After many months of planning, designing, securing finances, and construction, on May 12th, 2023, the expanded, redeveloped, and renovated Valley Action Abilities complex was officially opened. The Grand Opening featured congratulatory speeches from the provincial as well as the local government. Board Chair, Robert Regier addressed the gathered crowd and commended Executive Director Cameron Nicolle on the work he had done to bring this project to fruition. Nicolle said they replaced what was once industrial warehouse space with “bright beautiful new program areas, washrooms, and mechanical systems that have transformed our organization”. Three years ago, about half of the 40-year-old Day Program facility was unused warehouse space and with the support of the Government of Saskatchewan and other funders, Valley Action Abilities was able to carry out renovations that turned that unused space into space that can enhance the lives of those who participate in the Day Program as well as the staff and volunteers. Renovations included creating a gymnasium, kitchen, greenhouse, and two large open rooms for other day program activities. Also part of the renovation project were building exterior decks, replacing the heating and cooling system, and improving washroom accessibility which include ceiling lifts for ease of transfer.
Dignitaries present along with Rob Regeir, included Premier Moe and Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky, Mayor Dennis Helmuth, and Melanie Weiss Director of Member Services/Assistant Executive Director of SARC. In Mayor Helmuth’s address, he described this as a very much regional project since it benefits a far broader area than just Rosthern, and he expressed his pleasure that the Town of Rosthern could be the ‘home’ of the project. From his years of experience in local governance, he said, “It takes a great idea, lots of work, meetings, more work and more meetings, a sober second thought, or two or three, and oh yes, secure financial resources, but with time good things happen for individuals, for our community, and for our neighbours. This is a wonderful case in point.”
Valley Action Abilities is a community-based organization that works with a diverse group of individuals. Prior to the 1970s, educational and vocational training opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities were only available in larger urban centres, which resulted in these children having to live away from their families in residential facilities. In 1972, a parent group interested in having options for residential, social, and vocational programs delivered within their community, banded together to form Valley Action Abilities (VAA). Valley Action Abilities today oversees three 24-hour group homes for adults experiencing intellectual disabilities. The residents in these homes can access any part of the community and fully participate in the vibrant life of their community. VAA has grown over the years to expand its services to include support for those with mental health issues, refugees, the underemployed, and many others. In addition to the adults VAA supports, they also welcome students from several local schools. These teenagers/young adults join the VAA community throughout the school year for work training, recreational opportunities, and a range of specialized daily activities.
Some of the programs which now operate under the Valley Action Abilities umbrella include the Rosthern Learning Tree Childcare and the Ducklings Childcare in Duck Lake. The Rosthern Learning Tree Childcare is attached to the Rosthern Community School and has space for 30 children from the age of six months to six years. The Duckling Childcare, which is attached to the Stobart Community School in that community, has room for 51 children aged six months to six years. As well VAA operates a laundromat in Rosthern at the VAA complex located at 7050 Saskatchewan Street, Rosthern. The laundromat offers a variety of services and public access to six double washers and one triple-load washer which is suitable for comforters, duvets, and sleeping bags, along with four extra-large dryers. All the machines are coin-operated and accept quarters. The triple-load washer will also accept $1 and $2 coins. As well, the laundromat offers an easy drop-off service that includes a wash, dry, and fold, and a commercial laundry service for larger clients. They can also clean uniforms, team jerseys, and seasonal or other specialty laundry.
Another arm of VAA is the SARCAN Recycling Depot which has been in operation since 1988. SARCAN is the recycling division of SARC (Saskatchewan Association of Rehabilitation Centres) and the mandate of every SARCAN depot is to provide a “socially responsible and an environmentally progressive recycling system which helps foster the sustainable development of the community”. (https://www.sarcan.ca/pages/about_sarcan_recycling.html) All materials received by SARCAN are recycled within North America and nothing is ever shipped overseas or sent to landfills. As of January 2021, all SARCAN depots are collection sites for batteries recycled by Call2Recycle.
Valley Action Abilities operates the day program for adults experiencing disability, not only for those living in Rosthern but also welcomes participants from a wide geographic range stretching from Wakaw to Duck Lake and Hague to Carlton. Participants have access to a variety of recreational spaces to ensure that all have an opportunity to develop skills, foster friendships and engage in their world in new ways. All participant programs start with a planning process for every person that VAA supports. This annually reviewed person-centred approach to planning means they rely on active participation from the individual, their supporters, family members, and their chosen advocates to identify their needs, interests, and aspirations which results in a personalized, year-long plan that includes daily tasks, weekly activities, and special once-a-year goals. Annual plans include creative and artistic programs such as photography, music, and cooking classes to name a few, vocational programs which could include food preparation and cooking, or gardening, recreational opportunities such as swimming, and music therapy, and specialized outings such as fishing or attending sports games. Recreational activities like these are a great way to connect the VAA community members to others in the greater community of Rosthern and form the foundation for deep and meaningful relationships that ultimately have a great positive impact on both.
To help facilitate good community relationships, VAA works hard to develop special connections with many local organizations. Many of the VAA participants volunteer with other non-profits, churches, schools, or businesses including working with the Good Neighbours Food Centre to gather food from supporting businesses, make soup for a monthly lunch, and pack hampers. They also help out at the local branch of the Wheatland Regional Library to catalog books and support other programs, and work at local area summer camps to help with farm animals, prepare food for the campers, and provide help in other meaningful ways. These opportunities help the VAA participants develop career-related skills and foster strong relationships and genuine experiences with members of the community.
One board member defined Valley Action Abilities as a community within a community, that enhances the quality of life of the larger community with its intentional interactions with that community. The newly renovated space, the programs, and the involvement in the community while still allowing space for friendships are a testament to the dedicated advocacy of parents, families, friends, and neighbours who believed there was a better way. In our striving to improve the quality of life for others, may we never forget to stop and listen to what they identify as important, and involve them in the process.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder