More than quality programs for adults with intellectual disabilities, the Dartmouth Adult Services Centre (DASC) gives individuals the support they need to realize their true potential and become active members of their community. Through a variety of vocational day programs and community employment programs, DASC ensures that each client can find personal fulfillment. These programs include: button-making, remote control refurbishing for Eastlink, mail services, plus a brand new program we’ll announce below! DASC is a $2.8M a year organization that part of its revenue from the sale of goods and services, in which clients are employed. Now they have over 45 staff, and offer over 180 different social program options for about 191 clients. “We provide services for people where they’re at and for what their needs are,” Says Cathy. “We try to find as creatively as possible how to do that to accommodate many different needs.”
DASC had humble beginnings in the early 1960’s as CAMR (Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded) and was an arts and crafts industry. Of course they’ve long changed the now inappropriate name, and much of how they operate has changed as well, moving from an arts and crafts industry to one that houses five business operations and many programs. Cathy has personally been with DASC 20 years, and working in the Social Enterprise field for 36 years, starting with Anchor Industries., now called Building Futures.
Speaking with Cathy, I could really feel the compassion she had for the people involved with DASC, especially the clients. Cathy points out that it’s she works for them, not the other way around. You could sense she highly values the people she works for, the staff , business and community connections she built over time with DASC. There is a true sense of purpose and commitment with her work at DASC – her passion.
Cathy and her staff and clients do this exceptionally well; connect to people and really bolster them up: “To work at DASC and their social enterprises, there’s a strong peer base of support - and that’s really healthy for people.”
Cathy, through the course of her time with DASC, has developed the community connections to really make the organization thrive. Cathy spends much of her time connecting with clients, staff, and partners in the community; for DASC, as large and successful as it is, it’s about community. And this mutual respect and support shows.
This sense of ownership is very apparent in the clients. One particular client, Michael, is an excellent example: his job is to refurbish remotes for Eastlink, and is responsible for testing the remotes and sorting them for either cleaning or recycling. One day, Eastlink came in to film a news segment at DASC, among a few other news media groups like CBC. Michael wasn’t particularly interested in the fact that news stations were filming, but when Eastlink came in, Michael lit up. “His face was so happy, his expression was just incredible,” said Cathy. “He couldn’t wait to be interviewed.”
Cathy explained why it was Eastlink that excited Michael: “He fully understood that he was working for Eastlink, and that they are our customer; he was shown how he was part of quality assurance and therefore their brand image out there. He knew his work had an impact.”
The staff at DASC do a phenomenal job to help clients understand what they do, and what their work is for. “If clients don’t know who the customer is or what the product or service is for, says Cathy, we’ll take them to deliver the product, or for a visit, or look the organization up online together.”
This helps builds a real sense of purpose and responsibility with clients, and a loyalty to the organization. Clients even get involved with selling their services! “When the last election campaign rolled around, everyone knew that we would get busy with button manufacturing. One political candidate was campaigning door to door and one client saw their buttons weren’t made at DASC so they said to the candidate: ‘I’m not sure‘ll vote for you because you don’t support DASC!’” A similar thing happened with DASC’s newest social enterprise, DASC Refundables: “A staff brought back a business card from a business in the airport. They saw our clients sorting and taking the refundable as part of our project and wanted to get involved too!”
It’s the nature of the work, says Cathy that these connections happen so naturally. “People seeing people with disabilities being respected and getting opportunity in our community - it generates its own kind of positivity and people want to get involved.”
“All these connections happen in in a natural way, and that makes me very excited.”
This is how DASC became involved with the Halifax International Airport Authority for their newest social enterprise, DASC Refundables. “We met this lovely man who was a general manager at the Airport at the time, who, after some discussion, took on the initiative of helping DASC find a way to partner.” says Cathy.
He took Cathy and her team on a 4.5 hour tour of the Airport - to go through their services and see if there was something at the Airport that would be a good fit for programming at DASC. After the tour a few ideas were pinpointed including baggage cart maintenance, and refundables collection and recycling. The refundables was something DASC could act on immediately, and they have.
Since then, the enterprise has really picked up, and partnerships abound. They purchased a four-door pickup truck for hauling the refundables with support from 100 Women Who Care, municipal councillors and a partnership with Ford. “We’ve got this beautiful truck with our logo, and it goes to the airport Monday, Wednesday, Friday for clients to take the recycling depot.
“It’s great for clients for learning numeracy and literacy and about our impact on the environment.”
Once Miller Waste saw the impact this work was making, they approached DASC about employing clients at their facility, and are in the process of employing DASC clients! And there is more seasonal work to come: “there’s going to be another seasonal work crew project at Miller Waste in Burnside - where we’ll be painting and doing some minor repair upkeep on commercial garbage bins.”
Again, it’s all happened so naturally. Cathy says the key is when an organization’s mission is “so transparent to people by seeing the work, that they want to be a part of it and take their own steps to be involved.”
Given how well DASC is doing, I was curious to see what added value they saw in being Buy Social certified.
“We want to be a good corporate partner in Burnside - I feel like there’s potential for good partnerships here. Whenever we look for goods from a private company, I check their website to see what they’re doing in Corporate Social Responsibility. I’m hoping that Buy Social will help with that - show us the buyers who want to do good and connecting us with other contract opportunities.”
It’s a no-brainer for buyers and sellers to partner with Buy Social, says Cathy.
“Whenever you can double the value in what you buy and sell by supporting social enterprise - that’s an amazing thing. It can only be good. There’s no downside.”
Hopefully this Certification will open people’s eyes to what’s available right here.
“Sometimes there’s the perception that if you buy local or social that it’s more expensive - I haven’t found that yet. When you’re a non-profit, that’s the challenge - we have to make absolutely sure of value for the dollar. Not only our dollar, but taxpayers’ dollars. As a non profit - we have to be responsible for that.”
“And we need to make sure that our message is clear,” says Cathy “that even though we’re making money - that the money goes is directly supporting the social program and helps cover the business as well as some non funded social costs.”
To learn more about DASC, visit: http://dasc-ns.ca
To learn more about Buy Social, visit: http://buysocialcanada.ca