Kootenay caregivers gather to educate and empower

The message was loud and clear at the annual conference for community living held in late September.

The message was loud and clear at the annual conference for community living held in late September.

People with developmental disabilities have a valued role within society and deserve equal rights and opportunities — a fact known by advocates, support workers and everyone else privileged enough to witness self-advocates tell their own honest and heartfelt stories at the conference.

Nelson CARES Society was the host of this year’s annual Kootenay Region Association for Community Living event and welcomed the opportunity to provide a well-rounded weekend of education and celebration.

The conference theme Be the Change intended to rouse self-empowerment in the ever-changing (and often political) environment of community living.

Topics included social networking, Habitat for Humanity, changing employment, money matters, creative wellness, tai chi, dance and Special Olympics.

Self-advocate keynote speakers Barb Goode and Ryan Groth of the group Empowering Self Advocates to Take Action shared personal stories of hopes and challenges that were incomparably sincere and inspiring.

The same sincerity and commitment to a better future was carried throughout the plenary session No More Barriers that they also facilitated.

With 100 people in attendance from the East and West Kootenays the insights and possibilities are far reaching while celebrating and honouring friends and colleagues quite heartening at the annual gathering.

The dream to improve life for individuals with disabilities in the Kootenays started in the 1950s by Dr. William Endicott of Trail. Since then many local dedicated people have tirelessly advocated to improve community living in our region.

To recognize those efforts the first annual KRACL Pioneering Spirit of Community Living award was presented at this year’s event. The first and most deserved recipient, Norma Collier, was honoured with a standing ovation from self-advocates, parents, support workers and community members.

Deb Kozak, also a pioneering contributor to the movement, and now Nelson city councillor, presented Norma with her award and spoke of the heart and soul that Norma has put into her work on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families since 1962. A passionate leader and champion for change, Norma remained involved until the late 1990s and is still an advocate to this day.

For more information on community living and self-advocacy go to bcsaf.org and watch the No More Barriers video.