What began in a sheltered workshop 24 years ago has evolved from a factory-like recycling and sorting depot to a cozy, home-like atmosphere where people can gather to enjoy a coffee, work on a computer, play a game or just enjoy the company of others who understand the challenges they face.
That is the legacy Stepping Stone executive director Maureen Joyce will leave behind when she wraps up her 24-year career with the Langley mental health agency on June 10.
“I think I’ve had the most fabulous dream job,” said Joyce, seated in her office inside the building on the edge of Linwood Park in Langley City.
“This kind of work always excited me. It was pure excitement, I always wanted to make a difference,” she said.
And Joyce is leaving her post satisfied that she’s accomplished exactly that over her near quarter century on the job.
“A lot of the things I hoped and dreamed — a lot of them I’ve achieved,” she said.
“The saddest thing when I came here, aside from the poverty, was the lack of human contact — the isolation, loneliness and emptiness.”
It’s not uncommon for people with mental health issues to become cut off from family and friends — their entire social circle — said Joyce.
“Now, this is a real community. People come and find purpose to their day, something meaningful to do, moral support.
“I can see broken people come through the doors, and within weeks or months I see a change because they’ve found a place where they belong.”
About a decade ago, Joyce — through her work with Stepping Stone — became involved with a committee aimed at helping Langley’s growing homeless population.
“In 2000, you started seeing the odd person on the streets,” she said.
As time went on, those numbers steadily increased, and yet raising awareness remained a very difficult row to hoe, she said, but out of the committee’s efforts grew affordable housing initiatives and outreach programs.
“Still, many of the people we serve live in abject poverty. That hasn’t changed,” Joyce said.
Like any non-profit, securing funding has been an ongoing struggle for Stepping Stone.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to get it, Joyce said.
“We’ve had to be (tenacious), especially with mental health. It’s not one of those sexier causes.”
She spoke anywhere people would listen, and rather than take an adversarial stance, Joyce worked to form bonds with other agencies in the community seeking the same funding.
Although she would have liked to have reached the 25-year mark, Joyce knew she would feel it when the time was right to step away.
It was around Christmas time last year that she began to sense the end was drawing near, she said.
She’s looking forward to working in her garden and putting her new e-reader to good use, and she expects that her three grandchildren will take up a good share of her time, too.
But she’s not ruling out finding some volunteer work to fill her time as well.
Meanwhile, the executive director offered her thanks to the community for their support and understanding over the years, and to Stepping Stone staff and board of directors, who she described as “committed, dedicated and fun.”
“This has been the most incredible ride. We’ve laughed together more than we’ve cried,” she said.
And Joyce isn’t fretting about who will fill her shoes once she’s gone or the direction they’ll take the agency.
“There will be someone great who takes over,” she said.
“Whoever follows will have their own vision, and they’ll work with the board and the members to decide what that is,” she said.
“I always see growth, more housing, looking more to younger folks with mental health issues, looking at an aging population.
“There are a lot more challenges out there.”
A wine and cheese reception will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 9 at Stepping Stone, 20101 Michaud Cres.
Anyone who plans to attend to bid farewell to Joyce, is asked to RSVP by May 27 to Christine at 604-530-5033 or firstname.lastname@example.org.