We spoke to Francis Robichaud, Executive Director of CACL Clare Branch, a dual service provider that operates l’Atelier de Clare, an Adult Service Centre and personal development organization for persons living with disabilities, about their amazing organization in Clare, Nova Scotia, and their new Buy Social supplier certification. L'Atelier de Clare provides training and personal development programs for 35 members of the community and surrounding areas in a bilingual environment. Participants apply their learned skills in many activities such as the production of wooden items which are then sold within the community. The products produced are targeted to specific local businesses to help meet their needs with a wide range of products including pallets for the domestic fishery, survey stakes, kindling, and a variety of art and crafts items, which are sold at the Atelier located in Church Point.
They also produce badges, engrave labels, bag rags, and provide as-required services, such as preparation of mail-out packages, recycling projects and cleaning services. They also offer a wide range of life skills programs and activities for participants including personal development programs such as computer skills, reading, writing, numeracy and communication as well as group and social/cultural development.
In addition to serving those with developmental and/ or physical challenges within the community, CACL Clare also provides a residential facility, la Maison Jérôme currently housing 8 participants. The long term impact of the organization is providing employment, volunteering and training opportunities for members of the community and surrounding areas including full time staff, volunteers and student employment during the summer months.
“We’re a very very small agency compared to most of the adult centres in the region.” says Francis. He’s comparing the organization to other members of DirectioNS Council, a council representing 29 agencies throughout the province that provide employment and personal development skills training. Some of these organizations serve 300 participants; have over 30 staff, and large annual revenues.
“For us, we currently have 32 participants in our training programs in the workshop. What makes us unique is that we’re bilingual, with French being the first language for many participants. Our French Acadian culture is very prominent in the workshop.”
This is because the municipality of Clare has a small population of 8,000. However, in relation to the size of its community, Atelier de Clare has had a long-standing and significant impact in its community. Through training disadvantaged persons through a variety of programs, Atelier de Clare creates individualized participant plans and supports vulnerable populations in this small and close-knit community.
“When I was a kid growing up,” says Francis, “I can remember the workshop; they would do ice cream sales as part of the Festival Acadien de Clare’s annual parade. It was a great fundraising opportunity for them and made them well-known in the community, even with the younger populations.”
Since Francis entered the organization as Executive Director 16 months ago, he has seen the organization grow steadily.
“We build lobster pallets for fish plants, lobster pounds, fishermen, etc. Our previous fiscal was our best year yet - with sales just short of $15,000. This year, with 4 weeks to go, we’re already at $16K - we’re doing very well with that product. And local lumber mills deliver all wood on site for free and are great partners.”
“We also offer an engraving service, including name plates, and dog tags. That’ been one of the key services we offer. This year again, we did $4,000 in sales last fiscal, currently now we’re at $7,000. This is another service participants are doing with support from the staff.”
Another big service that we do provide is confidential shredding. We’re bonded so there is no risk to the companies coming in with their paper. That is an activity any participant can do; it’s a good stepping-stone for them.”
“And, we supply the local Department of Transportation with survey stakes.” says Francis. This is of particular interest as an adult service centre. If government purchases a needed product from us as a service provider, to in turn pay for training programs and activities for participants who may otherwise only be earning social assistance, government can see a direct and positive financial benefit of doubling the impact of their purchase.
Things are looking up for Atelier de Clare. Francis attributes the growth and success of the organization to a renewed focus. “We have honed our services lately - focusing on quality over quantity and what the participants can do and find beneficial.”
The programming makes a huge impact in the lives of the people it serves.
“One participant moved from out of province to our community many years ago,” recalls Francis. “This person’s challenge had to do with verbal communication. The participant didn’t talk to anyone because she didn’t have the confidence to do so. Now, the participant is one of our champions: went from working in one program to working in almost every program we offer: laundry, meal preparation, cleaning, community volunteer work, provides shredding services to our local pharmacy, and works 2 hours per week at a local business to help an administrative person. The ultimate goal is for the participant live independently in an apartment, but already has a cell phone, manages her finances, and is very independent.”
All kinds of good things have been happening for her since. “We love these success stories,” says Francis. “It comes back to the inclusion piece - we don’t want people to stay within the organization forever, we want them to grow and gain independence.”
And this kind of hard work makes an impact in community. Over time local residents have come to love and support Atelier de Clare.
“One small scale, one-man sawmill donates one load of free lumber a year, which is at least $1500 - $2000 of lumber. He only asks to come in and see the participants working with the lumber, see our end products and then delivers the donation.
“We also receive many donations, monetary or otherwise, in our community, because we are very small. When people pass away, we end up getting a lot of donations in memory of persons who passed away. I don’t know if it’s an old tradition, but it’s getting significant - it tells us that the community values our work and wants to see us grow. We also had two community groups donate funds towards new equipment for the wood shoo, a small electric wood splitter and a new band saw. These actions produce real results.”
With the new Buy Social certification, Francis hopes to bring more awareness to the work employment and personal development organizations do.
“I think the hope would be to get us outside of our local community, and to advertise the benefits of our type of work in general. We don’t have a huge scale of production, so it would be challenging to put out a province-wide ad or secure a large contract because of the capacity we can produce. But we do really value the marketing for social enterprises: we want people to be thinking outside the box, we want the added advertising, and we want more people aware of the benefits we provide communities, collectively. “
To learn more about Atelier de Clare, visit: http://www.caclclare.ca/
To learn more about Buy Social Canada, visit: http://buysocialcanada.ca