At ‘the heart’ of RM recycling

Editor, The News:

Re: Disabled program in doubt (The News, Sept. 16).

I am the former executive director of Ridge Meadows Recycling Society, now retired.

I worked at RMRS from 1982 on and was involved as the society formed the supported work program.

Rather than the ‘old model,’ you describe, I believe this program is a new way of creating work for people with developmental disabilities in the real world.

The reason so many other work programs stopped having people with developmental disabilities was because of the Employment Standards edict in 1995 that said, ‘If it looks like work, people must be paid minimum wage.’

Clearly, in a business setting, this could not be justified because most of these individuals could not work fast enough to earn minimum wage.

Although, on the surface, this edict seemed caring and fair, it ended many wonderful work programs.

The replacement for these work programs was day programs that are many times more expensive and exclude anything that looks like work.

The truth is, most people get a lot of satisfaction from their job and this is no different for people with developmental disabilities.

At RMRS, there is a strong commitment to jobs for people with developmental disabilities. The work is easy to learn and repetitive, so perfectly matched for people with developmental disabilities.

The whole community recognized the benefit of these jobs being done by people with developmental disabilities. The community thought that the loss of this work site would be harmful and wrong.

The organization found a way to absorb administration costs and to provide for other necessary funding.  This means that on the RMRS job site, every person is receiving at least minimum wage. It is, therefore, incorrect to state that these employees are not being properly compensated.

Besides being perfect work (the work is easy to learn and perform), it differs from the sheltered workshop by being work done in the public.

At RMRS, the program employees work alongside staff, who are mostly young and who are longshoremen – not your typical community living staffers.

This program is housed on a light industrial work site with other workers who all become friends and co-workers with people who have a variety of skills and abilities.

When possible, program workers are promoted to jobs in the regular RMRS workforce, something made possible by the integrated nature of the work site.

Management and supervisors all attend Douglas College Community Living training to ensure they understand this field. All workers are given training to help them understand people who are different from themselves.  This integration is real and ensures that everyone has a better understanding of each other and it is the society’s belief that this integration enriches all our lives.

Just to be clear, recycling will continue without the supported work program, but a rare opportunity to combine real work for real wages in the community will be lost.

The supported work program has been called ‘the heart’ of the recycling program. Without a doubt, the society has a strong environmental mandate, but it is the management and community board members who see it as a perfect vehicle to address one of our community’s social needs, as well.

The loss to the community would be so much more than the recycling work accomplished.  I ask that you reconsider your position on ending this program at Ridge Meadows Recycling Society at the end of the year.

This is the type of program that should be duplicated throughout B.C. to ensure that there are jobs for people with developmental disabilities.

Kelli Speirs

Maple Ridge