Pam Munnik and Sarah Wake have each been part of Epic Opportunities for nearly 30 years. During that span, the two longtime employees have witnessed some of the most pivotal moments in the organization’s five decades of serving people living with intellectual disabilities.
Wake, who joined Epic Opportunities in 1994 as a summer volunteer before accepting a full-time position later that year, says one of the most momentous moments of her tenure with the organization was when it moved from it’s original location at 240 Powers St. to 1745 Portage Ave. in 2000.
Not only did the new location provide the organization more room to operate and expand the services it offered, she says, but it also helped to raise its visibility in the community.
“For so long people we serve have been undervalued in society, so it was important for people to have an active community presence, where people can be seen as contributing members of society. This is achieved by volunteering, employment and building community relationships,” recalls Wake, who is now a Coordinator with the organization.”
Wake points to the introduction of employment services for the people it serves in the 1990s as another key moment in the evolution of Epic Opportunities. One of the first initiatives of the new service was a pillow-making business that provided an opportunity to have a positive presence and a meaningful role in their community. Today these employment services are offered within all areas of support as part of a part of person-centred thinking and planning process.
“I think employment services was the starting point for how we change that image and provide people an opportunity to give back to the community,” she says.
Munnik joined Epic Opportunities in 1994 as a practicum student while enrolled in the Disability and Community Support program at Red River College. She was hired soon after as a disability support worker at one of the organization’s residential homes and has filled a variety of roles since, including her current one as an HR generalist.
For Munnik, one of the most memorable moments of her time with the organization was when it was renamed Epic Opportunities in June 2010 after operating under the name Hope Centre from the time it was established in 1972. She says the new name was a fitting reflection of how the organization had transformed and evolved from its early days.
Another important part of the organization’s evolution, Munnik says, has been its increased focus on providing high-level training to all staff. It’s become more closely tied to the organization’s value base and incorporates important elements such as the Vulnerable Persons Act. Having a dedicated training space at Epic Opportunities’ current head office at 1600 Ness Ave. was another breakthrough.
“In the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve really made training a focus,” Munnik says. “I feel those training sessions are our opportunity to get the teams those a-ha moments when they may be struggling and we’re able to provide examples from some of us who have worked through things in the past and how we were able to deal with them.”
Munnik feels one of the reasons why Epic Opportunities has not only survived but thrived over the past 50 years has been its ability to adapt to the changing times. A critical factor in that adaptability, she says, has been the support provided by the organization’s leadership team.
“There have been some really key leaders in my experience who came from other organizations and brought information with them or people like Sarah and I who started in direct support and worked our way up through the years and sometimes learned from our mistakes or each other and brought that information back to staff,” she explains.
While the future remains unknown, Munnik and Wake are both optimistic about where Epic Opportunities and the people it serves are headed.
Munnik says one of the most encouraging signs is how younger people served by the organization have developed a stronger voice and are eager to share their thoughts with staff on the kind of supports they want and need.
And despite the challenges it has had to deal with during the pandemic, Wake is confident Epic Opportunities will emerge stronger from the experience.
“It’s really tough right now. It’s an unprecedented time and people feel that. But I can look back and think this is actually kind of normal for us,” she says, laughing. “We go through these ebbs and flows where we experience an ebb but then end up in a better place than before. I feel like we’re always on the verge of something great.”