People who value people...since 1963
A lot has changed over the past six decades. Moving from segregation to integration, from institutionalization to community living, life for those with developmental disabilities is much different than it was when Delta Community Living Society (DCLS) first opened its doors in 1963.
The DCLS story begins with one local family – the Schmands. Tony Schmand moved his family – wife Lucia, and sons Paul, Ronald and Nick to Ladner in 1958. In the years that followed, Mr. Schmand became an active member of several organizations that supported people with developmental disabilities. But Schmand had a vision for a new organization with a different approach – a vocational farm for adults with developmental disabilities.
The “Lower Fraser Valley Society for Retarded Persons” was incorporated in 1963, and just a few years later, the farm centre comprised of 75 acres of Federal Land, 10 acres of developed land for the farm centre, and a roster of nine “boys” between the ages of 16 and 29 who were being trained in farm work.
The farm training centre here teaches the retarded useful work which they are able to do and get paid for. Here a boy can learn to drive a tractor, something his parents never dreamed was possible a few years ago.
- Tony Schmand as told to Suzanne Westphal at the Delta Optimist in 1969
A few big fundraisers, and a lot of smaller ones, had helped the Society build infrastructure that would support the farm training centre. The Variety Club of Western Canada was granted a charter in 1966, and quickly pledged $500,000 over five years to “Variety Farm”. The pledge was fulfilled with the Variety Telethon– the first of which was held October 8 and 9, 1966 at the Queen Elizabeth Playhouse. When construction at Variety Farm centre was completed in 1971, the site included four residences, recreation hall, barn, chickenhouse, greenhouses, wood shop and administration areas.
Over the next decades, the “Community Living Movement” would take hold, which advocated for communities to welcome diversity and allow people with developmental disabilities to live full lives in their own communities. The closure of the Woodlands institution was announced by the BC Provincial Government in 1981, and the last residents would move out in the 1990’s.
When asked about community living movement, past DCLS board member, Julian Thorsteinson commented:
What is community living? To me it is the model of community-integrated caregiving and support that has been developed over recent decades in progressive societies like our own for people with developmental disabilities and their families. It is a transition from the harrowing isolation and abandonment of institutional care that so many people with disabilities were sentenced to in past decades and over the centuries. This mass incarceration led not only to great suffering and neglect of individuals but also to prejudice, fear and derision in the general population, born of ignorance and inexperience.
Community living is about integration and acceptance of individuals in the community, breaking down barriers and recognizing the rights, needs and above all the contributions made by even the most vulnerable citizens. Community living means having a home, not an institutional placement. It is about being a person, not a case. It is about having personal likes and dislikes and the right to express them by making simple choices in daily life. It is about being out in the world, knowing people and living a neighborhood where people say hello. It is about having access to the wealth of activities and beauty of the place we live in. It is about the deepest and best values in our society that make us all better, happier, safer and healthier individuals in a community we can be proud of.
Throughout the 1990’s and into the 21st century, DCLS embraced new thinking and innovative 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.
While DCLS still operates its administrative offices at the original Variety Farm site, the majority of its services have moved into the heart of the community so that people with disabilities can contribute and participate in all aspects of community life.