NEW MINAS, N.S. – The first thing Bonnie Wright notices when she arrives at work every morning at 7:30 a.m. is the smell of freshly baked bread.
“I love the smell of it – it’s so nice and warm down there too,” she says.
Wright is one of the nearly 175 social enterprise program participants at the Flower Cart Group in New Minas, which supports adults with intellectual disability. She works in the organization’s baking program and says she’s been “much happier” since she began two years ago.
She says she and her fellow participants “get along and talk – this is somewhere you can go and talk to everybody, and work, and hang out.”
The organization is set to kick off a capital campaign this spring to help raise funds for the construction of a new building to house its services – a process executive director Jeff Kelly says has been lengthy but ultimately rewarding thanks to input provided from participants like Wright on components and programs to include in the new building.
“They’ve been with us every step of the way as an included partner and stakeholder group. They’re given the opportunity and a measure of respect as we ask, ‘what do you think about this? Will this work for you?’” says Kelly.
“We exist for the participants we support, and not vice versa. This building will be designed with them in mind, first and foremost.”
“There are people who can’t even get in or out of this current building right now who would love to have these opportunities, and we want to provide them.” – Flower Cart Group board chair Paul Randell
The organization’s Building Opportunities project will see the construction of a $4.6 million, 23,000-square-foot building beside the Louis Millet Community Complex in New Minas to house all of its social enterprise and vocational programs – apart from its Michelin contract – in which participants work within a supported employment and receive vocational training.
The organization will aim to have the building completed by the spring of 2021.
Kelly says the building’s size and total accessibility will mean people of all abilities and mobilities can participate – something the organization’s board chair Paul Randell says is currently lacking.
“There are people who can’t even get in or out of this current building right now who would love to have these opportunities, and we want to provide them,” says Randell.
Kelly says the new building will also house a new social enterprise – a 1,600-square-foot space called the Community Hub – for use as a co-op work space for people who work from home and other entrepreneurs who’ll buy a membership and have access to an open space, offices and board rooms.
“We’re encouraging community to come to us, in the hopes that we would actually incubate entrepreneurs we could then do business with,” he says.
Another new component will be the addition of recreation and leisure programs for adult day programs because Kelly says the board identified New Minas and its surrounding area “with a serious gap in these services.”
“The Valley has a large population of folks who’d benefit from this. Our participants will be big drivers in what it is that we actually do because it’s for them – they’ll have the leading voice in what it is those programs should look like,” he says.
While the organization’s official mission is to “promote community participation through supported employment and training,” Kelly says it has another unofficial one – connecting participants like Evan Hiltz to new friendships.
Hiltz says his last 22 years would have been “boring” without work at the Flower Cart Group, where fellow participants have become his close friends.
“It’s nice to get to know them better – we make plans too, and five of us are going to the movies tonight,” he says.
“Making friends is my favourite part about this.”
The organization was a significant factor in Randell’s decision to move with his wife, Donna, and their children to New Minas. He says he was inspired to join its board of directors after finding the organization gave his children “a feeling of reward for what they do, and a reason to feel proud to get up in the morning every day.”
His daughter, Victoria, works within the group that labels Just Us! Coffee and Omega Crunch products and says the job “makes me happy.”
She says she and her fellow participants “get going at work and keep track” while they work at their different stations. She also says she enjoys “making it safe” for herself and “helping others with kindness, generosity and respect” while working at the organization.
Randell says the new building means more participants can join in and will be “even more happy and proud” about the work and opportunities they can participate in.
“It’s also about giving participants the opportunity to be their own voices, and speak on their own behalf,” says Randell.
Kelly says each participant “dictates the goals and aspirations that are important to them” when they first join the Flower Cart Group, and that the organization “helps folks who haven’t yet given thought to what their goals may be… engage in a conversation of that.”
He says making sure community partnerships exist – the organization has 11 businesses currently partnered with participants who rotate on community work experience shifts – is essential to knowing these goals are realized.
Kelly also says this number of options is key for the participants’ ability to experience community exposure, and for the community itself to be aware of what the Flower Cart Group does.
“We want to have acceptance for adults considered to have an intellectual disability included within the community itself, and we’re here to facilitate that,” he says.
“So, this won’t be just a building that people come to – it will serve as a ramp up to even more community inclusion for folks who want to get out into community and experience different things – that’s the path that we’re going on.”