BONNYVILLE – It is becoming less common for someone to work for the same employer for multiple decades. In fact, when David Beale was recognized for his 40 years of service to the Town of Bonnyville during a council meeting on Dec. 13, there were no 40-year pins on hand.
As a result, Beale was presented with a 20-year pin, plus a 10-year pin and two five-year pins, causing some laughter among the audience and council.
Beale started working for the Town of Bonnyville in 1982 as a family counsellor for the Bonnyville and District Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).
Looking back on how it all started with some amusement, Beale said “When they offered the job to me, we didn't have a lot of cash and I was living in eastern Saskatchewan at the time. So, I said, ‘Well, I can accept the job if you can help me out with the move here’... And the deal was ‘We will give you this bonus, but you have to say you’ll work for us for at least two years to pay that back.’ I think I paid it back.”
While working as a counsellor, Beale assisted families, couples and groups, some of which involved cases of family violence.
“I was doing a lot of different things with anybody who came in, with whatever kind of family troubles they had,” he said, adding that one of the counselling groups he ran was for men who battered their wives.
In 1997, Beale was moved into the role of Director of Community Services for the Town. While in this position Beale oversaw some community programs outside of FCSS, but with this change of title he also became the executive director of the Bonnyville and District FCSS. The role encompassed a variety of programs with both the Town and the MD of Bonnyville.
Over the years, Beale was involved in numerous projects and programs that filled specific gaps based on the needs of the community.
“A couple of the milestones was the development and operations of the Parent Child Centre, that was a big deal,” said Beale. The centre, which has had numerous family services operating out of it, first opened in 1988. The Bonnyville FCSS was a big driver behind the completion of the centre.
In the early 2000s, FCSS received funding to build the addition of the Youth Centre, creating a designated space for the community’s underserved youth at the time.
“We try and serve as an incubator,” said Beale. “Usually, you get a grant for one, two, three, five or 10 years, and depending on the grant it can change and then you're onto something else. It's always been interesting because your job evolves.”
While many of the programs are funded through provincial FCSS grants for support services, FCSS staff are always looking to enhance social programming locally through new grant opportunities.
“When I look back on it, the only thing that FCSS has always done from day one, right back from 1975, is run Meals on Wheels. And we still do to this day, but I'm hard pressed to find any other program that we have run from day one to the present,” he explained.
All walks of life
During Beale’s 40 years with FCSS he has worked with individuals from all walks of life. This has come with its own ups and downs.
“It is something that you either learn to manage your own mental health or not,” Beale acknowledged.
“Back in my days of training, I had a professor who I remember standing in the front of the class and telling us ‘You will have a time when somebody that you've been providing support to takes their own life and you need to know how to deal with that.’ He laid it right out there and it was a tough go.”
Beale said that throughout his career he has had to rely on his training and separate himself from the people he has provided services for.
"You will deal with failures. You will deal with the fact that you will provide marriage counselling and not every marriage is going to survive. You offer the people an opportunity to learn different skills and sometimes that will avert the breakup and sometimes it won't,” he said.
Another challenge Beale faced in his career was during his time as the chair of the Bonnyville Palliative Care Committee.
“When you're dealing with an elderly person it's kind of expected, but when you're trying to help a family come to terms with the palliative diagnosis for a young lady with a family, or a young man for that matter, now that’s tough,” Beale acknowledged.
“That [experience] really grounded me and helps you understand your own mortality... so, make the most of your time on Earth.”
No time to slow down
The decades Beale has worked in family services have helped him cultivate a strong sense of community.
“I'm going to carry that forward into my retirement. I'm already on the board of the newly re-created Fort Kent Community Centre,” he said.
The facility is being transitioned from the Fort Kent Seniors Hall into a community centre.
But Beale’s ongoing volunteerism doesn’t stop there. “I'm the treasurer for the Bonnyville Museum. I'm going to retain that role and stick with it because I just feel that a sense of history in the community is important. You don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been.”
The Fort Kent resident also has his sights set on the creation of a Men’s Shed in Bonnyville.
“Cold Lake has one, but Bonnyville needs one. So, volunteer work is certainly going to be on my plate,” he said.
Passing the torch
Over the last two weeks, Beale has been training his successor, Rachelle Lavoie, to take on the role of FCSS executive director.
The former executive director shared some of his advice after 40 years in the position. “Don't do it all on your own. Be a team player... This is certainly not a career for the solo player.”
When it comes to community work, he said it can be easy to get caught up in “busy work,” but it is vital to always ask yourself “What is the intended outcome here? What do I hope to achieve for the community, for the citizens, for the family?”
All in all, he said, “I have no regrets about my career with FCSS. I spent a career doing a job that gave me great satisfaction and I got involved in making a difference in people's lives and got paid for it and I get a pension.”
Some of Beale’s most memorable moments while working for the organization were times when past clients reconnected to share the positive impact of his counselling or FCSS services on their lives.
“Those moments make it all worthwhile.”