Ronatahskats, the Community Living Gift Shop on Chiefswood Road has been renovated, and is moving forward in a new adventure, building a social enterprise where community members and clients with intellectual disabilities can interact.
The centre re-organized last year following an outcry from within the community that it was being mismanaged, and claims that the clients were not receiving the help they needed.
Work was put to a halt for a short time while, and a new Executive Lead Dianne Belliveau was brought in to bring new vision and positive energy to the centre.
The Two Row Times toured the recently updated facilities. Offices within the administrative building were closed in favour of spaces to develop creativity with clients; including an arts & crafts room, a music room, a quilting and sewing room, and a recreation room with a pool table and exercise equipment. They have also made room for greenhouse projects and places of spiritual reflection where clients can smudge and pray.
“I started last February and there’s been lots of changes.” said Belliveau. “We work with people with intellectual disabilities. Everything we do is to help add value to the quality of their life, however that may be; if they need help with making doctor’s appointments, banking, or cooking. Some clients actually have residences on site they live in independently and we also have a group home, and a day centre.”
Revisioning the store is the last matter of business for Belliveau, who retires this coming spring. Recently, Ronatahskats received a grant from the Brant Community Foundation to do small renovations to the space. One of those renovations, was the launch of a ceramics studio next door to the gift shop. “One of the managers here is a ceramicist, who owned a kiln and all the molds. So we opened up a paint your own ceramics studio,” said Belliveau.
Some of the clients are going through an apprenticeship program in the ceramics studio so they can teach customers how to make their own pottery from scratch. This community engagement is the central part of the social enterprise; bringing together Six Nations members who have intellectual disabilities with the rest of the community in a meaningful way. “We highlight some of the skills that the people here have because they do have a lot of skills; attention to detail and quality that would compliment that kind of work” said Belliveau.
“One of the things historically we’ve done with that store is order things from the US and all over the place. We really want to refocus that and have more come from local providers,” said Belliveau. There are also plans to open a coffee shop where clients would make coffee and baked goods, work in the store, and start interacting with community members on a daily basis.
Belliveau sees this as an important step toward the kind of interpersonal engagement that can add value to the quality of life the centre’s clients, as well as to the community. “Isn’t it cool that these people with disabilities are giving back to their community, just as community members are giving back by helping people with disabilities. The social enterprise is first helping this agency, but second helping the community get involved in this agency and helping them feel good about it. The connections with people are what give our lives quality and give it some essence. It’s not just about having a place to live, or having a car and all that other stuff. It’s all those relationships and seeing those people. People are healthier when they have friends and family that they connect with on a regular basis.”
Staff of the gift shop are quite pleased with the changes brought about in the last year. Retail manager Brenda Maracle-Hill says, “Im just overjoyed. It’s looking so fresh, so new and the help we have is something else. We’re very much a team.” When asked about the changes brought about since new Executive Lead Belliveau was brought in Maracle-Hill said, “It’s like a light went on; a big, bright, beautiful light. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
This coming weekend Ronatahskats will host a “Trash to Treasures” sale at the Community Hall. There will be 35 tables available for a huge indoor garage sale. Ronatahskats will also be selling off overstock and some of the ceramics made by their clients. Clients will also be front and centre holding a hot dog sale. Anyone interested in booking a table can register by calling (519) 445-4420.