Introducing Our Newest Team Member Shelley Nessman

It is always a gift for me to pause and think about who I am and where I have come from. There are so many ways to be known … what a privilege that is! I have spent most of my adult life in the company of people who experience disability and their families.

As I think back on my career, I am so grateful for all those generous souls who taught me ways to be a good ally.

I started almost fresh out of high school in a part time job that paid the bills while I was a student at UBC. That work was with the North Shore Recreation Commission with our own Jule Hopkins!  Jule and I ran a little department at the Community Center that aimed to create equity for people who had disabilities.  We wanted to make sure that all people had equal access to community center programs on the North Shore.  That was in 1980!  I met so many people who taught me about accommodation and also about isolation and marginalization.  I spent many days in courses that ranged from Aquafit to Stained Glass making and journeyed with boys and girls, men and women to have fun, learn new skills and make new friends and connections with others in the classes. That job changed the course of my life!  I left University and never looked back.

Over 40 years, I have worked in institutions, group homes, school settings, out of school care, offices and the occasional picnic table.  I always found that there were about a million ways to make a difference in people’s lives and about a million more that my life was made better through my work.  I was honoured to share my family life and home with 3 different people with exceptional needs over 30 years.  

My family support work was deepened by my time working for Vela Microboard Association.  My years under the amazing mentorship of Linda Perry (Vela’s Executive Director) helped me to understand the experiences of families with extra support needs in so many ways. I am grateful for that experience and all of the other generous families and people who kindly and clearly guided me as I worked.

About 4 years ago I found myself at a crossroads in my career as things ended with nothing really on the horizon.  I had been doing some work with my friend (and now business partner) Sheldon Schwitek that took me on another adventure. Sheldon’s work with Michigan Center for Positive Behaviour Supports using John McGee’s Gentle Teaching approach gave me language to talk about the thing I have always know and wasn’t able to articulate – we all need to be seen, heard and valued in order to feel safe and make the contributions we are meant to!  Together we created In the Company of Others (although Shel did the ground work and then invited me in).  I have had many opportunities to travel around the world and train people in person centered work and processes.  We frame everything we do with a Culture of Gentleness and often say that we get paid to remind people of their true nature- which leans into loving kindness.

I am so excited to bring all of these experiences to my new position at PLAN!  I have long admired this agency and learned so much in a two – year stint on the Board a few years ago.  PLAN really wraps up all of my deepest convictions into what they do:

  • Community is filled with opportunities for connection
  • Relationships are key to a good life
  • Once people have some stability in their lives through housing and supports, the sky is the limit!
  • Every person has gifts, skills and capacities that the world is just waiting for!
  • Planning is a cornerstone for families and individuals and working in a facilitative and person centered way is extremely powerful for the person, their family and friends as well as the surrounding greater community.

These days you can find me hanging out in Steveston where I currently share a home with my grown daughter Hayley.  Some of you may also know that I am a Laughter Yoga facilitator!  If I am not at home, I am often in the woods somewhere or by the river talking to people passing by (Yes… I am THAT person)    

I look forward to the time when we are finally able to gather again!  Hope to see you soon!