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Delta Community Living Society (DCLS) began operation in 1963, when its founder Tony Schmand secured 75 acres of prime farmland in Delta to be used as an agricultural training program. Tony was motivated by the vision of a better life for his developmentally-disabled son – and what he saw as a lack of residential and vocational opportunities for adults with developmental disabilities.
Just one year later, ‘The Lower Fraser Valley Society for Retarded Persons’ had nine young men between the ages of 16 and 29 training for farm work. At this time, 52 acres of cucumbers, potatoes, beans and sugar beets were under cultivation on the property.
Known later as the Variety Farm, the organization provided people with a developmental disability with a caring community and a place to live and work. This service was offered to the community at a time when most individuals with a developmental disability were living in Provincial institutions. Eventually, people from all over the Province would come to live at the Variety Farm.
By the 1980’s a new philosophy for the care of people with developmental disabilities was sweeping across North America. Known as the Community Living movement, it recognized that long-term placement in institutions only served to segregate and isolate people from mainstream society. The Community Living movement stressed that people with development disabilities should live as normal a life as possible.
This new thinking coincided with the government’s efforts to close Provincial institutions. Former residents of institutions such as Woodlands School began to be supported by DCLS in the decade between 1986 and 1996.
Although the farm was still a viable training centre, other services were needed to enable participants to find suitable and rewarding employment opportunities. In keeping with this need, DCLS created a packaging and assembly training program, where people learned to package everything from screws to processed foods. A specialized job support service was also created during this period.
Other services, such as respite for families and community support centres with a range of new vocational, recreational, life-skills training and volunteer opportunities, were also introduced during this period.
Throughout the 1990’s and into the 21st century, DCLS embraced new thinking and new service models that sought to more effectively integrate persons with developmental disabilities into their community. This included the development of new residential and community- based living options, such as home sharing and semi-independent living.
DCLS also became an enthusiastic supporter of the Self Advocacy movement, a civil rights movement that is spearheaded by persons with disabilities and which seeks to give them greater control over decisions that directly affect their lives
During this period a major shift was also underway to provide training and support services that enabled persons with developmental disabilities to secure paid employment with local businesses. DCLS opened its first Community Support Centre, Ladner Connections, in the early 90’s. DCLS also developed the Delta Family Alliance Network, which delivers information, networking opportunities and peer-based support to families of a person with developmental disabilities.
Today the farm established by Tony Schmand at 3800, 72nd Street in Delta remains the home of the DCLS Resource Centre and headquarters.