Cranbrook organization REALM (Realize Empowerment, Access Life to the Maximum) has received international recognition after being invited to the 2018 World Congress of Inclusion International in Birmingham, UK from May 30 to June 1.
REALM provides a vast range of services and tools to people with developmental disabilities, and they support many other services. They support individuals living in HomeShare placements that are arranged and supported by Community Connections Agency. People welcome the individuals of REALM into their home and set up a living arrangement, coming to a contractual agreement and ensuring the needs of the individual are met.
“It’s not like a group home or anything like that so it’s a really, people have some really fulfilling experiences for sure in home share,” said Kerry Taylor-Johnson, executive director of REALM. “So advocates recognize that and they just want to continue to make sure that people on both sides of the story have a really well matched, fulfilling experience.”
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In order to ensure the experience is fulfilling for both parties, some of REALM’s advocates helped to develop a communication tool, a brochure that they have called their Toolkit for Home Share Experience, that provides the advocates with a list of meaningful questions to assist them in creating a successful home share environment.
“What it does too is it helps people that sometimes don’t have a very assertive voice,” Taylor-Johnson explained. “It gives them a way to have something to refer to, to be able to ask questions and communicate and feel like they can get some questions answered.”
Oftentimes when these situations don’t go smoothly or there has been a mismatch, it’s the result of a communication or understanding breakdown and so having a clear, plain-language way in which to have open discussions ahead of time is extremely valuable for the advocates and the potential home sharers.
“What’s really great about it, what’s so significant about it is it’s a grassroots project started by advocates saying, ‘hey, we’re having a problem here. What can we do to help make a change, to affect a change? We can’t change the whole system, but how can we take some responsibility and really try to make things work within the context of the way they are?”
“It’s important that this got put together because again it’s the questions that the advocates were having as they were put into home shares,” added direct support professional Kama O’Grady. “And oftentimes what was happening was the home shares wouldn’t be successful and there was lots of things falling apart so this was just a really good toolkit for the individuals to have for themselves.”
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The concept of the project started about three years ago. The group worked together to map it out, research it, consult with Community Living British Columbia’s policies and practices and discussed with local service providers that offer home share services. They then presented the project at a local conference.
Inclusion International puts out an invitation for people to apply at their World Congress, and Taylor-Johnson said she figured it couldn’t hurt to put their names in the hat.
“We just thought what the heck we’ll send it in and see what happens so I think that they people that put together the conference on the world level, I think they see how it fits into the discussions and I do think it can have an impact.”
She added that they are “quite honoured and awestruck,” and their advocates are very excited about their trip to the UK. The group of advocates is comprised of a mix of those who are in home share currently, have lived in home share in the past and those that have experienced institutional life.
“And that’s important because they want to continue to advocate for having that not continue in the world,” said Taylor-Johnson.
It is a three-day conference broken into three components: Learn, Inspire, Lead. REALM was chosen to present on the ‘lead’ day which will focus on getting groups together to talk about how to continue to move the community inclusion movement forward in the world.
Right now, REALM has started a GoFundMe account to help raise funds to pay for their advocates trips to Birmingham and they said they are grateful to those who have already made substantial contributions including Kootenay Friends of REALM, Jonathan Righton of Right-On-Photography, and Hydro Pioneer Power Group — Kootenay Branch. They also said that this has been a joint effort with the Self Advocates of the Rockies.