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Work and Play are One and the Same for CONNECT Play Coach Mark Fleming

Mark Fleming found his place in the world when a leap of faith led him to CONNECT.

Fleming has been working at CONNECT Lake County for almost five years and has recently been given more of a leadership role.
Fleming is the Play Coach at CONNECT Lake Country with an evolving role to support CONNECT's move towards Being One - a model to further unify the two locations and prepare for future growth.
"Along with my role as Play Coach, I am focusing on resident services here in Lake Country," says Fleming, a self-professed man of leisure. "That includes making sure coaches, residents, front-line staff and residents' families are all involved in the process, working as a team towards the same goals."
People may look at him funny when they hear the term Play Coach, but Fleming will take that any day over the traditional role of a recreation therapist.
CONNECT's coaches include a Play Coach (Recreation Therapist), a Health and Wellness Coach (Registered Nurse), an Independence Coach (Occupational Therapist), a Physical Coach (Physiotherapist), a Communication Coach (Speech and Language Pathologist), a Life Skills Coach (Cognitive Therapist), and a Work Coach (Vocational Training). The coaches forma team that works collaboratively to guide residents to achieve their goals, rather than lead them, meaning that the process is entirely client-centered and strengths-based, viewing each resident as naturally creative, resourceful and whole.
Following high school, Fleming's initial plan was to become a physiotherapist. He earned a diploma in Fitness and Health Promotion before transferring into a kinesiology program at Brock University. It was during his first year at Brock when the Burlington, Ontario native encountered an inspiring professor teaching an elective called Introduction to Therapeutic Recreation.
"That course sold me on Therapeutic Recreation. I really connected with the concept, philosophy and the holistic approach. While Physiotherapy typically uses exercises to fix problems, Recreation Therapy helps people to use meaningful activity to achieve the highest possible quality of life, with a focus on what they can do, rather than what they can't do; it goes beyond the rehabilitation in the traditional sense"
The professor, Dr. Colleen Hood, was in the process of developing the Leisure and Well Being Model, a new model for delivering Therapeutic Recreation Services. It was progressive and somewhat independent from the traditional, medically based models that were created to work within hospital and rehabilitation settings.
Fleming transferred into the Therapeutic Recreation program and, following the completion of his degree, applied for practicum placements in Halifax and Calgary (and to a few back-up positions in Ontario) because he wanted to travel. He found a position at Foothills Hospital in Calgary in its Tertiary Neuro Rehab unit where he worked with patients with acquired brain injuries and spinal cord injuries.
After the four month practicum, Fleming accepted a temporary position on the unit when his former practicum supervisor had to go on leave. Determined to continue his adventures in Calgary (at the time, he had not yet experienced a winter in Alberta), he began looking for a permanent Recreation Therapist position. He was nearing the end of his temporary position and having no success finding a job in Calgary when CONNECT Lake Country turned up on one of his searches.
Fleming read about CONNECT and immediately identified with the philosophy, so he applied. Just before Christmas of 2008, he was interviewed and offered a position. Three short weeks later, he packed up his life and moved to Kelowna to begin a career in a city he had never visited.
"As soon as I got to CONNECT, I knew it was the right fit. I sort of just figured out how my role fit into the CONNECT model and built from there."
Fleming says the success stories at CONNECT are countless and he finds a tremendous amount of fulfillment in the work he does, especially when it involves sharing his passion for leisure and recreation.
One resident Fleming has been working with has been very focused on his physical rehab, and did not initially state that he had any leisure-related goals. Prior to his injury, however, this resident had a very active lifestyle with a passion for rock climbing. Once this was discovered, one of the frontline staff members was able to set up an indoor rock climbing session at a gym in Kelowna and within two weeks of his move-in he was climbing.
"I got to see him climb and it was great to see the gratification he got from that activity. He was completely engaged and loving life. It was obvious how much enjoyment he was getting from that activity, so we used it as a learning experience to recognize the importance of doing the things you love, that challenge you, and give you a sense of accomplishment. It's about purposefully seeking the things that make you happy, and finding ways to add value to your leisure experiences. All of the work that he was doing in the gym since his injury instantly became about more than just walking."
Fleming has always been interested in the idea of happiness and the numerous studies and theories around happiness and positive psychology. Much of this research helped create the foundation for the Leisure and Well Being Model, and some of the findings drive his work at CONNECT.
"Studies indicate that people are genetically predisposed to a certain level of happiness, but that genetic component is only responsible for about 50% of the overall level of happiness a person is able to experience.
"About 10% of your happiness is affected by life circumstances like winning the lottery or losing a loved one. The thing about this 10% is that, as intense as the emotions may be at the time, the effects typically don't last very long."
The other 40% is determined by how you fill your days. People who purposefully select activities they enjoy are able to increase their levels of happiness significantly. In other words, you can control a good portion of how happy you are, as long as you know what truly makes you happy and then make a conscious effort. It is this concept that Fleming shares with the residents of CONNECT in an attempt to help them find and participate in meaningful activities that will contribute to their wellbeing.
When he's not working at CONNECT, Fleming loves the outdoors. He snowboards in the winter and spends the summers mountain biking and having BBQ's with friends. He loves music and tries to get to as many concerts and festivals as possible. He also has a passion for travel and any new experiences he can find.
Fleming is extremely excited about the future and his role in helping CONNECT grow and evolve.
"I would love to see more CONNECTs in the future, across BC and throughout Canada. I love the idea of creating a CONNECT-at-Home program for people living in the community. It would be great to be able to stay involved and help former residents as they transition to independent or semi-supported living."