After 35 years providing disability support services, with the last 24 at Transitions in St. Albert, Paul Fujishige is retiring.
In the time he’s been at the helm of the organization he has overseen a wide variety of changes, including helping the organization more than triple in size.
He said, however, the most significant accomplishment is carrying on with the philosophy Transitions had prior to his arrival: supporting independent living rather than institutionalization.
“The seeds of that vision were here, and that’s what attracted me here in the first place,” he said. “It was a more enlightened vision than what I saw from some other organizations in the area.”
Transitions was founded in the late 1970s, at a time when in many cases those with special needs were put in group homes or long-term care facilities rather than being integrated in the community.
Board chair Jim Dawson, whose family has been in Transitions since its inception in 1978, said that prevailing philosophy is one his family and others wanted to change.
“Transitions and a number of other organizations were formed by parents who thought institutionalization was kind of a bad idea – a little bit of an understatement – and we wanted our children to reach the maximum potential they could.”
Fujishige came on board in 1992 after serving as director of Blue Heron Support Services in Barrhead, when Transitions was still located in office space above the Grandin mall. At that time, the approximately 40 Transitions employees provided support services to about a dozen adults and fewer than 100 children.
Since then, the organization has grown to about 250 employees supporting 100 adults and more than 200 children. Fujishige attributes that growth in part to the overall population growth in the St. Albert area, but also to increased awareness of available support services and medical advances that have helped some people with special needs live longer.
One of the biggest growth areas in terms of service delivery has been with respect to housing supports. Transitions still owns and maintains one group home, which it bought in the early 1980s, but the growth in housing supports has been focused on working with other individuals and groups to secure housing instead of grouping special needs people together.
“We need to move away from providing spaces for people, because it becomes a crutch,” Fujishige said. “We’re putting people together instead of getting them out there in the community.”
To that end, he said Transitions has worked behind the scenes with groups like the St. Albert Housing Society to ensure appropriate accommodations are available in new housing developments.
A notable success was opening the new office space in the Campbell Business Park, which Transitions owns rather than renting, providing a clear indication that Transitions will continue to support people in St. Albert for many years to come.
“It’s nice to be able to build something that is more permanent here,” Fujishige said. “It gives you a sense of stability, and puts a stamp that we’re here working in St. Albert and we’re committed for the long haul.”
One of the biggest successes as he sees it, though, comes down to the individual people he’s worked with over the years, both in terms of staff and the people Transitions supports.
“It’s just been such a treat to watch different people find their way in a community, be more active and involved, having a good life they aspire to,” he said. “That’s really why I’ve stayed for 24 years.”
In terms of the next steps, Fujishige said he would likely continue working in the disability services sector in some capacity.
As for Transitions, Dawson said the board has hired a new executive director, Craig Brown, who will be moving from Revelstoke to take over the job on Aug. 31.
“Paul is hard to replace, but as we approach this milestone for Transitions, we feel that we have found the right leader in Craig Brown,” he said.