THURSDAY, JULY 26: Bermuda CableVision this morning awarded Ellen Douglas from HOPE Homes Bermuda with its latest Community Service Award in recognition of her 50 years of service as an Educational Therapist to those with intellectual disabilities.
Mrs. Douglas was presented with the award for her dedication to the mentally challenged at a ceremony held at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. The event was attended by Minister of Health, the Hon. Zane DeSilva, JP, MP; Bermuda CableVision’s senior management team; along with Mrs. Douglas’s family and friends. As part of the award, HOPE Homes received a $1,000 donation from Bermuda CableVision towards furthering its work.
Mrs. Douglas began her work in this field in 1962 when she was appointed by the Department of Health as Supervisor for the first Educational Therapy Department at St. Brendan’s Hospital. During her 20-year career at the hospital, Mrs. Douglas attended teacher training in Denver, Colorado, and in the U.K., and returned to Bermuda to develop the first senior school day programme for young men who were being abused and the first co-ed rehabilitation programme for the learning disabled, alongside many other achievements. At St. Brendan’s she also gained a reputation as an advocate for the civil rights of the mentally ill and for breaking down many social barriers between her clients and the community.
Mrs. Douglas says: “From a young age while volunteering at St. Brendan’s, I became acutely aware of the untapped potential that many of the patients displayed. I have particularly clear memories of a young boy with meningitis who had such intelligent eyes but was being disregarded by staff adhering to the mental health practices of the time. I would tell him stories and he would respond with a great deal of expression in his face. I tried similar techniques with other children, just getting on the floor in the middle of them all, giving them my undivided attention and holding their interest with interactive activities like crafts and dress up. We also did some cooking and gardening and they responded so well. It was these experiences that led me towards a career as an Educational Therapist and to pursue the educational qualifications I would need for the role.
“It has not been an easy job by any means and there have been many nights of soul searching, where I’ve wondered if I am strong enough to keep going, but my anxiousness to implement new teaching methods to reach those with special needs and improve their quality of life has always kept me going. As my husband used to say and I strongly believe, if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. I am also very lucky to have encountered many people in my career that have encouraged and motivated me, particularly Dr. Simon Fraser at the start of my career and the late Father Pat Mackan in the 1980s, the volunteers that surround me, and of course my clients, some of whom I’ve worked with most of their lives, whose achievements and growth inspire me every day. It would be remiss of me to not also mention my indispensable supporter, my brother Samuel Lynch, to whom I am greatly indebted for the help he volunteers in so many ways.”
In 1981, the International Year of the Disabled, came a career highlight when Mrs. Douglas organised a three-week trip tour from Philadelphia to California for 15 patients, with the opportunity for them to meet similar students engaged in vocational opportunities and living their lives with minimal supervision. Mrs. Douglas still meets people from the trip today in Bermuda who were inspired by it to pursue employment and independence for themselves.
In 1982, Mrs. Douglas was part of a team who founded HOPE Homes, with HOPE being an acronym for ‘Home of Practical Education.’ The charity also provided residential care and was a response to a Government white paper that made a case for deinstitutionalising the developmentally disabled, as in many cases such individuals had been proven to be capable of learning. At HOPE Homes, Mrs. Douglas has worked tirelessly using a ‘Total Person’ approach to help clients to learn using techniques tailored to their individual strengths and weaknesses. Mrs. Douglas continues to work for the charity today in the position of Executive Director.
Minister of Health, the Hon. Zane DeSilva, JP, MP, said: “The health care sector is grateful to people like Mrs. Douglas, who push the boundaries and question techniques and approaches in order to help better the lives of those people in need of special care and encouragement. The amount of good that she has done during her half a century of service is beyond measure. I congratulate her for her own mental strength in pushing through the personal and external challenges she has faced to continue to make a difference every day to those in her care.”
Terry Roberson, General Manager of Bermuda CableVision, comments: “Mrs. Douglas continues to be a longstanding asset to our community and for those with developmental and intellectual challenges, she is a rock. She has taught countless individuals, displaying the utmost dignity and respect at all times, and guided them towards their full potential. In many cases, her clients have gone on to sheltered employment and to live independent lives. I understand that Mrs. Douglas credits her volunteer supporters for much of what has been achieved at HOPE Homes, however, every successful team needs a driving force, and here today we celebrate her endless community spirit and infallible human kindness.”
At present Mrs. Douglas is looking to form a steering group to take forward what she sees as her legacy project, “From Family Roots, Ability Shoots and Community Fruits.” She wants to encourage communication and cohesion within extended families in Bermuda by bringing the oldest and the youngest members together to work on a year-long project, which could be anything from building a piece of furniture to writing a poem or growing a vegetable garden. She then wants to bring the participating families together at the end of the year to share what they have learned from the experience. Anyone interested in finding out more can contact Mrs. Douglas on 292-7206.