Inclusion NWT is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a 60-foot historical exhibition in Yellowknife’s Centre Square Mall.
The museum-like display, expected to open on Thursday and remain available to view for 60 days, showcases the organization’s history over the past six decades and its current programming.
Jayden Morrison and other clients of the organization helped put the project together. He says Inclusion NWT helped him find part-time employment such as afternoon work at Walmart.
Junn Gesmundo, Inclusion NWT’s employment services manager, helped coordinate Morrison’s position.
“My role is to help any individuals looking for work find it,” Gesmundo said.
“For those with intellectual disabilities, the level of support is a bit different, so I engage with companies and really try to advocate for them and explain that these individuals can do the job, they just need the opportunity.
“We’ve had partnerships with Walmart, Rebecca’s Flowers, Super 8, Buffalo Airways, Javaroma, Chateau Nova, the Explorer Hotel, McDonald’s, and we’re always looking for more opportunities.”
Inclusion NWT began as part of a broader Canadian movement (Inclusion Canada) toward deinstitutionalization for people with disabilities. In the 1950s and 1960s, children were still commonly sent to distant “hospital schools” such as Huronia Regional Centre in Ontario, which in 2014 was the subject of a $2-billion class-action lawsuit by former residents alleging horrific abuse and neglect, and where hundreds of children were found in unmarked graves.
In 1962, when the group that became Inclusion NWT was founded, public schools didn’t allow disabled children to enroll and options for parents were limited.
Beth Collinson, Inclusion NWT’s interim executive director, said families determined to keep their children with them in the North – and away from these kinds of institution – decided to band together.
“It was really a family and community-driven effort. They didn’t have a space when they started, so they used church basements and people’s homes as classrooms,” Collinson said.
Photos from the NWT Archives show the students in these first few years.
In the 1970s, when public schools in the North began allowing students with disabilities to attend, the organization began offering other services.
“The ’70s display case features pottery created as part of Inclusion NWT’s expanded programming,” said Collinson. “You can also see the IODE thrift store logo, which isn’t around any more, but we still wanted to make sure to acknowledge some of the many, many community organizations over the years that have supported inclusion.”
In the 1980s, Inclusion NWT began training clients to participate in the workforce by starting a mail delivery and paper shredding program. The group also offered unique living arrangements to support clients into adulthood.
“We began offering supported living services where clients have their very own home and they can decorate as they please but get support from staff,” Collinson explained.
The last tableau moves into the present and showcases the organization’s contemporary focus on employment. Bags of shredded paper and shovels demonstrate some of the services Inclusion NWT’s clients offer, which range from pamphlet and poster delivery to painting fences, gardening and lawn mowing.
“Our Odd Job Squad was created for those not ready to transition into part-time or full-time, where they can develop skills,” said Gesmundo.
Photos also showcase youth programming and past field trips, while a miniature library pays homage to the organization’s Literacy Outreach Centre, which operates as a partnership with Aurora College.
Later in its celebration, the non-profit will release a 60 Years of Inclusion colouring book and offer opportunities to win prizes from community partners. Draws will be announced on the group’s Facebook page.