are greeted by a welcoming brunette. She kindly takes you in, offering a beverage. The TV is comforting, a calming background noise. The room is filled with people from your community: your neighbours, your coworkers, friends, and family. They all have similar hopes, questions, and worries.
Life is so hectic and difficult. We all need a little support, direction, and reassurance from time to time. Maybe, just maybe, the answer you are looking for is beyond the next door.
Family Services Windsor-Essex, which has served the Windsor and Essex communities for almost 60 years, has combined their social activism, support, and service to the Windsor-Essex community in the most epic of social enterprises with the implementation of the Family Services Employee Assistance Program. The building houses one of the most thought-out community collaboratives in Windsor-Essex County. Family Services Windsor-Essex is the biggest employer in the building but they also share space with some critical community partners that help to streamline the services they offer. You can access Financial Fitness Services, the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, Bilingual Legal Clinic for legal services in both English and French, and a VON nurse practitioner for health needs. These partners are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the treasures just inside the walls of the unassuming building.
“A lot of the families that come in need help with these things and we can do a lot of referrals back and forth in real time having all these partners here,” said Judy Lund, the strategic development and communication manager for FSWE and FSEAP.
There are two main streams of services offered at FSWE. One is counselling, where the focus is on mental health and wellness needs. Then there are the support services such as the Housing First team. This team reaches out to the homeless and helps them reconnect with the system by having easier access to support and counselling they may need.
“Before it was, we are going to help people with their addiction or get them to start eating right, and on top of all that, find housing, all while staying in a shelter, said Lund. “It’s just not realistic. The goal is to find them housing first, then work with them on other issues.”
Since the 1940s Family Service Agencies has been in the business of delivering employee assistance programs—now FSWE is turning a service they were already offering into a social enterprise. They sell employee assistance program (EAP) contracts to workplaces, companies, and unions on a one- to three-year basis to help their employees and members. In turn the revenue that may be generated from those contracts goes back into Family Service Agencies so they can deliver counselling and support to people in the community who may not be able to afford it.
What is an EAP? It is part of a group benefit that either the employer or the union purchases that goes along with the employee’s health and dental benefits. It allows employees to access professional counselling services that will help them work through issues to allow them to be productive in their workplace and with their families once more. FSEAP was the first provider of EAP services in North America.
“Having a social enterprise is a critical way for us to deliver our counselling across the board to anyone. It gives us a source of revenue,” said Joyce Zuk, executive director of FSWE and FSEAP. “If you worked at the hospital you would know that your employer bought a benefit for you that also gives back to the community. So, it’s a win-win.”
The services offered are so many and keep these women on their toes. The women say people often wonder why they work tirelessly to help keep FSEAP current and growing for future needs in the community. They offer a crisis intervention response team, on-call emergency response, workshops, and “Lunch and Learn” programs delivered right to the workplace among many other benefits with the FSEAP. According to Zuk and Lund, it is a lot of work to keep this social enterprise wheel spinning, but it’s all worth it.
“The nice part about providing our own revenue stream is we are not relying on government funding, and that helps us as a not-for-profit to be more sustainable in the long run. Which makes us a very strong not-for-profit corporation,” said Zuk.
Dave Sellick, vice president of Sellick Equipment Ltd., a forklift manufacturing company located in Harrow, Ontario, has been a FSEAP contract holder for many years. Sellick Equipment Ltd. has been in business for 50 years and currently has 84 employees. When Sellick saw his employees struggling many years ago, he and his team decided to seek out an employee assistance program and found FSEAP.
It is important to offer benefits that promote the well-being of the workforce, according to Sellick. He feels if his employees have problems, they are not going to be productive. He says that it is important to offer great benefits and contribute to the overall well-being of his employees.
“It’s a family culture in our small company,” said Sellick. “I had a case a few years ago where the secretary came to me about one of our employees in the plant who seemed suicidal. I picked up the phone and called Family Services and talked to Beth Ann [Ternovan, the manager of counselling at the employee assistance program]. Right away, she says ‘Can you get the employee in an office by themselves right now and let me talk to them?’ It was addressed immediately. The response was phenomenal.”
According to Ternovan, besides being available for phone interventions 24/7, FSEAP’s Critical Response Team has gone into a workplace within an hour many times over the years to provide psychological first aid in the event of a critical incident.
“Psychological first aid is a critical tool that workplaces need to be able to offer their employees in the event that something traumatic takes place,” said Ternovan. “It is meant to reduce any of the maladaptive symptoms that can arise if somebody is not responded to quickly in the event of a trauma.
“We are having a very full conversation about mental health now,” she continued, “and when we are looking at an individual’s health, in the past we have only looked at their physical health but now people are noticing that a mental health issue is the number one reason that people will be away from work. People not getting the treatment and support they need to deal with their mental health is the prime reason we are seeing folks not achieving healthy lives, not taking part, not going to work, not going to school. So, it’s something that companies and employers are finally recognizing.”
Sellick says it is hard to quantify the ripple effect FSEAP has had on his surrounding community because their employees span from Wheatley and Windsor to Amherstburg and Harrow. But according to Zuk, FSEAP provides service to a thousand unique workplaces, which represents 600,000 lives across the country.
“But that doesn’t include their families, and add in the ripple effect of that because of the social enterprise of it, and you can now help the friend, the neighbour, and so forth,” said Zuk.
There are many reasons why mental health and wellness have come to the forefront. Those at FSEAP are helping to highlight the importance of paying attention to the needs of others and removing some of the stigma surrounding it.
“First, it is one of the benefits of social media,” said Ternovan. “There have been prominent people coming forward with courage and wisdom to tell their stories about their struggles with mental health concerns. Because of that it has caused people to engage in the conversation more readily and with a little bit less stigma. Another reason is because of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the psychological safety standards in workplaces that we are all mandated to adhere to. So, all of those ideas go into how we are hearing about those issues in the workplace more and how we can support one another.”
When you talk about mental health it is not an all-or-nothing situation. It is an illness-to-wellness continuum. At any point in time we can move from one end of that illness to the other depending on what is happening in our personal life, work life, and physical and medical health.
“So, we can move from a diseased state to an optimal health state and we can move back and forth across that continuum over time,” said Ternovan.
Social enterprises have become popular conversations and new age business models for a lot of not-for-profit organizations. This type of enterprise is a reflection of the deep core values woven through the fabric of Canadians. It’s important that we support and take care of each other in every possible way. The female leaders of this organization have worked tirelessly serving communities across Canada, serving the health, wellness, and success of virtually every person in the community.