I’ve worked with Ranch Ehrlo in Prince Albert for 11 years. I’ve worked for most of the programs at some point or another, but I have spent the bulk of my time at Matheson House.
I’ve seen managers and staff come and go. This work is hard, not for everyone, but it attracts some truly compassionate individuals. People that care because of who they are, the lives they’ve lived, the lessons they’ve learned, and their desire to leave the world a better place than they found it.
These are men and women that you expect to find after you’ve been in the youth care field for a decade. I never thought I would have the honour of meeting two individuals with the same qualities just across the street from our Matheson group home.
It was a slow introduction to our neighbours. When I first started with the Ranch, there may have been a bit more of a stigma about group home care or perhaps I was so painfully uneducated about child welfare that my own perceptions and worldview needed time to adjust.
I heard our youth described as “bad kids”, “criminals”, “hopeless”. These descriptors were from people who were just as ignorant as I had been. The difference is the ability to challenge your preconceived biases. Some people just can’t or won’t. Then, there are people who teach you how to trust that goodwill can find a way to grow if taken care of properly. Faith in human resiliency, and an unspoken belief that the work we do at the Ranch will turn the tide.
Enter Gaza and Mavis Papp, long-time neighbours, and supporters of Ranch Ehrlo. The couple that saw us simply as community members, and part of the neighbourhood.
As a unit, we would clear snow from driveways in the winter, not expecting anything in return, just an opportunity to practice community involvement prior to the term being included in our CARE training curriculum.
Our community work seemed only fair, as our residents could be loud and disruptive on occasion. Amends that Gaza and Mavis had never considered necessary nor expected. They understood what we try to do at Ranch Ehrlo. They always treated our youth as they would anyone else, with friendly greetings, conversations, and above all else, understanding and acceptance.
If our youth happened to be out in the yard clearing snow, they would offer pay to clean their driveway. If someone was having a tough day, a friendly wave and a ‘hello’ was a usual occurrence. Gaza would often stop staff as they were arriving for shift and have a chat on the side of the road, offering support and a friendly face.
There was one instance where I was coming into work after my previous shift had gone awry and spilled out of the unit and into the community. Mr. Papp must have been waiting and casually walked over to have a quick chat. There was no judgement, no negative reaction to the previous evenings’ excitement. He just came over to see how I was doing.
I tried to apologize for any disturbances, and he stopped me. He just wanted an opportunity to voice his understanding and reassure me that our work is difficult and how grateful he was for what we do for the children.
As the years crept along, it became obvious that we hit the neighbour jackpot. Our relationship with the Papps grew stronger as the years went by. If there was anything that they needed to be done, we made sure they knew we were available to help. Moving piles of wood, raking leaves, cleaning gutters. Anything we could do to express our appreciation.
As our interactions became more frequent, our relationship became stronger, and our youth saw them as an extension of our immediate Matheson family. Youth would go over and ask if there was any work that needed to be done, they would keep an eye on the house, and make sure to wave and say hello to the Papps whenever the opportunity presented itself. Youth would see Gaza shovelling snow, then promptly put on their coats and go and finish it for him. The relationship we all shared taught the value of community and helping those in need.
Over the past couple of years, Gaza had been seen less and less. Mavis had taken over most of the yardwork, taken on the conversations on the side of the road, and been the wave and friendly greeting. As Gaza’s health deteriorated, there was a feeling or a lack of a presence, that was noticed. It was late November that we were informed that Gaza’s health had taken a turn for the worst. He was taken to the hospital, where he passed on November 27, 2021.
He had been a constant in our day-to-day lives. It became routine to look over at the home to see if we would be getting a start of shift wave or chat. It will be hard to park at work without checking to see if Mr. Papp is there.
Matheson House put together a bouquet, a card, and a promise that our relationship wouldn’t change. We will always be available for any need that may arise, but more importantly, we passed on our appreciation for the recognition and for the level of understanding and acceptance that we had always been shown from a great man and a wonderful woman.
The loss of a great man, a great neighbour, who understood the work of Ranch Ehrlo, accepted us as members of the community and addressed us as such, leaving the world with one less hero. Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear beat-up trucker hats, threadbare plaid shirts, and worn-out old jeans. The neighbour every group home deserves…
Sean Bader is a unit manager with Ranch Ehrlo in Prince Albert.