Program for young adults on the autism spectrum a “win-win” for all

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.

* This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre.

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.

[Click photos to enlarge.]

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

Is there a non-profit group or volunteer that you think we should feature in KT? Do you know someone who is making our community a better place? Let us know! Send your suggestions to us via this form.

* This feature is brought to you in part by Catherine McKenna, MP Ottawa Centre


The Spooktacular Ottawa Halloween Dog Parade

Submitted by Kathy Bell –

This will get your tail wagging: Halloween gets a head-start at Hintonburg Park with Ottawa’s Halloween Dog Parade on Saturday, October 20. It promises to be a howling good time.

Fidos from all over the city will be pawing their way to Hintonburg Park (101 Duhamel St.) from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., decked out in their costume best, vying for best-dressed categories and, of course, participating in the Parade of Dogs.

Inspired by New York City’s Tompkins Square Park annual Halloween dog event, the Ottawa Halloween Dog Parade is a family and hipster-friendly event, which proves having fun really is a dog’s life. Along with prizes for pooches, there will area vendors and popular local food purveyors. Admission is free to the event, though there is a $10 registration fee required for canine competitions.

Indeed, the inclusiveness of Ottawa’s Halloween Dog Parade is based on its guiding spirit as a fundraiser in support of Dovercourt’s Work and Volunteer Program for Adults with Autism and other special needs (WAVE). WAVE participants, or Apprentices, are active in the community through work placements and volunteering.

You may have met the WAVE Apprentices out-and-about in Hintonburg, Westboro or other communities. Apprentice work crews volunteer each day at various local businesses and organizations.

“The WAVE is program focuses on community integration, learning through recreation, building social skills and meaningful friendships, and most of all…it’s a place for everyone,” says Caitlyn Booth, a WAVE Program Coordinator. “We work to raise awareness within our community about how people with special needs can be positive members of society.”

Funds raised by the Dog Parade will contribute to expanding WAVE’s programs through job training for Apprentices and staff, sensory equipment and supportive technologies that enhance community participation.

Kathy Bell, parent of a WAVE apprentice, says, “WAVE is a one-of-a-kind program in Ottawa for adults with special needs that provides for my son, Kevin, the opportunity to have a productive and active life like other young people his age. Kevin is so happy to go to work every day, which includes volunteering and placements at the Parkdale Food Market and the Ottawa Heart Institute, among other local businesses. It makes my day when people tell me how much fun Kevin is having when they see him in the community.”

Visit the Ottawa Halloween Dog Parade Facebook page to learn more about the event, register or make a donation to the WAVE program. Parade-day registration and donations are also possible.

For more information about Dovercourt’s WAVE program, please visit

So, mark your calendars for October 20, tell your dog-loving friends, and get creative! You won’t be barking up the wrong tree attending the first annual Ottawa Halloween Dog Parade.

Kathy Bell is a volunteer with WAVE. 


Dovercourt treats for very special cause

By Kristy Strauss –

The Kitchissippi community has welcomed with open arms a very important program, according to Holly Martin.

Martin is a placement and job coach co-ordinator with WAVE (Work and Volunteer Experience) Ottawa – a program founded and run by the Dovercourt Recreation Association. The program helps adults with autism find work and volunteer experience in the community. It also raises awareness of the potential of adults with autism.

Edward King, Holly Martin, Jill Louise Goddard and Matthew McMahon took part in a bake sale to raise money for WAVE Ottawa. Photo by Kristy Strauss.
Edward King, Holly Martin, Jill Louise Goddard and Matthew McMahon took part in a bake sale to raise money for WAVE Ottawa. Photo by Kristy Strauss.

WAVE participants were at the recreation centre on October 3 for a bake sale to raise money for the program.

“(The Kitchissippi community) has been beyond helpful,” says Martin. “I think the community is a huge aspect of the program. A lot of the people who access Dovercourt are from Kitchissippi, and their attitude towards us so positive. Everyone is so welcoming and supportive.”

The program started earlieFailed to write file to disk.r this spring at the recreation centre, and currently has 22 apprentices working or volunteering in various jobs across the city – from working with children, to working in a flower shop.

Martin connects the apprentices to their job of choice, and helps them learn skills that will benefit them in the workplace. She adds that the program has been a huge success so far, and apprentices have been doing a fabulous job in their placements.

“It’s really interesting to see the relationships they end up forming (with employers),” says Martin. “Their work is just as valuable as anyone else’s, and they all have a great work ethic.”

John Rapp, executive director of Dovercourt, says the program is a first venture into a new area for the recreation centre. He says Dovercourt was approached by a small group of parents that were seeking a program that would help adults with autism develop job skills – and, help them find employment and have greater autonomy.

“While Dovercourt has hosted supported workers with developmental difficulties from a number of agencies in our work force for over 20 years, this was our first venture into doing the recruitment, training, and placement of people ourselves,” Rapp says. ”We have been able to get some great staff with expertise and enthusiasm to lead it . . . it is amazing what you can do when your attitude is to just say yes.”

He adds that Dovercourt is motivated by an important issue parents brought forward – that there is a significant gap in service for adults with developmental disabilities.

“They are left to fend largely for themselves,” says Rapp. “The greatest issue for parents is who will look after their now adult children when they are gone. This program is, on our small community scale, part of the answer to that issue.”

For more information about WAVE, visit