Andrew Termarsch and Wendy Dyck get together regularly at the L’Arche I Belong centre in Courtenay. Photo by Terry Farrell

Celebrating DiversAbilities on Vancouver Island

Diversity celebrated on International Day of Persons With Disabilities

Andrew Termarsch has a lot to say. Just ask him.

Andrew spent some time Thursday morning, chatting it up at the L’Arche I Belong Centre, in Courtenay.

“August 6th, 1968 — and I’m a Leo rising in the horoscopes,” he said, proudly, when asked his age. “I live in the Village of Cumberland, but I have moved all over. I lived in Ontario, and then Victoria, and now Cumberland, and soon, Courtenay, B.C.”

He’s hopeful Phase 2 of the I Belong Centre takes shape, so he can be in closer proximity to his friends.

“I’m on the list,” he said.

“Andrew is really keen; he is hoping to get a suite, if and when we build our new building,” said L’Arche Comox Valley spokesperson Wendy Dyck.

L’Arche has taken steps toward expanding its Comox Valley community, with a second I Belong Centre, in the same neighbourhood as the existing centre on Grieve Avenue. A feasibility study is currently underway.

“We are looking at 12 to 15 units; the same model as here – an apartment building – but with sub supports built into it,” said Dyck, adding that the neighbourhood has embraced the I Belong Centre. “This is an awesome neighbourhood. It’s been great. We have made good connections with our neighbours… a lot of welcoming and engagement from people. We really feel like we are part of the neighbourhood.”

***

Yesterday, Dec. 3, was the United Nations International Day of Persons With Disabilities.

The annual observance, first proclaimed in 1992, “aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”

The Comox Valley is a notably inclusive community. L’Arche is a prime example, as the Comox Valley is one of only two L’Arche communities in the province (the other being L’Arche Greater Vancouver).

Employers in the Comox Valley are championing the cause of inclusivity, said Rob Burgess-Webb, the program manager for community employment services at Vancouver Island Community Connections (VICC).

VICC is one of a handful of local job placement societies for challenged adults.

“We take referrals from Community Living British Columbia, for people who have been earmarked for our employment services,” said Burgess-Webb. “We take a bit of time to get to kow the people – get to understand their strengths, where they want to work, and so on. Following that, we then approach employers and try to make matches that suit both the people we support and the employers. It’s nice to be able to help not only the people I support, but the community at large.”

“We have numerous really good companies we work with,” said Bergess-Webb. “A good example is the relationship we have established with Eat More Sprouts. They have jobs specifically that they have employed people with ‘diversAbilities’ in, and it helps alleviate the workload of other staff.

“Other employers who work with us include Tim Hortons, Locals Restaurant are fantastic people to work with, and they are inclusive in all respects – not just with people with ‘diversAbilities,’ but also with people with addiction issues, seniors, where they can, people who are new to Canada… Mount Washington has been another good ally with plenty of support over the years; John’s Independent in Comox; Coastal Community Credit Union are really good to work with, as are Blue Toque Sports. And that’s not the full list. There are many more.”

Burgess-Webb said there are some tangible advantages to hiring his clientele.

“People with diversAbilities offer good retention – they are entrenched in the community and are probably not going to go anywhere,” he said. “It tends to be a tougher road for them to get employment, so they are more grateful, and stick around longer. And I think people are beginning to spend their money, and support businesses more [which show] better social benefits. Consumers like that.”

Tracy Caissie, co-owner of the four Valley Tim Hortons locations, said she has numerous long-term employees.

“We currently have enhanced our team with a total of 10 wonderful people with various skill sets. Just like any new member to our team, we learn what their strengths are, find the right place for them to put their skills to use.

“Eddy has been with us for approximately 10 years and Paul isn’t too far behind him,” Caissie said. “Ken is working on his fifth year and it goes from there. We are fortunate that the turnover rate is very low.”

Caissie said hiring people with diverse abilities is beneficial to the company, and that their work ethic is second-to-none.

“Employing people with varying abilities allows for our guests to be able to experience the wonderful genuine service they provide. Each one of our team is eager to do a good job and work hard each time they come to work. They do so with the most positive attitude. You can guarantee great work ethic and someone who takes pride in doing a good job and you can definitely count on reliability.”

She added that while the hiring of diversely-abled employees is not a company mandate, she recognizes the benefits.

“There is no company mandate as far as our head office is concerned. As for our family company, the last 25 years we have been in business we take pride in being an employer that values inclusion and sees the value that each individual brings.”

Burgess-Webb pointed out that VICC’s mission is to change the vernacular surrounding his clientele.

“We prefer to use the term diversAbilities, rather than disabilities,” he said.

As explained on the VICC website, “If you break down the word ‘Disabled’, you get not able. But when you break down ‘DiversAbility’ you get different but able.

“The word ‘disability’ is associated with the past, and often with people’s negative experiences. Let’s focus instead on the abilities of people now and in the future.”

READ MORE: Should I say ‘disabled person’ or ‘person with a disability?’

READ MORE: Alberni university zeroes in on disability and poverty

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