Group seeks to educate, mentor with vision of strengthening community
Michelle Strutzenberger

They have years of experience, a dogged determination and plethora of connections, and those strengths are already serving them well as they focus on a recently reshaped mandate.

The posAbilities self advocates for equality (SAFE) committee, comprised of 10 members, includes an acting president of B.C. People First and a former president of the same organization. Other members are involved with various organizations that serve people who have a disability.

The committee, which reports to the posAbilities board of directors, has recently reshaped its mandate to focus on educating their peers on issues they identify as important, as well as mentoring young adults.

Last October they organized a conference, attended by 65 delegates, which provided information on the new employment program of Community Living B.C. The conference included presentations by both a professional panel and self-advocates panel. The group has been asked to organize a similar forum for the summer in the Fraser Valley.

Committee member Dave Sherritt says his greater vision for the group is to raise awareness of self advocates, and to strengthen the community to respond to them as equals.

He notes that for years self advocates have been considered “second class” citizens, adding he recalls times, years ago, when people would rather cross the street than meet him. He says that while times have improved, change still needs to happen.

“We’re trying to educate the community that we’re here, and we’re not going anywhere, and all we want to be is a part of the community.”

As producer of a local radio program, Dave says a main message he tries to deliver through the show is that “we live, work and play in the community.”

“That’s really the focus we want to bring out, is that we just want to contribute to the society that we live in,” he says.

PosAbilities staff member Simone Brandl, who is an advisor to the committee, notes that in addition to their connections, the experience of the group members is a significant asset.

“They’ve all gone through a lot of work to get to where they are, so that’s a really huge strength for them,” she says.

The group also has a “dogged determination” that is serving them well, she says.

“If they have a question or they don’t understand something, they’ll continue asking until they get an answer. They’ll continue working at it.”

Dave agrees that a gift he brings to the table is his ability to understand what his fellow committee members and peers in the community are going through.

In addition, he says, both he and his wife Lorie, also a committee member, are dedicated to listening to the needs and wishes of those around them.

“That’s one of the key (things) you need to have on a committee such as SAFE. Yeah, it’s time to talk, but you need to listen as well,” he says, noting he and his wife are considered leaders in the local community and he attributes that directly to their response to the people they work with.

“A lot of people look up to us because we don’t put them down, and we listen,” he says.

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