It was a birthday party celebration of a different sort in Ninette, Manitoba. A jubilant group of adults and staff, all part of Southwest Community Options (SCO), recently lit up the candles there to mark 10 years of their progress in the little town.
And it has been a remarkable decade. That’s because SCO was a fresh idea, the brainchild of Eleanor Struth, executive director of the agency. Struth had previously been head of the Pelican Lake Centre for intellectually challenged adults, and when government changes in policy led to the closure of that institution, she wanted something good to replace it for the residents who needed a new home. She was appointed project manager by the provincial government, and her task was to start up an agency which could fulfil the various needs of the individuals, such as housing.
“We opened seven houses that first year, because these people were leaving the centre, and they were choosing to stay with our agency,” said Struth. Today SCO, a not-for-profit agency and registered charity, operates 10 homes in the four communities of Ninette, Baldur, Wawanesa and Killarney, housing 27 individuals. Some live in groups, while others are more suited to single living.
The “supported” adults were kept busy that first summer of 2000 with Southwest, helping with neighbourhood jobs such as cutting lawns, raking leaves and maintaining the local miniature golf course. A local artist who had recently moved into the picturesque town on Pelican Lake found that her lawn was badly in need of a cut, and wondered who these people were, out with their mowers and clippers.
“It was in the early days, and crews were going out and cutting grass for people in Ninette who couldn’t cut their grass,” said Catherine Mass, who holds an honours degree in fine art from the University of Manitoba, and is also qualified as a papermaker, printmaker, and in painting, drawing, clay and pottery work. “I said to them, ‘If you cut my grass, I’ll give you a workshop on papermaking.’ We made a barter, and from there I started up the papermaking program.”
Mass eventually joined SCO in 2001 as its day service facilitator, and after seven years she moved on to become its communication and program development manager. The crafts produced by the individuals who attend the day service centre flowered under her guidance, and SCO offers a variety of items for sale in the on-site shop, Hidden Treasures. There’s everything from birdhouses and feeders to scarves, garden tiles and stones, and delightful handmade cards. There are jewelry sets made from handcrafted beads, and a variety of papier mâché bowls, some of them shaped using an old farm disk as a form.
“The crafts require a lot of hand-eye co-ordination, and we spend time finding the skills for each individual. Some crafts are a series of processes – we really do like the team approach,” said Mass. She finds that different individuals can do particular tasks better than others, and works out ways to find the right mix of people and skills to complete certain tasks.
“We share our sensibilities, and our talents. What we hope we are doing is instilling a sense of the ownership of their work. All of this goes towards social valourization,” she said. “We are mandated that 90 per cent of everything offered through Hidden Treasures is accomplished by the individuals here.”
In 2001, the agency erected a new building on Queen Street, making year-round activities available to the individuals, such as woodworking, kitchen functions and art studios. In 2002, SCO started up a curbside pickup program for recyclable items such as glass, plastics, paper, aluminum and cardboard. In 2007 it expanded into the collection and recycling of e-waste, and created Responsible Electronic and Alternative Recycling in Ninette.
“We are one of the four sites in Manitoba to have the designation of being a year-round electronic recycling depot,” said Struth. “Our e-waste program doesn’t cover our costs, but it does generate some revenue, and it keeps these materials out of our municipal landfills.”
The party, held on May 14, was open to all friends and family, and special invitations also went out to past chairmen and board members, plus council members from Killarney-Turtle Mountain, the R. M. s of Argyle and Riverside, Wawanesa, and Manitoba Family Services and Consumer Affairs of Manitoba, who all support SCO. It featured a slide show containing a decade of memories and changes, and of course there was a cake.
“We are all about celebrating accomplishment,” said Struth. “The people we support here are just such a joy to work with every day. The more we do, the more we realize there’s more to do. These are citizens of our communities, and when we started, no one wanted group homes. But they have found out that we make good neighbours. And $2 million goes into staff wages annually from our programs. That’s a lot of money circulating in our small communities.”
Hidden Treasures is open at 210 Queen Street, Ninette, Manitoba from 9 a. m. to 3 p. m., Monday to Friday, and stays open through lunch.
– Kim Langen writes from Holmfield, Manitoba