On our living room wall there hangs a framed sign with the words "Maplewood School" painstakingly and exquisitely etched by hand. Eventually, the school closed and those bits of wood were tucked away with other memorabilia from that establishment. When their originator passed away, an inventory of belongings revealed the old warped sign, separated into several pieces due to age. On their own, those two words don't mean much but to the people who walked through open doors under that sign, they meant the world. Gentle Reader, this is not a gardening column, it is a community column. This week's piece is a recognition of those who have the privilege of being a part of the Community Living network of Associations: their underlying foundation is the belief that all people are entitled to the same participation in their society without exclusion due to perceived disabilities.
Over the years, labels have been applied to various segments of society- some clinical, some derisive, some due to sincere attempts to identify without marginalisation. The truth is that any such "tag" eventually will become demeaning, the rapidity at which this occurs is dependant upon the sensibilities of the current society. In my brief time within the social services milieu, Social Role Valorisation was the "new" way. SRV was first suggested by Wolf Wolfensberger (one of my heroes) as a means to let us know that an individual held many roles within society, and that their "value" was measured as a result of those roles.
Since then, much refinement has occurred. Wolf was also the fellow who cautioned that institutions often devolve into bureaucracies that respond to the convenience of its administrators and not those in need of its services. The lesson I take from this is that people are people and we who are "on the ground" so to speak, need to accept that and just get on with it. Other folk are much better suited to tilt at bureaucratic windmills (bless them) than I. A current term is "intellectual disability." Hey, it's a tremendous improvement on the descriptors we heard growing up, and at the moment, it is difficult to come up with a better phrase. One of the best words of which I am aware is "person" but that doesn't help much in a world of governments which require rigid definitions of those who may access their services. At the moment "intellectual disability" seems to work. What we can do, as members of our community, is take this term and give it the same meaning as other groups who request special attention from their governments. We can talk about minority ethnic groups, First Nations peoples, farmers, older folks who receive OAS. etc., etc.
For some reason this "disability" has been translated to mean lesser capacity. Bob has an intellectual disability; he'll never be a rocket scientist Well, neither will Dan. Bob might be a carpenter with a slower production rate than his mates, but he's a heck of a lot better carpenter then Dan will ever be. What capacity is being measured here? The capacity to create? to want to belong? to love? to contribute to society in a unique fashion? to be valued? the capacity to be a person?
This past year, I had the privilege of being the president of the Upper Canada Chapter of Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association. (Let's just say "UC".) One of our more pleasant responsibilities is to get involved with a community project. Lots of discussion surrounds its choice, as we determine not only the value to that community but also the impact our involvement will have on "branding" our association. These talks can be, um, dynamic, in tenor.
When the Executive Director of Community Living Quinte West, Starr Olsen, contacted me with a request, our Board of Directors immediately approved our involvement. No discussion, no debate. The big question was, "What can we do?" So UC will be on site at 11 Canal St, Trenton, on 1 Oct and again on 8 Oct to help create a new landscape and sensory garden. The story doesn't stop there, GR, when the news of this hit the streets, we received many offers from non-members. You know, people are people and when a clear need is expressed, silly little terms like "non-member" get tossed onto the compost heap. CLQW is held in very high regard by our citizens and that is shown by how quickly the community at large has responded.
Back to the sign.
In the late 60's and early 70's a very determined lady, Annette Jackson, drove thousands of miles on the back roads of Oxford-On-Rideau and North Grenville Townships .She was in search of the many people living in isolation; people who had actually been taught to go hide in their rooms when visitors came down the laneway. An old school in Oxford Mills was "acquired" from the local school board and Maplewood School was formed. From this beginning arose Kemptville's ARC Industries and Community Living North Grenville. In our community at that time, there were two sports- fastball and hockey (well the girls figure-skated). It was a simple matter to get ice time at the local rink. In this remarkable episode, Anne also convinced the principal at the local high school to actually set up "credits" for students who would act as "skating buddies".
We often talk about degrees of separation, or entertain the notion that life's paths cross at the most serendipitous times; well, I am a firm believer that this is so.
Let's put this all together. Anne's daughter, nee Betty Jackson is a Director for Community Living Quinte West. At their recent AGM, the keynote speaker, Dr. Ted Jackson (son and brother), presented new ideas on how to solicit and administer revenue sources. I saw lots of note-taking. Oh, how do I fit into this? I managed to marry Betty, Ted is my brother-in-law and way back in 1970. I was one of those skating buddies. And yes, Anne Jackson is still one of my heroes.
(For you trades-folk out there- we could still use a pallet or two of 60 mm pavers- doesn't matter what colour) or some Brussels dimensional stone. A large empty concrete block wall would really look nice with a wooden trellis.)