The Angel in My Life.

Twenty one years ago my husband and I received a phone call that would change my life.

On the other end of the call was a social worker who asked us if we would be interested in adopting a brother and sister who needed a home right away. The date was December 18th, 1995. We were told that the girl was newborn, and her brother was 13 months old. He was supposed to go to another adoptive home, but the mother had just given birth to a baby girl and the family did not want her, only him.

Their loss.

It had been nine years since we had last adopted and while our name remained on the “list” we had not expected this call.

Of course I said yes, and I had to catch my breath because I knew these children were Heaven sent.

You see, six months before this call I had been in the hospital for a hysterectomy. Certainly this was not something I had wanted at age 35, but for health reasons it was very necessary. I had not given up hope of having another baby, but my doctor had said if I wanted to remain alive to raise the children I had, then the surgery was a must.

I was devastated, and as I sat just outside the operating room waiting to go “under the knife” I excused myself to the bathroom to have a really good cry, in private. It was in there that I felt compelled to get down on my knees and pray to God.

I remember exactly what I said to this day.

“Dear God, please, whatever you can do, somehow can you give me a baby girl? I don’t feel I am finished being a mother and I know there is a child out there who will bless my life. God, this is the only way I can go through with this is having faith that I will hold a baby, my baby, in my arms again.”

Shortly after that, I had my uterus removed, and the rest was now in God’s hands.

Like I said, our names were still out there on a list with the Ministry of Children and Families, but we had not been active in any adoption request. While I had prayed for a baby, I had a difficult recovery from the surgery and my husband and I were both working and had four children to raise. Life was going on. Hence, the December call, right before Christmas, was, to say the least, stunning.

It made no sense. i knew there must be other families who were active on the list and one of them might even have agreed to adopt a ‘sibling group’. Even the social worker called it a ‘fluke’ and explained that someone on the adoption desk in Victoria had felt for these two babies, was probably touched by some Christmas spirit, and wanted to get them placed and keep them together before Emma went into the foster care system. She had remembered me from the speaking engagements I had done for the Ministry across Vancouver Island, about special needs adoption, about how I had hoped to adopt more children, and just pulled our file. It was all very random.

Or was it?

No one knew about my prayer to God that day, not even my husband. But I knew immediately this was His doing.

We were warned that the birth parents had some physical and developmental disabilities, and while they knew some of the little boy’s special needs, the little girl was newborn and they could not say what might develop with her. They did say that there was a chance she could have a syndrome known as Treacher Collins, a horrific genetic disorder that her birth father had, causing facial deformities, breathing problems, and hearing loss.

(google Treacher Collins Syndrome images to get an idea of what they were talking about.)

The doctors has noticed some features indicative of this, including very narrow ear canals on the baby.

I don’t believe in rejecting a gift from God.

On December 22nd we headed over to the mainland with our kids in tow to meet the baby and the toddler who would soon become our son and daughter. The little boy had been in a foster home since birth, and the little girl had arrived there out of hospital, the day before. While he had a prospective home and the potential adoptive parents had already done some pre-placement visits, their rejection of his sister resulted in the Ministry stopping that adoption because they wanted to keep this siblings together.

Ethan met us at the door, (at the time he was called Dustin) in a t-shirt and diaper and holding a chicken leg he had been nibbling on. (Some images just stick with you!) He was a tiny 12 month old, big eyes, dimpled smile, and gorgeous wavy hair.

Emma (then called Tamara) was sitting in a car seat on the dining room table. The light through the window,  like Great Expectations (Charles Dickens), was one of those December days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.

She was my summer.

Both children had some dysmorphic features, likely indicating some special needs, but I didn’t care.

My mother had asked me, before we met the baby, what would I do if her face was horribly deformed.

My answer was “ I am going to love her because someone has to.”

And love her I did.

We had to leave Ethan there when we left that day, and it hurt. But he had lived in his foster home since a few weeks’ old, and knew no other place, no other parents, and we just couldn’t yank him out of that situation. A series of pre-placement visits were to take place starting in the new year, to ease his transition, and to address the heartbreak of his foster parents who had loved him and cared for him for the first year of his life.

We brought Emma home, on Christmas Eve, and joined last minute Christmas shoppers who were not buying diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, and whatever else we could get our hands on in our formerly baby-less household. Our youngest was five years’ old and I had not saved anything other than a wicker bassinet that all of my kids had slept in.

Emmaline Sophia Nicole was home.

God had given her to us.

Ethan Tomas Nathaniel would join us in a few months, and he was the icing on the cake.

My girl Emma, whose 21st birthday is the reason for this missive, was held by God and delivered to me through prayer, hope and faith. Are there really angels here on this earth?

Well one lives at my house.

All her siblings have moved out into the world and are making lives for themselves.

Emma remains with me, the greatest blessing in my life, bringing renewed hope, inner peace and light when I am in my darkest moments.

She is a great teacher.

She touches everyone’s lives and brings to them happiness, generosity, gratitude, kindness, innocence, and love.

Anybody who rejects her, mocks her, bullies her, or scapegoats her must live  a dark, pitiful existence.

She saved my life.

While they say she has special needs, I say she has special gifts.

She is perfect.

Passing the Torch of Remembrance.

I hate November 11.

Growing up with my mom and dad, both of whom served in WW2, ,it was the only time I ever saw them cry.

Not an ugly in your face sobbing cry but a quiet cry, holding deeply, much pain, pain for those they lost.

My mum explained to me that she and dad had a local they went to several times a week.   A local is a pub where friend co workers and spouses go to socialize.

Mum said there were about 50 people who knew each other very well sharing their trials tribulations of every day life, drinking, laying darts, playing cards, talking about the war.

Slowly and steadily the men of the Local were called for service and off they went in airplanes, boats, boots on the ground. Young men’s adult lives would start and often end on the battlefield.

Return dates passed, conversation at the local was about Dylan Jenkins who lost a leg, Gerry Williams whose plane had gone missing, Barry Jones, missing, whose wife had just delivered their first baby while he was out there fighting the Germans.

Over time the patrons at the local diminished and the mood became somber. More pints were ordered, less talk was heard. Soon it was almost all women at the Local. Every man who frequented The White Horse except for a handful of older men, had gone to serve.

And instead of coming home on two feet, every man who frequented the White Horse came home in coffins, or never came home at all.

Stunning.

Sobering.

A testament to the perils of war.

This is what my parents remembered on November 11, their lost friends, broken families, fatherless children.

Years later, my parents remembered every one of those “boys” as they called them, and it hurt. Deeply.

My parents are gone now, perhaps hanging out at the White Horse, Heaven’s version.

And with them, the touching commemoration to these individuals, a classroom size full of men who missed out on living their lives.

But, one year on November 11, I asked my mum to write down their names. And she did. And she and my dad told me about them. Thirty years after they died in war, she and my dad remembered them. Intimately.

So here’s to the boys of the White Horse in Cardiff.

I honour you.

 

 

  • Barry Jones
  • Cecil Thomas
  • Harry Haines
  • Davey Haines
  • Garland Smith
  • Robert Brown
  • Frank Martin
  • Malcolm Harris
  • Glen Taylor
  • Franklyn Cavet
  • Rex Willis
  • Jack Long
  • Chester Lovely
  • George Hammong
  • Charles Jones
  • Charlie McDonald
  • Hamish Nichols
  • Wilson Haffer
  • Robbie Evans
  • Louis Louis
  • Sam Morgan
  • Charles Morgan
  • Ivor Morgan
  • Rhys Griffihs
  • Peter Driscoll
  • Eddie Moss
  • Sterling Owen
  • Davey Williams-Dodd
  • Andy Fitsgerald
  • Molly Fitsgerald (took her life when her husband Andy didn’t come home)

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

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Letter to an animal dumper.

Dear (former) pet owner.

Do you think your dog/cat is still waiting for you at the spot you dumped him in the woods or logging road, far away from the sites and smells he is used to that bring him comfort?

Do you think he is confused but remaining loyal to your scent, hunkering down at that spot you drove away, until frigid temperatures or intolerable heat cause him to abandon his post and find shelter in a place where he doesn’t know where his next step will take him?

You took an innocent animal who loved you and relied on you to keep him safe, and abandoned him far from home where he would be lost, terrified, cold, hungry, traumatized and trying to figure out how to get home. The panic he felt is unimaginable. Was that your intention?

To cause him to suffer and die an excruciating death, where crows and turkey vultures pick at him, perhaps before he is quite dead.

Was that your intention?

Will you think about him, ever?, out there alone, and wonder what happened to him, or just naively assume because he is an “animal” he is meant to be in the “wild” anyway and will be just fine.

But the truth is, he would either be killed by a bigger wild animal, ripped apart and terrified, or wounded and infected, or, without nourishment or shelter, he would have lingered with untreated illness or wounds, suffering horrible pain through each stage of his physical deterioration, eventually succumbing to pneumonia as he tried to find a quiet place hidden away in the bush or garbage pile , or under a log, or perhaps out in the open, where he would struggle to breathe, convulse, and pass away, alone and scared but amazingly, probably still thinking about you and wishing you were with him.

Or he may have found a road and in trying to get home, was hit by a car, and became an anonymous body to be scooped up and thrown in a garbage bag.

 

Can you actually sleep at night knowing you left him to cope in the pitch black of night, an innocent animal who never understood why he was being taken away from his home to be lost and alone in winter storms terrifying lightening, the blinding heat of the sun, freezing or burning?

Did you enjoy all your meals this past week, or month, while your pet starved, losing muscle mass, weakening, until his organs started shutting down?

Your friends, co-workers, acquaintances would be sickened if they knew what you did. Most people find this kind of act deplorable and cowardly.

What have you told your kids about where their pet is? Did you lie because of your shame or to avoid them crying and worrying about what ever happened to their pet, for years to come. You, as their role model, have now taught them it’s ok to throw away living beings who love you if they become inconvenient, expensive, or you have failed to train them properly and they pay for that. It is hard to understand the kind of cold heart that goes into this kind of act.

It is never too late to make amends and go and look for your pet. He is likely still close by to where you left him if it has not been too long. Please make this right, look for him, put up posters, you don’t have to admit what you did at this point, just say he is lost, ask others to look for him, and if found, take him to a shelter where he will be cared for, have his injuries and illness treated, humanely euthanized if he is too sick to recover, or be cared for in a safe, warm, loving environment and re-homed to a person or family who will return his loyalty.

You cared for this living being at one time. Please end your relationship with him with kindness and grace. And never have another pet.

 

__________________ _______________________

Happy Birthday to Me.

Thirty-two years ago right now (9:25 pm) I know where I was and what I was doing.

I was swearing out loud, about to smack my husband up side of the head, and not yet experiencing any “joy” in parenthood.

I was in my 28th hour of labor, soon to deliver a baby we never thought we would have and fought hard to conceive.

I was so fed up with the situation at 10:24 pm I heard my husband say something very un-father like , “Holy Shit”, as I delivered our daughter with half a push at the speed of a bullet…well, almost. The doctor didn’t even catch her she came out so fast, she landed like a wet fish in a silver bowl the nurse quickly stuck under my airborne infant (well, she was..something was hurling and it wasn’t me.)

I did not feel the immediate maternal bonding that you read about or hear about. I was hungry. Starving. It had been about 30 hours since I last ate, except for the bag of jujubes that my husband snuck in early in my labor, and revealed themselves a few hours later in that kidney shaped blue bowl that I couldn’t hide fast enough before being busted by the nurse. This nurse wore the traditional outfit of nurses back in World War Two days, or maybe the 60’s, white uniform, white stockings, white shoes, nurses cap. She was intimidating. Even more so when she smacked me on the leg after I started losing it during that horrific stage called transition. I still remember her telling me I was going to be a mother soon, start acting like it.

My husband had a look of pure terror in his eyes, I think expecting me to do the exorcist head spin at that moment.

So after the projectile delivery and a cheese sandwich from one of the nurses lunches, I embarked on my journey of mother hood.

I had not really been around babies before I had one of my own.

After a few hours sleep I embraced the role and my daughter and spent many hours rocking her, studying her, thinking about what the future might hold. I remember when I was dressing her for the trip home, my hands were shaking and I told her I was going to try my best, and asked her to be patient with me because I really wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. She just stared into my eyes and I think we understood each other.

There were six more babies after her, some born from my body, some adopted. The journey in life is never predictable. Each birth was very different, each child unique, but all loved and cherished.

I consider that date, June 18, 1984 as the day my life officially began. I have been somebody’s mother for over half my life. It is a privilege, a pain in the ass, a blessing, a curse, a joy, a heartache, easy, hard, rewarding, taxing, lonely, crowded, and definitely changes you as a person, more than one time, as the years go on.

My oldest child is now married, a mother, and is not in my life.

It is a loss that is too heart crushing to talk about.

A loss that has taken a long time to come to terms with.

A loss that has scarred my soul.

There is no greater burden than grieving for your child who is still alive, but whose heart beats for others but not for you.

It is pure, authentic loss. The loss of grandchildren, and for my other children, the loss of a sibling, for my mother, the loss of a grandchild and great grandchildren. We walk around with the overwhelming emptiness of the absence while carrying the heaviness of their irreplaceable memory.

Estrangement is a hidden epidemic. Studies show that if you ask ten people about their family relationships, at least five will report an estrangement.

And sometimes against all odds and all logic we still hope.

When she was small, it was the happiest time of my life. I was so privileged to share those moments of her proud achievements, her embarrassing mistakes, her moments of growing in every way, exciting to be there for her discoveries, her victories, to be her advocate, her sidekick, to look at her when she didn’t know it, and think “How could I have made something so perfect?” What I experienced as her mum, such sublime joy.

I am not perfect; there’s no such thing as a normal family. We do our best in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

I even warned her about this when she was five days old and I was afraid the zipper I was closing on her bunting bag might pinch her skin, I was afraid I would not feed her enough, or not hear her at night when she cried, I was afraid I would forget I had her (ok, well, let’s not talk about the one evening we actually forgot her in the house as we got into the car to go to the movies. No harm done except to my sense of accomplishment as a mother!)

The reason I write this…birthday/eulogy on this her 32nd birthday, and make it funny, laughter through tears, is because that is what this child brought to my life. And how I appreciated it. She was my calm in many storms. She was the Lucy to my Ethel. She was my first egg, and a damned fine one at that! I miss her terribly. I miss the opportunities now and in the future to tell my grandchildren about their mother. About how she loved to sing, even though she couldn’t, what a ham she was in the front of the movie camera, how she loved to give fashion commentaries about her teachers, how she was madly in love with her Grade six teacher and used to practice writing her “married” signature, all her “ism’s” and I remember almost every one of them, our mutual love of the movies, her fabulous birthday parties we used to have, she shined at school, when she walked into a room she brought a lightening rod with her, what a wonderful older sister she was to her special needs sister (oh how she misses her big sister and niece). Her children will never know their aunts and uncles on my side, their new two year old cousin and other cousins who will soon arrive, their great grandmother whose last years will be spent without them, not photographs to cherish later or to share that heritage with their children a quarter of a century from now.

How I wish God could have played a movie in my mind the day I brought her home from the hospital. If He had given me the gift of hindsight maybe she would still be with me, maybe she would still love me, maybe she would be like other daughters of other mothers and be there to share the road ahead.

Maybe if I had known I would not have her in my life as long as I had thought, from her cradle to my grave, I would have not pushed so hard in that delivery room, keeping her inside me, under my heart, for as long as possible.

As I finish this, and will publish it in its first draft, (because she was my first draft!) it is one minute to the time, exactly thirty-two years ago when this precious spirit entered my life. She is happy. She is a good mother. She has people she loves.

One day maybe she will come back.

In the meantime I am buoyed by her siblings, my fabulous children who keep my heart alive, her grandmother, and the memories I have of the first 28 years being her mum. I cherish them, as I will always cherish her.

I have been a mother for 32 years and 1 minute, and counting.

 

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Truth, Reconciliation and Healing.

The first Indian residential school in Canada opened in the 1870s. The last school closed in 1996. During that time, over 130 Indian residential schools were located across Canada. More than 150,000 Aboriginal children attended Indian residential schools.

They were forced to attend. They did not sign up.

 About 80,000 Indian residential school survivors are alive today.

 The Government of Canada funded the schools. Churches ran the schools.

 Although Indian residential schools are now closed, generations of Aboriginal people in Canada are still affected by their horrific experiences.

I worked as a Legal Advocate for over 20 years. I helped people in crisis, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, try to access justice, to better their living conditions, to improve their lives.

 Then came the Residential School Settlement Process, the result of a class action

lawsuit that was started by a number of Indian residential school survivors against the

Government of Canada and the churches that ran the Indian residential schools. The settlement agreement was an effort to address the damage caused to generations of aboriginal people.

 Under the settlement agreement, the government would pay Indian residential school ‘survivors’ for their experiences while they were at an Indian residential schools.

 Based on some relationships I has established with Aboriginal community members I was sought out by some Elders involved in this endeavour and part of the requirement was to get their stories down on paper.

 It was a series of the most difficult interviews I have ever had in my career.

 Firstly, the trust that was given to me was an exceptionally humbling experience.

 Secondly, I have never witnessed a person speak such horrors and demonstrate, decades later, that the trauma was as fresh as if it had just happened.

 Finally, my experiences is hearing their stories cause me to question the use of the term “survivor”. Their hearts might still be beating but they “survived” only to be remnants of beautiful lives never realized.

 These stories go back generations and in my opinion, rival the holocaust.

 The legacy of removing children from their families and communities, first though the residential schools and then through the child protection system makes it imperative that we consider the events of the past and why the rates of poverty and homelessness and suicide and addictions and children in care and people incarcerated are so much more prevalent in Aboriginal communities. Generations have come into adulthood from institutional care, abuse, slave labor, no identity, certainly no connection to their heritage, to their kin, to their language.

 It was a cultural genocide in a systemic, routine manner.

 My client, an elderly woman who possessed a quiet dignity, a grace to her pain as she spoke in whispers about her experiences in a residential school. It was like she was afraid someone was listening in and she would be punished.

 She and all her siblings were taken from their mother, had their hair cut off, cold showered, separated from each other, forbidden to speak their language and physically punished if they did, including the use of some kind of electric chair, used on my client when she was 7 years old. She said the adults laughed when the smaller kids were in the chair because their legs wouldn’t reach the floor and would flail around with the electrical current.

 She was belittled, lied to, mocked, called a savage, strapped, told she would never amount to anything, raped at age 10, first by a police officer and onwards by priests, staff members and other students.

 She told me there was no such thing as love.

 If she threw up her meal she would be forced to eat her own vomit. The older children would try to make light of the porridge served with maggots buried in the oats, saying at least it was some protein.

 When she got out, at age 15, she went on to have six children who were eventually taken from her by child welfare services because she had a drinking problem and really could not provide any parental role model.

 These six, like so many other offspring of residential school prisoners grew under the hearts of mothers whose hearts were crushed long ago. There was little to give.

 Their parents were struggling. Their grandparents were struggling. Usually no one asked why. There were very dark secrets that remained cemented in cold stone anguish, shame, fear, and grief. It was better not to speak of it. It was better to numb it.

 Some of her children were returned to her on and off, but they themselves grew up disconnected from their heritage, culture, language, looked down upon, and subjected to racial discrimination.

 They do not trust the outside world.

 They do not trust people in authority.

 And the legacy continues, generation to generation.

 A broken culture.

 Her story will stay with me forever.

 I learned we as service providers have to make a shift in our perspective and heal that legacy one person at a time.

 One act of kindness at a time.

 Show each shattered soul that there is such a thing as love.

 I learned some things in the RCMP when working on the Blackfoot Indian reserve.

 You have to be honest with Aboriginal people. Never lie to them even if what is going to happen is not something they want. You have to walk the talk and follow through.

 They have every right to demand this of us.

 You have to listen to them and not fill in the pauses. They have stories, not explanations. Their behaviour might be connected to something outside the immediate situation. They do not move at the same pace as we do.

 Let it be.

 While most of us have no responsibility for these horrific acts of evil committed by the people in the residential school system, and other systems that crushed the lives of aboriginal people for generations, we have been left with the responsibility to repair that damage, to make amends for those monsters before us, to share our world openly and genuinely with those who are different from, to mourn with them their pasts and work to show them there is such thing as love in their futures.

 We just have to show it to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speech Number Seventeen?

Sad and sickened by the events in Orlando on Saturday, President Obama spoke to the nation from the “James Brady Press Briefing Room” because this that how much gun violence is a part of American life. Even the room the President talks about gun violence from, is named after a victim of gun violence.
In his post mass shooting address, Obama said we have to decide if this is the kind of country we want to be.
I wonder if Obama ever thought to himself that mass shootings speeches would be such a big part of his presidency job because you know at this point he has hosted 12 state dinners and given 16 mass shooting addresses, so right now the white house is more Kleenex than it is good napkins.

The President made a powerful point. America has to decide if this is the kind of country it wants to be. Every time it happens it seems like America has already decided this is exactly the kind of country America wants to be because we know how this always plays out.
We’re shocked. We mourn. We change our profile pictures. And then, we move on.
It has become normal, but I am sorry it’s not normal. We shouldn’t allow this to be normal. It’s not a normal thing to have the same thing happen to us over and over and over and doing nothing to change it.
When I was a child I never tied my shoes and would trip on my shoelaces. One day my mom pointed out to me that I was falling all the time because of the shoe- laces So, I tied them and moved on. I knew I had to tie the shoelaces to change something. I could have said to my mom “Why are you bringing shoe laces into the conversation? Why are you blaming the shoelaces for something the sidewalk did to my knees? Who even says there is a connection between shoelaces and falling anyways? You are violating my rights to keep my shoelaces untied.”

I didn’t say that because I realized after falling a lot, there was a connection between my shoelaces being untied and getting hurt. That’s why I didn’t say that to my mum.

This is clearly a complicated incident. There are elements of terrorism, mental health, but it is glaringly obvious America needs to make it a lot harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get guns.

To many of us it seems crystal clear but there are still people who think we are wrong to try to bring that up. They insist this is not about gun control but about radical Islam. They say in 9-11 they used box cutters. Terrorists didn’t use guns, they used planes to kill thousands of people. And as soon as we realized they could use planes as weapons, we worked together as a society worked our damnedest to make it harder for them to ever do it again. We locked cabin doors, we expanded the no fly list ,we even make everyone pose for x-ray nudes now.
What we didn’t do was say this has nothing to do with airplanes it has everything to do with radical Islam.

No. What we did instead was regulate air travel to make it harder for the terrorists to do the damage. Even when fighting Isis we fight the ideology itself. We fight to reduce their resources but most importantly we attack their weapon stores.
Why do we do that?
Because by removing their weapons it decreases their ability to hurt us.

Because everybody knows Isis without guns is basically a blog.

So the irony of the situation is that people who say there is no connection between America’s gun laws and terrorism, well do you know who does see a connection?

Terrorists….

An Alqueda spokesman said, “ America is easily awash with totally available firearms. We can go to a gun show at a local convention centre and come away with fully automatic assault rifles without a background check and most likely without having to show an identification card so what are you waiting for?”

That’s like selling terrorism like new cars.

So what are you waiting for?

When people say to me it’s not about guns, it’s about terrorism, no it’s about terrorism and it’s about guns.
There were two other gun incidents on the weekend that did not involve terrorism. A man was stopped just short of the L.A. Gay Pride Parade with a car full of guns. A 22 year old singer was gunned down while signing autographs.

Just because there is a problem with terrorism doesn’t mean there also is not a problem with access to guns.

I get that Americans love guns, but it comes at a cost.

This year alone 23 people in America have been shot by toddlers. You realize we have not reached the summer yet.

The truth is, I know where this argument always ends up. The 2nd amendment – do not infringe on our rights to keep and bear arms. But as much as the NRA wants you to believe it’s an absolute, it is not, and never has been, because America does regulate guns. For example, the Orlando shooter could not get a machine gun because America banned those in the 1980s because it was obvious they made it too easy for one person to kill multiple human beings. Time after time we have seen that assault weapons have the same fatal capabilities.

America, it is clear you need to ask yourselves the question, do you want to be a country that takes reasonable measures to protect its citizens or should we tell the president to prepare speech number 17..

Trevor Noah, The Daily Show.

Community Action Employment Plan

 If opportunity doesn’t knock, then build a door.

That is exactly what is happening for the estimated 83 percent of individuals who are eligible for services through Community Living BC, and are unemployed.

That door is being constructed via a three-year Community Employment Action Plan for adults with developmental disabilities who wish to work in their communities.

The Plan was launched in 2013.

Opening that door to employment opportunities puts those with developmental disabilities on a pathway of meaningful work that pays a living wage.

The goal of the Plan is to increase the employment of individuals served by CLBC by 1200 people over three years, from the current estimate of 2200 participating in employment.

How did this initiative come about?

Many years ago self-advocate leaders became disenchanted with their situations, performing menial tasks in segregated settings, usually without competent salaries.

Their refrain became “real work for real pay”.

Over the past number of years, young people leaving school and their families have almost increasingly been asking for real employment, elevated from the traditional menial, low-grade jobs that people with developmental disabilities were assumed to fit into.

There have been small numbers of people, who, with the support of their families, service providers, educators, and employers, have worked at rewarding jobs, earned a paycheck, made friends with co workers and gained confidence and satisfaction from a sense of belonging. Most importantly, paid employment means a higher quality of life.

Between 2007 and 2012, as awareness of the importance of employment grew, Community Living BC undertook a number of initiatives to build capacity and momentum.

The Customized Employment Demonstration Project concentrated on the value of individualizing the employment relationship to meet the needs of both the employer and the employee. Eight projects were funded for four years and the results were telling. Employment was possible for people across a wide spectrum of disabilities and that adoption of customized employment provided a real promise of success.

Reinventing day supports, those that promoted daytime activities, a comfortable home and leisure time with friends led to a deeper understanding of the need to move these supports towards employment. This shift came as a generation of youth experienced (at least periods of) inclusive education. Being marginalized or summarily excluded was not going to be accepted anymore.

BC Employment Development Strategy Network, in collaboration with Douglas College continuing education, developed curricula and began training staff to increase their competency in supporting people to find and keep work.

A number of service providers and practitioners joined together to create EmployNet, a hub for learning, sharing, and collaboration in advancing best practices in employment supports and to help employers improve the bottom line by employing a diverse workforce.

In spite of people’s efforts, progress over the years had been incremental at best.

It was time to build on the work already done and develop a sector-wide employment plan. They wanted to make a real impact.

In 2012, CLBC engaged individuals, families, service providers, CLBC staff, school and government representatives and employers to develop a three-year employment plan. The consultation culminated in a provincial employment summit that took place in Oct. 2012, with over 150 attendees from around the province and the Community Action Employment Plan focuses on building that door to inclusive employment situations.

The Plan focuses on shifting attitudes towards a belief that individuals with developmental disabilities have a valuable contribution to make in the workforce.

Every community is different. The Plan tailors solutions to the unique characteristics of a region because the nature of work opportunities differs in each region.

Approximately 600 youth leave school and become eligible for CLBC services each year. These youth are a priority for employment services where they can transition with their peers and receive services that will support their personal goals instead of determining them.

CLBC will increase the number of adults with developmental disabilities that it employs and contracts with.

Social enterprise and self-employment have the potential to provide many adults with developmental disabilities the opportunity to pursue meaningful work. CLBC will better support individuals pursuing this option and creation of a self-employment program at post-secondary institutions.

The Ministry of Social Development has made improvements with BC Disability Benefits to make employment more attractive option for people to pursue.

A full copy of the plan is available at http://www.communitylivingbc.ca