By Charlie Senack –
It is little known in the Westboro area, but not to the local special needs community. A group called WAVE (Work and Volunteer Experience), has been providing life skills to young adults on the autism spectrum through work and fun.
Run through the Dovercourt Recreation Centre but located in the Festival House on Churchill Avenue, the non-for-profit organization relies on the local community for support.
Founded in 2013 by Eileen Rankin, a parent of a child with autism, the group’s mission is “to promote autonomy for adults on the autism spectrum (or with other developmental disabilities) through transferable skills training, volunteer experiences, and recreation opportunities so that they may reach their own unique levels of independence.”
Caitlin Booth has been involved with the program since September 2017 and has spent almost half of that time as the coordinator. She said the members of the group (or apprentices, as they call them), typically spend the morning working at a local business and the afternoons engaging in fun activities — but even those are teachable moments.
Many businesses have already jumped on board with the program including The Village Quire, Merry Dairy, and Mrs. Tiggy Winkles — who has already taken on two apprentices since getting involved with the program earlier this year. At The Village Quire, for example, two WAVE apprentices come in every Tuesday morning to help in the shop. Owner Molly van der Schee calls the partnership a “win-win.”
Caitlin predicts that one third of their business partners are in the Westboro area — but she says they are looking for more.
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The non-for-profit has also received support from the local Business Improvement Association.
“The WAVE program is great for businesses in Westboro because they take the time to listen to the needs of the business and match them with the right person or people,” states Michelle Groulx, executive director of the Westboro BIA. “WAVE staff also help coach and transition the new recruit into their job with tasks they can take on.”
Everything is about learning something new, says Caitlin. When the WAVE apprentices are not at the workplace, they take part in a variety of activities such as swimming and bingo. Visits to local coffee shops give apprentices an opportunity to learn about making quick decisions and money management.
According to a report by the Public Health Agency of Canada, an estimated one in every 66 Canadian children are on the autism spectrum, but the scale of how severe the disorder is depends on the person.
Caitlin says many people still don’t understand what autism is, and having groups like WAVE out in the community breaks down those stereotypical barriers.
“The value of people with disabilities has to be more recognized and I think it starts in smaller communities like this where you see us working in local businesses,” says Caitlin. “All it takes is giving someone with a disability a chance.”
About 40 apprentices are part of the WAVE program and Caitlin says that number is rising as the group becomes more popular.
WAVE is always looking for donations and volunteers. For more information go to waveottawa.ca.
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* This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre.