When I met with groups of people we support at Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) to get their thoughts and input for our organizational philosophy statement, one idea was repeated over and over at all of the meetings: people wanted to opportunity to give back to their community. We made this thought part of our official philosophy with the inclusion of the statement all people have the right to give back to their communities through volunteering and helping others.”

 The desire of the people we support at SHS to give back to the people of their community speaks to the reciprocal nature of relationships. People want to help, and not always be helped. As an organization, we try to shift the paradigm of the relationship between the community and people who have disabilities from one of charity to one of reciprocity, where all people benefit.

Our desire to have reciprocal connections with our community is demonstrated through the buildings that we develop and run. Out main services and administrative building, the Treehouse, was built with the expressed purpose that it would be offered for use to the community. For this reason, we have welcomed other not-for-profit organizations, such as SurreyCares (The Surrey Foundation), to use the building, and invited members from the general community to use the beautiful west coast styled building for everything from music lessons to weddings. We are also building Chorus, an inclusive apartment that will be ready for occupancy in September, 2016. This apartment, through its inclusive nature, demonstrates reciprocity with the community, as 51 of the 71 rental homes are for people from the general population, at affordable rates.  Both buildings benefit the people we support and the general community. We share what we have for the benefit of all.

Chorus almost done

Chorus Apartment features inclusive housing that will benefit all citizens of Surrey

As Executive Director, it’s important that I also give back to the great community that supports SHS. For this reason, I participate in many Surrey/White Rock community initiatives and entities. I am a Board member of the Surrey Board of Trade because it’s important that SHS plays a role in a strong and vibrant business community, a business community that in turn hires people who have disabilities as employees. I sit on Surrey’s Local Immigration Panel because it’s important to contribute to a group that is supporting the inclusion of refugees and immigrants, some of whom have disabilities. Many staff members also contribute to their community as representatives of SHS and this ‘giving back’ makes us stronger and more resilient by creating connections with our community that will help us and the people we support in the future. We cannot preach inclusion for the people we support without practicing inclusion of other groups from the community into our work and social spaces.

After hearing the people we support during the creation of our philosophy statement, the Board created article 2.4.1 of our Ends (Ends is the Policy Governance term for the mission of the organization). End 2.4.1 states that “People have volunteer opportunities.”  This statement becomes part of the marching orders of the organization and we ensure that we support people to volunteer in a variety of ways in the community if that is something they choose to do. Some organizations and services were people have volunteered or currently volunteer include Meals on Wheels, Surrey Urban Mission Society, The Vancouver Zoo, and the BC Wildlife Federation. People who participate in our services have also collected recycled bottles to raise funds for children with disabilities in Haiti and the Self Advocates of Semiahmoo (an independent group of people dedicated to advocating for the rights of people who have disabilities) recently led members of the White Rock/South Surrey community in a drive to have beach wheelchairs available for all users of the areas beaches.

We have the ability to make stronger and more inclusive connections if we share our gifts, talents, and amenities with others in our community.

By Doug Tennant, UNITI

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