SHERBROOKE – It doesn’t take much to make someone feel part of something bigger. Just ask Cindy Kingwell, the new Executive Director of Sherbrooke Opportunities Society (SHOPS), who helps people with intellectual challenges engage in the community – and vice versa.
She points to seven-year-old Lux Nickerson, who recently extended her own hand of welcome. According to Kingwell: “Lux creates tie-dye scrunchies for $ 3 each and donates 50 cents from each sale to SHOPS. ”
Established in 2018, SHOPS’s vision is to provide an environment that fosters lasting dignity and improves participants’ self-esteem by developing an atmosphere that positively contributes to improving their quality of life.
Programs include life skills training, recreation, health and wellness based on interests. “We create new friendships and partnerships by inviting people to our circle,” says Kingwell.
Of course, this circle is small. “At the moment, we have three participants regularly. In the summer we had four and there’s actually one more person coming back, ”she says. “They were afraid to attend because of COVID.”
COVID-19 is not the only obstacle. St. Mary’s population may be small, but it covers a large geographic area. Getting around isn’t easy at the best of times. For people with intellectual challenges (or as Cindy prefers, “adults of varying abilities”), this is particularly difficult.
“One of our participants is coming by school bus now that school is back,” she says. “We were open all summer and, of course, at that point his parents had to bring him here. Because the area is so spaced out, it can be quite a drive.
Aside from the challenges, getting the main message across is the priority. “We’re actually creating opportunities for adults with diverse abilities to thrive in their community,” Kingwell said. “We did a lot of things.”
There is the garden project, called “Growing the seeds of sustainability,” in which SHOPS participants grow vegetables and herbs for sale at the Sherbrooke Saturday market. “It shows what we can create,” she says. “We are seen in the community and this provides an opportunity to hone customer service skills. ”
There is the breakfast program at St. Mary’s Education Center and Academy, where participants help prepare and distribute vegetables, cheese, muffins and packaged cereal. And there’s the partnership with the St. Mary’s District Food Bank in Sherbrooke, where SHOPS members help organize and assemble boxes for families in the community. This includes the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) Frozen Meal Program.
“There is a reason to offer meaningful activities,” says Kingwell, a former supervisor of the Prescott Halifax Group for Adults with Disabilities. She moved to Sherbrooke with her husband not long ago and came out of retirement in April to run SHOPS. “It’s about helping and being part of the community, instead of sitting at home and doing nothing. ”
For now, the main job is to get the word out. “We are trying to increase our numbers,” Kingwell says. “There are more people who could benefit from it. ”
It seems to have been clear and clear to Lux Nickerson. She made her first donation of $ 24 last month.