Healthy Living in the North

“The village helped to raise our child”: A Smithers family reflects

Young man sitting in a restaurant wearing a Sport Chek uniform

With the support of a microboard and various community members, Jesse recently joined the workforce in Smithers.

When you walk into Sport Chek in Smithers and see Jesse Clegg unpacking garments and hanging gear, you may not realize the significance of that moment.

You may not realize the number of people, programs, time, and advocacy that created that moment. You may not realize that moment wouldn’t have been possible just ten years ago, or that it shines a light on some ongoing challenges facing families. You may not realize that what you’re seeing is a powerful example of a healthy family supported by a healthy community.

And this is exactly why Jesse’s story is so important to share.

“When you have a child with a disability,” said Anita Clegg, Jesse’s mother, “there are no days off.” Jesse, now 21 years old, was born and raised in Smithers. Jesse has Down syndrome and, throughout his life, the Clegg family was committed to breaking ground in the community. “We put ourselves and Jesse out there,” shared Anita, “because it was important for us to show that everyone has abilities. As people learn more and connect with Jesse, we’ve seen shifts in thinking.”

When Anita says that “the village helped to raise our child,” this is not a cliché. While Jesse’s parents continue to assume a strong advocacy role, the impact of community members, organizations, and businesses on Jesse’s life is profound.

Consider the local bowling alley …

“Anything round that moved, Jesse was on it!” said Anita. “So bowling was a good fit. Jesse couldn’t start with Special Olympics until he was a teenager so, when he was 10, we asked about joining the town league. The bowling alley was very supportive and Jesse joined a team with typical kids. One year, he was the high scorer for the teen youth league! Jesse still loves to bowl and the bowling alley is a safe, welcoming, and familiar place for him.”

… and the pediatrician …

“Our pediatrician truly went to bat for Jesse. He understood Jesse’s needs, made connections that others wouldn’t have made, and helped to advocate for Jesse from birth right until he turned 18.”

Young man holding a wrench

In addition to being an artist and photographer, Jesse has taken up industrial iron furniture making.

… and the family friend …

“Safe and reliable respite is so important for families,” shared Anita. “We were very fortunate to have a family friend offer to take Jesse one day each week, starting in his last year of high school. They started out by just playing cards with me around but now they spend the afternoon together. Jesse has dinner with her family.”

… and the local business owner …

“Jesse is now in the workforce,” said Anita, “and that involved a lot of people coming together. It was a lengthy process but well worth it! When we told Jesse that the employment plan was going to be possible, his exact words were: ‘Everything is perfect!’ This process started with Jesse’s microboard (nine family members and community members) working with Jesse to create a picture of his skills, interests, and strengths. Jesse shared that he’d love to work at Sport Chek – which came out of the blue to us since he’d never been there! Our local WorkBC office asked the manager if they’d be interested in a supportive employment opportunity. The manager instantly said yes and went even further, integrating Jesse as a full team member, without a support person. His colleagues trained him and have been fantastic – many of them knew Jesse from school.”

Young man sanding stool top.

Jesse puts the finishing touches on a bar stool he built.

These supportive community experiences, however, also point to some of the challenges that Jesse’s story illuminates:

  • Access to health and social services is an important determinant of health. Unfortunately, Jesse’s pediatrician – whose role cannot be understated – recently retired. Anita identified this, along with some other changes to local social service delivery, as a challenge.
  • Respite for families is crucial. The Cleggs benefited from the generosity and support of their friend. Unfortunately, Anita shares that funding for organized respite and semi-independent housing for young adults with disabilities is being spread thinner and thinner.
  • Jesse’s new work life is a fine example of how integration has made a huge difference for him. This hasn’t always been the case. As Jesse made his way through the school system, the Cleggs experienced both integration and segregation, often changing based on policy and funding. They chose to home-school Jesse for a period of time when the school system was unable to meet his needs.

What does this boil down to for Anita Clegg?

“Smithers is a wonderful place and an amazingly generous community. My son knows way more people than I do,” she laughed, “and people watch out for him. There are just a few missing pieces, especially for some of the day-to-day, nitty-gritty challenges of raising a child with a disability.”

Concepts like healthy and inclusive communities can be hard to define, but in Jesse’s case, they are clear and their impact is profound. It’s the friend offering respite, the welcoming bowling team, and the local business eager to offer him work.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Building spaces where everyone can play

Playground

Healthy community projects don’t happen overnight. Quesnel’s first accessible playground – with a grand opening scheduled for September 15, 2016 – provides a blueprint for success.

Brooke and MacKenzie are twin sisters who cannot play together at Quesnel’s playgrounds. While MacKenzie scampers up and down stairs and slides, Brooke’s chase stops the moment her wheelchair gets stuck in the pea gravel. To help the girls play together, Brooke’s parents carry her around the playground.

Brooke and MacKenzie’s situation is hardly unique, and neither is the fact that Quesnel didn’t, until recently, have any accessible playgrounds. Chances are the playground closest to you has pea gravel, steps, ladders, and other features that make it difficult for kids and adults alike to enjoy. Because it’s not just Brooke and MacKenzie who can’t play together. It’s the family with the baby stroller that can’t roll through the gravel to watch their toddler go down the slide; it’s the grandparents with walkers who are left watching grandkids from afar when a ledge gets in the way; it’s the children with leg braces who can only look on as their friends race over traditionally uneven surfaces.

But this is all about to change in Quesnel and, as it turns out, the answer to the question, “how can Brooke and MacKenzie play together?” provides a valuable blueprint of how a healthy community project can take shape in your town.

Two people assembling playground equipment.

The Quesnel Accessible Playground was a project four years in the making for Sandy Meidlinger (right), who was involved in the project team that made it happen.

Fresh from the excitement of a long-awaited playground build event on May 28, 2016, I chatted with Sandy Meidlinger with the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre, who tells the story from here:

This project started in 2012 when Brooke and MacKenzie’s mom came to me and asked for help to get an accessible playground built in Quesnel. I’m a member of the Parent Child Resource Team (a group of service providers and parents) and we agreed this would be a valuable long-term project for us to take on. Having a team was crucial! Our committee included parents, health care professionals, local agencies, government and school district representatives, and others.

When we asked community members for letters of support for this project, the response was overwhelming! Why? Until now, there was no playground in Quesnel accessible to people with mobility needs. I’m talking baby strollers, walkers, leg braces, scooters, and more. In Quesnel alone, there are over 100 children who, because of complex developmental profiles, can’t participate in many play activities on typical playgrounds. These kids are cut off from a typical family activity of playing at the park. An accessible playground increases physical activity levels for everyone, promotes inclusive family enjoyment, and helps children with mobility issues develop independence.

Volunteers assembling playground

On the day of the build, 25 volunteers and professionals came together to assemble the park.

Our first step was to present to the City of Quesnel and Cariboo Regional District joint planning committee. Both groups agreed in principle to support the idea. Connecting with government early was key to getting support for things later in the process like ongoing playground inspection and maintenance. There’s a wonderful legacy component to this project, too, as the city has committed to incorporating accessible aspects into all future park updates.

With government support in place, we looked for a location. The Quesnel & District Arts & Recreation Centre had an old playground in disrepair so we asked about making this the site of the new playground. The Centre and their governing bodies were on board! This location was ideal because it’s central and on a bus route; the Centre will be using the playground daily for inclusive programs; and they offer accessible parking, doors, and washrooms.

Levelling rubber surface.

The recycled rubber surface replaced pea gravel, which is difficult to use for those with mobility needs.

The next step was to research playground developers. We settled on Habitat Systems. They took our ideas and created a design. We then asked therapists, play specialists, parents, and children about the plan; Habitat tweaked the design. The final proposal was about more than just mobility – there are sensory toys, considerations for visual impairments, and other equipment for integrated, inclusive play.

We then started the long and sometimes frustrating work of fundraising. We wrote lots of grant proposals; I presented to local agencies; we wrote letters to local businesses; and we all chatted with anyone interested in accessibility. Our generous community really stepped up! We managed to fundraise over $200,000!

We finally got to the day of the build. About 25 volunteers and professionals spent 13 hours assembling the park. The recycled rubber surface was poured the following week. The park is open for use this summer and our grand opening is scheduled for September 15!

It’s hard to believe that it took four years but MacKenzie and Brooke – and hundreds of other Quesnel residents – are now able to play together! We now have a space where everyone can play.


The Quesnel Accessible Playground is still fundraising for its last few pieces. To support this project with a tax-deductible donation, contact Sandy Meidlinger at the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre: 250-992-2481, SandyM@QuesnelCDC.com

For project photos and a list of donors, visit the Quesnel Accessible Playground on Facebook.


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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“Our solution was the boardwalk”: How a local hiking group provided everyone with the opportunity to enjoy a natural wonder

Man carrying plank

Volunteer Mitch Olineck carries a boardwalk plank.

One of the things that northern B.C. residents commonly appreciate about living in this area is our close proximity and easy access to nature and outdoor activities, like skiing, camping and hiking.

Unfortunately, this “easy access” doesn’t always extend to everyone and truly experiencing nature can be a difficult, even impossible, task for some. This is why the Prince George hiking club, the Caledonia Ramblers, undertook the ambitious project of building a universal boardwalk for the Ancient Forest, a popular trail system 113 km east of Prince George that features huge ancient cedar trees that are protected as part of B.C.’s rare inland rainforest.

“There has to be an equal playing field for all our citizens,” said Nowell Senior, Caledonia Ramblers President, “so all citizens have an opportunity to live a wholesome, inclusive life.”

Senior has been president of the hiking club for eight years and was a member for 10 years before that. He has seen the boardwalk, as well as the original Ancient Forest trail, come alive from initial idea through to extensive planning and final development.

Four hikers at trail entrance.

Hikers (from left to right) Nowell Senior, Gwen and Bjorn Norheim, and Don Austin at the entrance to the universal boardwalk.

The idea for the Ancient Forest nature loop trail was conjured up 10 years ago and was built in a six week period over the summer of 2006. The Ramblers knew the area was beautiful, with its unique stands of large, ancient cedar, but Senior and the hiking club never anticipated just how popular it would become.

“Each year, more and more people were coming out to the nature trail,” said Senior. “When we realized just how popular the Ancient Forest trail had become, we were aware of those in our community who could not have that experience, and our solution was the boardwalk.”

So, in 2010, the club began exploring the idea of the universal boardwalk and approached local and provincial sponsors. The response was “completely supportive and positive,” said Senior. The 450 metre boardwalk that would provide full access to the Ancient Forest would become a reality.

The project came to fruition thanks to the contributions of many generous sponsors and 200 volunteers. The volunteers helped to build and even carried a total of 60 tons of lumber (by hand!) from the parking lot to the furthest point of the eventual boardwalk (in order to have it safely tucked away after delivery).

Four seasons and 6,500 volunteer hours later, the universal boardwalk was completed in the fall of 2013. It is now a separate trail – fully wheelchair accessible with rest areas and benches along the way – that goes to a viewing platform above a stream and provides a lovely view of the cedars. In 2015, the Ancient Forest welcomed over 15,000 visitors, and the boardwalk was renamed the Nowell Senior Universal Boardwalk to recognize his amazing contribution and dedication to the project.

“I think that going out to nature, we get reacquainted with the natural part of our world,” said Senior, on the importance of being active outdoors. “We’re natural beings that depend on nature. We can sometimes become separated from it, and as a result we’re not living as wholesome a life as we could.”

Senior encourages others to look at their communities and find ways to improve their accessibility, whether it’s providing better access to a park or creating a better mobility trail. His advice to get started: “Form a group of like-minded people who feel the same way… Put the idea out to organizations and entities that could be helpful in promoting such a venture.”

Now, Senior says the Ramblers are going forward with more awareness of the need for inclusivity. “I would hope the enthusiasm with which the Caledonia Ramblers have approached providing full access to nature would be contagious and effect more groups to become involved in that work.”


This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:

 

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)

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