an article by Heather Bailey
The mid 1950’s conjures up images of a simpler time: poodle skirts, saddle shoes, and soda shops; but for a group of mothers in rural Manitoba it was anything but simple. “Diversity” and “inclusion” were not words in common usage at the time. Mothers of children with special needs had two options: take care of them at home or institutionalize them, as these children were not welcome within the regular school system.
So, in 1956, around a kitchen table, two moms put their heads together to try and figure out what they could do for their families and for others in similar situations. They formed a local association, and it has grown into the organization known today as Inclusion Selkirk.
The following year the Legion School opened, operating from the lower level of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #42 on Eveline Street. Four years later, through a donation of land from the City of Selkirk and invaluable continued support from the Legion, a one room facility on Jemima Street was built. “The School” remained in place until 1967 when the public education system in Manitoba changed to integrate all children into regular school programs.
The association then turned its attention to adults with specific needs and the school became a vocational training centre. The first participants at the centre had not had access to regular schooling so having a segregated day program was ideal for them. Later participants, however, had been in school and they were less interested in a segregated program. Needs had changed and this recognition is just one of the qualities that sets Inclusion Selkirk apart: forward thinking; a willingness to talk with families; and awareness of changing social environments to ensure programs do not stagnate.
There is acknowledgement that participants have differing aspirations and that families have varying needs and desires. And there is recognition that the individuals coming to the program have the capacity to work and contribute to society in ways previously unavailable to them.
Time for extra training is often something many employers do not have and businesses often expressed concern that individuals would not have the basic skills necessary to perform adequately on the job. It was decided to demonstrate that these skills were attainable and the Social Enterprise program was created to teach basic employment skills. The program builds skills capacity, ensuring employers need only do minimal training.
There are currently two skill development streams: Recreation and Social. Volunteer placements are made within local organizations willing to mentor those seeking first-time work experience. These include the food bank and soup kitchen, day cares, and the school division, to name a just few. This allows participants to gain experience in an area of interest, helping them to plan their future and consider future employment in a job in which they can be happy and successful.
Inclusion Selkirk coaches individuals on how to navigate all aspects of the workplace, even how to leave a job if it doesn’t work out. This can be seen in action at the Riverside Grill restaurant, and in the retail store, Wish Me, which offers unique new and local gifts. At both the retail store and the restaurant, individuals are taught basic employment life skills such as punctuality, standard working hours, how apply for time off or deal with sick leave, and how to establish a suitable relationship with their employer. Program participants will have had no previous opportunity to learn these workplace behaviors.
The experiences gained through Social Enterprise are real: there are progressive consequences and disciplinary actions for not meeting expectations, as well as experience with the general public to learn customer satisfaction; all important skills that cannot be under-stated.
Employers’ expectations must also be met and they must be able to manage all employees equally. Employers are not expected to retain employees who are not performing as required but Inclusion Selkirk maintains contact as a resource, assisting with communication.
The Social Enterprise program has proven that its participants can be valuable employees. The services offered by Inclusion Selkirk can be seen as a continuum. Some participants have come through the Social Enterprise program, worked and retired, and now take part in the recreation program. This continuum clearly contributes to personal satisfaction and success.
Community support is critical and the city can be proud of the continuing response to this program. The Selkirk Biz bestows an annual Inclusive Employment Award, where members of the community nominate businesses that are acknowledged as inclusive employers.
Families remain the driving force behind program development such as the Welcome Home program initiated 25 years ago by another group of mothers who sought to bring their children “home” from an institution in Portage La Prairie.
Maria Freeman, Executive Director, says, “We build community, this in turn builds capacity and connections that support great things happening every day. Inclusion Selkirk is just one piece of the pie. Success lies in community. Selkirk is an inclusive community with strong relationships that have been built over years. That has only happened because Inclusion Selkirk is an active part of the community.”
The two moms who came together 62 years ago laid the foundation for an organization that now supports over 100 people living and working as a fully inclusive part of the community in the broader Selkirk region.
Now that’s a success story!