Building An Inclusive Workforce in Vanderhoof

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The 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games legacy for Vanderhoof is less tangible than roads or skating rinks, but it's just as significant to the community. Residents have created a more inclusive workforce, thanks to a grant from the 2010 Legacies Now Measuring Up Fund.

The Nechako Valley Community Services Society (NVCSS), working with the encouragement of the District of Vanderhoof, created two social enterprises: The Bean on Burrard, a coffee house, and the Nechako Valley Organics greenhouse, both of which employ persons with developmental disabilities.

Rhonda Wiebe, Manager with NVCSS, says both programs have been successful, but the Organics greenhouse proved to have unexpected benefits that could be summed up by philosopher Henry David Thoreau's observation that "gardening is civil and social."

The greenhouse became a summer hangout for the tiny town of 3,800. Residents dropped by for tomatoes, but stayed for coffee on the deck. Soon they got to know the gardeners in a relaxed, social environment that broke down barriers. After a while, people just came by to chat and the apprentices were no longer outsiders who didn't quite fit in; they were respected neighbours.

"Interaction with the community is what was really missing for so many of our workers," Wiebe says, "There was even a little bit of fear – the workers were stereotyped. But by the end of the summer that stopped. People came by just to talk, and they knew each other by their first names."

The social enterprises employ about 20 people with developmental disabilities, and work to create new perceptions on what makes a good employee. "It's difficult because of community perception about their abilities," Wiebe says. "That's why we created these businesses to demonstrate what we can do."

Some participants quickly found other paid employment after this opportunity, proving the initiative's success, even in difficult economic times. But what impressed Wiebe most was how the greenhouse jobs set the stage for participants to mix with their neighbours, have a good time, and feel good about themselves.

This initiative is one of many that Vanderhoof and other surrounding communities accomplished as part of their participation in the 2010 Legacies Now Measuring Up project. Vanderhoof is also a member of Measuring Up the North, which is a partnership of all 41 northern B.C. communities to make their communities more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

Measuring Up helps communities assess and improve how accessible and inclusive they are for people with disabilities, seniors and others with similar needs. The program includes a fund, established by the Province of BC, which offers grants to communities to complete accessibility-related projects.