May 4th, 2016
WALES in Review: Day Program to Community Group
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning, Because it’s a Very Good Place to Start
A few weeks back, I walked into Working Adults Learning Empowering Skills (WALES) on a totally unrelated issue, and was captivated by what was happening in the large common room. I found a spot along the back wall, slightly worried that I was being a tad voyeuristic, but couldn’t miss out on what was happening. There was energy, there was story telling, and there was pride. WALES is going to be exploring where and how they would like to grow forward, and to do so, they decided to tell the story of where they have come from.
Together, staff and participants, shared their memories from when they existed within the Education system. A true day program, where a calendar was set in advance for the ENTIRE group, and staff were there, as experts, to impart knowledge. It was fascinating to hear the stories from people about memories from them – memories that are now coloured by being in a different time and place. They think fondly of the relationships they were developing, but were quick to passionately celebrate leaving these days behind.
Some of the folks shared being part of the process of shifting gears in 2007, when governments were calling for more individualized programming. WALES had launched itself whole-heartedly into this changing landscape. They developed a menu-style delivery system, where folks didn’t have to participate in prescribed activities, but instead began to choose from a menu of options for each session of each day they attended. Individual’s were more and more in the community. Choice (from options) was first and foremost. One individual recalled sitting down with someone, for the first time ever, and being asked, “What do you consider a good life?” Answers to questions such as these helped them select options from the proscribed opportunities.
I was touched as people shared their hesitancy to speak up when the menu options didn’t always fit their personal goals. Folks seemed reluctant to complain about a system that had been touted to be truly person-centered. However, as staff explained, these discontents were not only held by participants. As facilitators, they were frustrated when it seemed they were still trying to fit participants into boxes. Thus, they dreamed big and declared the menu format insufficient. The bravery this took – to give up a method, a way of being, that had been heralded as revolutionary and ground breaking. Instead of being connected to the format, WALES maintains a connection to desired outcomes. The development of capacity of those involved, and continued work towards an interdependence between WALES and it’s community. Success would be WALES being seen as a contributing group of people who have much to share and give to others. Further, a recognition that they are capable people who can ask help of those in community if and when they need it.
This story that was told by a room full of people who added in pieces of the story as they remembered it was beautiful. I heard from group members about their memories of being part of the school board, of later being asked what their own individual goals were, and of being encouraged to see themselves as teachers to others. I heard staff as they remember their own struggles, knowing that what they ultimately wanted could not be achieved as the WALES group was presently structured. I hear them as they admit that even today, having journeyed this far, still see a need for growth and restructuring. Put so eloquently, “We will know we have done a good job when you all have jobs and we don’t”. This entire group is hopeful and curious about their future. And they are dreaming about it together. And by looking back, they are getting a clearer sense of where they need to go in the future.
About Kim Sproul