Giving the gift of encouragement

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 11:19am

By Margaret Angus

Myr Pike’s employees aren’t shy about saying what they think of their boss. In fact, once they get started, it’s hard to get them to stop singing her praises.

It’s no surprise, then, that Pike was recently honoured with the Supervisor of the Year Award at the Connections Celebration of Employment Dinner.

For 19 years Pike, manager of Partners for Care Retail Services, has been working with community partners to help people gain job skills, life skills and confidence.

Partners for Care’s seven gift shops and convenience stores are staffed by volunteers, participants of work experience or education programs, and employees. Community organizations such as Community Services, Capital Health’s Connections and co-operative education programs refer students to Partners for Care to explore job opportunities, gain work experience or overcome barriers to work. Retail Services has provided training for close to 100 program participants and dozens of university co-op students.

No matter how they came to work for the shops, store employees all agree on one thing: Bosses don’t get much better than Pike.

Building on strengths

Sass Minard says her job at the gift shop and convenience store at the QEII VG site has “given me my life back.”

“For eight years, I hadn’t worked because of my illness,” explained Minard, a member of Connections Halifax, which supports people who live with severe, persistent mental illness. When it came time for Minard to return to work, she said, “I had tons of customer service experience, but other potential employers just looked at the gap.”

Pike was different. Instead of focusing on Minard’s resume, Pike gave greater credence to Minard’s personality and her passion for customer service.

Minard started out working four hours a week and gradually increased her hours. Now she often works 15 to 20 hours a week or more. “I can’t imagine not being here,” she said.

Talking to customers or, more often, being a listening ear for patients and families who visit the shop, is what Minard values most about the experience.

“It feels like I’m doing something really worthwhile. I feel honoured to work there.”

Minard credits Pike with creating a positive work environment.

“She’s really encouraging and really fair. She really knows people’s strengths and puts them where they are strongest.”

That’s why Minard, along with colleagues Melanie Grant and Anna*, chose to nominate Pike for the Supervisor of the Year Award.

Grant, who is studying Library Information Sciences at Dalhousie, said Pike made an extra effort to help her along her way.

”She’s gone out of her way to accommodate me in my studies,” Grant said. “She talks to me a lot about management practices in the real world. Whatever we need, she’s there. She sets the tone for the whole department.”

Pike considers receiving the award a great honour.

“It’s very touching,” she said. “It’s very nice to know that what we’re doing here is making such a difference and having such a positive impact on people’s lives.”

Growing confidence

Pike’s work has helped others get back on their path.

When bipolar disorder struck, Anna’s* life was thrown into upheaval – and her career as an advertising agency professional dissolved.

With her confidence eroded, Anna was left having to regain interpersonal skills.

“I was extremely anxious around people,” she said.

Anna was hired to work with Retail Services through the Connections Halifax employment program. Through her experience working at the gift shop, she has been able to regain confidence and take on almost full-time hours at a store in the community.

Anna says Pike and the rest of the Retail Services team have helped her immensely.

“Myr is respectfully supportive,” she said. “The whole team is supportive. I have a real connection with what they’ve done for me.”

*Anna has asked that we not use her real name due to the stigma sometimes associated with mental illness.

Gaining experience

Lilith Power-Lush started volunteering at the QEII Halifax Infirmary site gift shop when she was 16 years old and later worked as part of a student career development program. Now 21, she’s taking business administration at Nova Scotia Community College. She says her career choice was influenced by her experience with the Partners for Care shops, where she now works part time.

“This is my go-to place,” says Power-Lush, who says she “grew up” in this work environment.

“This job has impacted how I communicate with people and has taught me both the practical skills and the soft skills needed to work in business.”

Power-Lush said Pike has played a big part in her personal growth. “She really works with you to figure out problems. I’ve learned so much. It helps to have people like Myr helping you along.”

Training and keeping good people

Anyone who’s a regular at the QEII VG site convenience store knows Thomas Watt. He’s been the friendly face behind the store counter for 19 years.

Watt remembers well when he first started volunteering.

“I was kind of nervous, but once I as told what to do, I got the hang of it right away.”

Watt fulfills a number of duties at the store, including operating the cash, pricing items and tidying, but his favourite part of the job is interacting with customers.

Thomas said working for Pike has been a pleasure.

“May I just say she’s an awesome boss? She’s just great to work with.”