Supporting the exploration of Citizenship & Disability
Larry is a stellar YEG citizen who has been working as co-coordinator of the CommuniTEA Infusion Project since August of 2017. CommuniTEA infusion is an award winning, social change initiative, that aims to break down social barriers amongst community members with and without disabilities. The tea van visits city events and neighborhoods, creating a pop up town square like atmosphere where people gather, chat, and share in conversation over a cup of iced tea. As co-coordinator, Larry plays an instrumental role in ensuring tea van operations run smoothly. He is the go-to person at events, leading set up, the serving of tea, and take down. What follows are Larry’s reflections on his experiences with the CommuniTEA Infusion Project, Citizenship, and Employment.
Why is work important to you?
In conversation with Larry it was apparent his job with the tea van means a great deal to him. He takes his work seriously and strives to offer the highest quality service possible. Larry discussed work as an important part of life as it enables him to provide for his family and makes him feel included in community:
“To have an income source coming back home, there, for the basic needs, there…work makes me feel included…included like part of…a group or the community”
What do you like about the work you do?
“It’s been a whole different experience…I’ve never done anything like it”
Larry also described enjoying the travelling aspect of his position. With the tea van he got to go all around the city, attending different events and festivals.
“Seeing different parts of the city…parts that I’m not familiar with…for example Emily Murphy Park, I didn’t know where that was before”
What have you learned while on the job?
Larry talked a lot about meeting new people as a part of the job. He described being nervous meeting new people at first but with time and many encounters meeting new people became more comfortable.
When asked this question, Larry fondly recalled some of the encounters with others he had. He told a story about people asking for lemonade and iced tea mixed “half and half” which he thought was funny. He also spoke about the pin making machine and learning how to make it work.
What do you think CommuniTEA has to offer the community?
Larry discussed the role the van plays in sparking conversation between people stating:
“[it can] start with say small conversation or small talk and with some people it may grow from there into a possibly new friendship”
Larry’s reflections remind us of the important role meaningful employment plays in an individual’s sense of community belonging. Contributing to community is a key component of engaged citizenship. As Larry’s story demonstrates, individuals with disabilities have many unique gifts and talents to offer their communities. We are proud to showcase Larry’s experience as one of many stories of engaged citizenship within Skills Society.
This story brought to you by:
Co-coordinator, CommuniTEA Infusion Project
Friendship, a piece of Citizenship
This Citizen Speak is brought to you by one of our community allies from RootEd, a local group aimed at facilitating meaningful connections amongst community members. RootEd hosts monthly socials at different locations around the city. We came to know Lauren and Nicole through these monthly meet-ups.
We met Lauren and Nicole in Lauren’s home. Together we talked about friendship, why it is important, and how it fits into citizenship.
Who are Lauren and Nicole?
Nicole and Lauren are active young members in their communities. Lauren is a soft-spoken, composed, and a creative university student with a passion for the performing arts. Nicole is a vibrant, passionate, and sociable young lady who takes pride in her work at The Organic Box. Together they are two peas in a pod -the best of friends.
Their Friendship Story…
Nicole and Lauren have known each other for 21 years. They first met when they were toddlers in a music group. For the years while they were in school they were not as close until they reconnected as teens in a musical theater group. Having enjoyed time together at musical theater, the girls decided to go to a movie where they really hit it off. With so many common interests—boy bands, The Flash, cheerleading and performing, it’s not hard to see how Lauren and Nicole have become the best of friends.
What makes a good friend?
Lauren stated: “Nicole is a good friend. I can always talk to her really about anything. My secrets and everything. I trust her, she makes me laugh”.
Nicole stated: “We always do this thing with our hands [shows us their secret handshake]”. “She’s open. She’s actually available and funny too. She always likes to smile. I always make her laugh which is good. I really like having her around because we actually celebrate together.”
“The open part is in our friendship, we are actually open about everything, and we talk about absolutely everything our feelings. We talk about boys the open part of it is by having her [tearing up] she’s two thumbs up!”
In our conversation together, it became clear both women valued their friendship and the trust they had with one another.
What are your goals and dreams for your friendship?
The women have big dreams for their friendship with goals of living together, traveling, and supporting one another through major life milestones.
Lauren reports: “We’ve become like sisters. I’m not sure where we’ll end up but I’m thinking that we can support each other in the choices we’ll make. I’d like to be either a writer or actor anything like that. I think Nicole would be a good roommate.”
Nicole reports: “Travelling together. The best places, Broadway, somewhere in New York because New York is the best place. Maybe even to France, Paris, and London…..”
Why does everybody need a friend?
Lauren replied: “People need to know that there is someone there that can catch you when you fall”
Nicole replied: “Trust. Happiness too. It’s joyful to have that person”
The women both expressed their belief that everyone needs and deserves a friend—someone you can relate to and share the ups and downs of life with.
Having gotten to know Lauren and Nicole over the past couple of months, it has become evident that their friendship is a big part of their citizenship. Through their friendship, they have found community, common understanding, and shared interests.
We would like to thank Lauren and Nicole for sharing their experiences with us. Read more about Lauren and Nicole in their individual stories: “Nicole—A Vibrant Community Member” and “Lauren—A Sister, Student, Daughter, and Friend”.
Signed Paige and Lynn—Citizen Explorers
Lauren met with us in her home. Together we talked about citizenship and belonging.
Who is Lauren?
Lauren is a sister, college student, daughter, and friend. She works part time at the Italian Centre Shop on 95th Street and is currently majoring in English at King’s College. This semester she is taking courses in social, dance, and history. Outside of school and work, Lauren volunteers at Festival Place, a theatre in her community. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys watching TV and movies (The Flash is one of her all-time favorites!), dancing, singing, bowling, and cheerleading.
What does belonging mean to you? In what communities do you belong?
“I would say definitely school. Sometimes we do like group discussions and that kind of stuff and I like to engage in conversation”.
“I would say at bowling. I get to hang out with some friends that have the same disability as me. I’ve always been on the same team, with me, Nicole, and Katie”
Read more about Lauren and her friend Nicole in their story—Someone to Catch you When you Fall: Friendship, A Piece of Citizenship. This Citizen Speak was brought to you by one of our community allies from RootEd. A local group aimed at facilitating meaningful connections amongst community members.
Signed Paige and Lynn -Citizen Explorers
Alice and Lisa, met us in a coffee shop in their neighbourhood. Together, we had a conversation about citizenship, relationships, and disability.
Alice is a mother and active community member. She enjoys going for walks and playing cards with friends and family. She discussed a strong desire to better her community through the creation of opportunities for people with and without disabilities to connect with one another.
Lisa is a vibrant young woman with a contagious laugh. She gave us an extensive list of things she likes to do including: hanging out with friends, listening to music, creating art, going to yoga, working in a community garden, going to work, and doing word searches. Through our conversation, we learned Lisa takes great pride in her roles as daughter and employee. She reported enjoying helping her mom around the house and recalled some fond memories from her previous job with Coffee News.
Alice and Lisa like to spend time in their community together. They expressed enjoying going to movies and concerts and shopping together. They were both particularly looking forward to the upcoming Celtic Thunder concert in October.
What does community mean to Alice and Lisa?
When asked what community means to them, they discussed being with others and sharing in common experiences.
In Alice’s words it means:
“Trying to get everybody involved. Help[ing] one another mow the grass, planting something, playing cards enjoy[ing] each other’s company, and going for walks. I wish they would do that in my area but we don’t have that.”
They identified their neighborhood as a community but reported missing a sense of belonging in that community.
When asked if she felt a part of community Alice said:
“No, but I wish I did. The community I’m moving into has all seniors. I feel left out ’cause I’m younger than them. I’d like to get connect with the community but it’s hard to get a hold of people. The community isn’t involved. They don’t make anything for young families and they should. No one does anything for anybody. [Other community members] don’t [say] what’s going on in the neighborhood.”
Alice expressed a need for all people to come together, to learn from each other:
“People without disabilities and with disabilities you can still do things together. We gotta make it easier for people to deal with [people with disabilities] and not get upset [by] it.”
What does disability mean to them?
To end our conversation, Alice shared what she wants others to know about disability:
“[We should] not fear it. Sure you gotta deal with it, but just be yourself. There are ways to deal with it and not to deal with it. See I have dyslexia and [Lisa] does too. But I don’t see myself as a disability. I just go out. I don’t let it get people down. You’re not a disability. You’re just yourself. If you got no arms, you got no legs, you can still do it.”
Why did Alice and Lisa want to be part of Project Citizenship?
Alice expressed a strong desire, for herself and her daughter, to be a part of Project Citizenship so they could share their experiences. When asked how, as a community, we could showcase and share the experiences of people with disabilities, Alice replied:
“Advertising, and if we can try and put it on TV somehow how to deal with it how people know if they got disabilities how to face it.”
We would like to express words of gratitude to Alice and Lisa for sharing small pieces of their stories’ with us.
Signed Kristin and Paige- Citizen Explorers
How would you define “Engaged Citizenship?
“Engaged citizenship is the coming together of community members to create and promote belonging, inclusion and meaningful connections.”
Why is being an engaged citizen valuable to our community?
“It is important because people are social beings. In a sense, we have to find our tribes. If there is no engaged citizenship within a community you get a situation where everyone is a hermit. You come in and out of the house but you don’t really know your neighbours and in those times of need, there is no one to go to for support. People are always going to need help from each other one way or another. It is those meaningful connections that are going to shine through during those times when you need someone.”
What has contributed to/who has inspired you to work in this field of social service?
“My inspiration definitely comes from the individuals that I have had the pleasure to support over the years. I am lucky to have spent a lot of time working at different agencies and organizations with children and after coming to Skills, I now support adults. With each position and each individual, I have learned something different. The individuals I support keep me going. Every day I look forward to coming into work, brainstorming with awesome like-minded coworkers and doing everything in our power to promote inclusiveness, meaningful connections and supporting people to reach their goals. Being a part of someone’s successes, no matter how big or small will always be one of the coolest feelings in the world.”
How can we make our communities more accessible to with people with disabilities?
“Edmonton could improve its transportation system. DATS serves a purpose, but it is not a well-oiled system. Transportation is a barrier for a lot of the individuals we support. I constantly hear from individuals about missed opportunities because of the lack of transportation. Unfortunately, the combination of our transportation system and the urban sprawl in Edmonton has deteriorated accessibility to a lot of things in the city. Even transportation for people without disabilities can be horrible. I think there also needs to be a drive to create more spaces that are more welcoming for everyone.”
If you could have been told one thing that you were not told when you were a teenager, what would you like to have heard?
“Looking back, I think I heard a lot of things that are pretty relevant now. Something that has kinda stuck with me is that people are always going to be judgemental no matter what situation you are in or what person you are. Someone is going to judge you for something. I think now being an adult I have kinda checked that idea at the door. Definitely, when I was a teenager I would try to impress people or do something that I felt would represent the clique that I belonged in. Now I don’t care. It is up to you to decide how you are going to let other people’s judgements affect you.”
If you had one hour of extra free time, how would you use it?
“I would use it to practice what I preach more. I’m definitely not an active member of my new community. In my old community where I grew up, I knew all my neighbours. We would have bonfires and block parties and everyone would come. There was always a sense of security that I miss having now that I live in my new community. It was like have our own little security system. I would use that extra hour to pursue my interests and engage myself more. I would spend more time with my family, build relationships within my community, and get outside more.”
Emily Brandon is a Coordinator of Community Supports Outreach at Skills Society. She has spent over two years at Skills Society working with individuals that have inspired her to do the work she does. She is passionate about her position and loves horses. Emily currently spends her free time planning her fall wedding, exercising, hanging out with her friends and family, and (of course) watching Netflix.
Ps. She also thinks her family and friends are pretty cool.
What does engaged citizenship mean to you?
“It means to be social with different people throughout the city—being social with friends, co-workers, family and meeting new people.”
If you could call yourself five years ago and only had 30 seconds, what would you say?
“I would tell myself to work on my credit and to try and prevent it from going south. I would also tell myself to try harder to get employed and to get a steady income. Last, I would remind myself to engage, work and socialize with good people while avoiding the negative ones.”
What do you like most about your community and what do you like least?
“I like going to the Abbotsfield Learning Centre. This is where I am furthering my education in reading, writing and math. They also teach computer classes. People who want to get their learner’s permit can take classes there as well. Besides the staff, I think the volunteers there are great!”
“The services provided by ETS (busses and trains) is something I like the least about my community. I am not impressed with the whole concept of dogs being in kennels while they are on trains and busses. In Calgary, there is no kennel requirement for dogs to ride on the busses and trains. They only require the owner to pay the adult fare for the dogs.”
What is something you have recently accomplished that you are proud of?
“I was at the ultrasound with my girlfriend and I found out the gender of my baby!”
What changes do you think can be done to make your community more accessible to people with disabilities?
More busses for Disabled Adult Transit Services (DATS) because the city lacks this big time… I see a lot of people in busses with wheelchairs… As I mentioned earlier, I think it would be more beneficial for the ETS to allow pet owners to public transit with their dog and to simply pay an adult fare for their pet. Dog owners could take their pet on trains and buses and the ETS would profit too… ETS is losing out on millions of dollars by not allowing this. More importantly, it makes it challenging for pet owners [especially those with disabilities] to go to the vet, dog park, airport, an appointment somewhere or simply to meet with other pet owners. I think using the Calgary system would make the community more accessible.
Larry James is a passionate dog owner and a soon-to-be father! Larry looks forward to purchasing his own vehicle and obtaining his class 4 driver’s license from the Abbotsfield Learning Centre. He aims to provide transportation services for pet owners with large dogs. In Larry’s free time he likes to walk his dog Cerberus (an American blue-nose pit bull) and spend quality time with his girlfriend. Larry has been with Skills since June 2013. With the support of Larry’s Community Support Worker, Larry has been able to find the appropriate resources to help him achieve his goals.