We had the opportunity to speak with David Farmer (Senior Manager of Community and Business Development at the Breton Ability Centre) in regards to their recent Buy Social Canada certification. Breton Ability Centre (BAC) is a dynamic organization that is committed to providing quality services and supports to people of varying disabilities. They serve individuals who are coping with complex challenges due to severe developmental disabilities, mental health challenges and/or complicating physical disabilities. They support individuals to learn and develop personal, social, vocational, and educational skills to enable their transition to other community living options and participate actively in their communities. Their professional staff supports individuals to reach their full potential.
The Breton Ability Centre operates at a high standard that has been independently reviewed and appraised on its business and interpersonal practices. “On June 30 2014, BAC was successful in receiving Bronze status for Excellence, Innovation and Wellness (EIW) with Excellence Canada. BAC scored 97% alignment to the required standards. In September 2014, we started our journey towards Silver recognition in EIW with a goal towards achievement in December 2016.”
In 2015, BAC were awarded not for profit of the year award from the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce.
The BAC supports over 100 residents with disabilities in their facility while also operating three group homes. At its downtown Sydney social enterprise, The Best of Cape Breton Gift Shop, two full time staff (who support four-five resident employees at a time) and 14 resident employees through their store. The centre offers a number of social enterprises, in David’s own words “that help breakdown barriers for people with disabilities; as well as for individuals in the community”. The social enterprises fall under BAC’s Life Work Centre initiative and include:
- Sydney’s only 9-hole mini putt and canteen which David explained “is a great employment generator, great experience for our residents who are employed there, and great for the community. This has definitely been a win, win, win situation for the organization, our residents and the community”.
- The Print Shop, which David suggested “is no different than any other print shop in the community, as we do a whole host of jobs for organizations and businesses in the community”.
- A Community Bottle Donation Bin on-site which allows the BAC to invite community members to donate their recyclables, which David was happy to say “is very, very popular in the community and adds new revenue while also creating employment opportunities for our residents.”
- Then we have what David referred to as “The Gem”: The Best of Cape Breton Gift Store, which was established in 1995. He went on to explain “the store is a major profit driver for us in which the money is reinvested back into BAC, allowing us to support the programs and services we offer to our residents.” With the help of David Upton and Andy Horsnell of Common Good Solutions Inc., BAC developed a growth strategy and approximately two years ago the store underwent a major renovation which allowed them to double the flooring space and offer more opportunities for their residents. In David’s own words “the store has very much grown”. In fact, the centre launched an online store which David says “has been significant for us.”
After a great discussion about the many different social enterprises that BAC offers, we went on to talk about some feel good stories that come from these wonderful initiatives. The one that really caught our attention was the innovation of the BAC staff back in 1995 to come up with the Best of Cape Breton Gift Shop to address a common social issue in many communities in regards to employment opportunities for people with disabilities. David went on to express that “we came a long way since 1995” and talked about the positive feelings he gets when he sees some of the residents he worked with employed in the community today.
To see how much the store has grown and contributed to BAC’s mission is truly phenomenal, and to be known “as one of the nicest stores in downtown Sydney” is enough to make anybody feel good about the impact BAC continues to create in the community. The Best of Cape Breton Gift Shop has also supplied the organization the ability to connect, partner and support other social enterprises or non-profits in the area, giving BAC the leverage to buy social the same way they supply social. David’s rationale really hit home when he said “it’s important for us as a community to buy from one another and to support each other, if we want to see the sector grow.”
At this point David was singing to the choir and I figured now would be a better time than ever to speak about some of the challenges BAC ran into over the years trying to deliver their mission while continuing to make money. Seemingly, the conversation was in line with others I have had in the past about awareness around social enterprises (what they are) and getting the right message out to the public. David suggested “people do not yet understand what a social enterprise is.”
“I believe we are moving towards something good with the certification process, as it can get people thinking about buying social. I ultimately would like to see it become a national staple that pushes social enterprise to the forefront of people’s minds, to help create that level of awareness that is necessary so that people know the tremendous work that is taking place across the country and start to make informed decision about the products and services they buy.”
To learn more about Breton Ability Centre, visit: http://www.bretonabilitycentre.ca/
To learn more about Buy Social Canada, visit: http://buysocialcanada.ca/