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What is Engaged Citizenship?

“Work makes me feel included…part of…the community”

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”

Co-coordinator Larry and Community Builder Vincent working the van

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:

Paige Reeves

Co-coordinator, CommuniTEA Infusion Project

Ryan’s Story – A guy who loves Elvis and Karoake

Thanks to Mikey Hamm and a grant he received to help document cool stories of people with disabilities and their connections and contributions in community, this video was made possible.

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Citizen Speak with Emily

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.”

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EMILY BRANDON

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.

Engaged Citizenship with Larry

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.

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LARRY JAMES

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.

Chris on Being an Engaged Citizen

What does engage citizenship mean to you?

“Engaged citizenship is a process of reciprocal enrichment connecting a person to a group, a thing or a place.”

How does one become an engaged citizen?
“It’s important to investigate one’s strengths and interests. Once you have a grasp of those strengths and interests, it is then important to actualize them in a manner that will align with like-minded others.”

How can we improve our community and demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen?
“I think you gotta respect the process of identifying areas of interest and ‘sweat the small stuff.’ By ‘sweat the small stuff’ I mean you need to hone your craft and pay attention to the little things—especially if you are starting from scratch. You should always look for ways to meet new people and to collaborate on new projects. There is always opportunity for the small buds of engagement to bloom into rewarding and fulfilling collaborations.”

If you could call yourself five years ago and had 30 seconds, what would you say to yourself?
“Winning lottery numbers!… Get used to knowing less and asking more.”

What do you like the most about your community?
“I live in the Highlands, a mature part of the city. I really appreciate old and preserved things. Some of the old and diverse architecture you see in my neighbourhood is absolutely beautiful. I like how no two houses look the same… You can tell that even though these houses are old they are cherished and incredibly maintained. There is a sense of preservation there and a sense of pride, which is really unique… I like that one house will have a purple door and a yellow chimney. I really love that aspect because it spices up the [community]. It reveals a unique piece of history that [often] may not be identified.”

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CHRIS BRUCE

Chris Bruce is a Manager of Community Supports at Skills Society. He brings a wealth of experience to his work and values the opportunity to lead and support the good works of teams who provide direct support to people with disabilities. Chris can often be found collaborating with others in pursuit of bettering the supports of people with disabilities. You will know that he is truly engaged in a conversation when you see him twisting his beard into a frenzy! Chris loves playing music with friends and spending time with his wife and their two furry children June and Lenny.

Stellar Citizen Emily and the CommuniTEA Infusion project on Upworthy

Skills Society and Project Citizenship are really excited that the Telus documentary about the CommuniTEA Infusion project is going viral across the “internets” through Upworthy.

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