GOALS celebrates 20 years

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – Time flies when you’re having fun. That may be the old cliche that comes to mind for some as clients, staff, and community members celebrate Guysborough Options for Adaptive Living Society’s (GOALS) 20th anniversary this week. But it has not all been fun and games and the perennially favourite Friday meals for the public; there’s been a lot of work, personal development and love put into this venture in the past two decades. There is also commitment to keep this much-needed program running in the community for decades to come. Last Friday, just as the weekly lunch crowd thinned out, The Journal sat down with GOALS manager Donna Cook to talk about the organization -- past, present and future.

Officially GOALS is a vocational training centre for adults with developmental disabilities, but it is so much more than that. For the clients and staff, GOALS is a family; it’s a way to be involved in the life of the community. “They’re very much like a family. I think that is important for them, friendship with their peers and a place to come that feels like home,” said Cook, who got the program off the ground when she saw a need in the community.

Before launching GOALS, Cook was working as a teaching assistant in the public school system in Guysborough. “My people were leaving the school, graduating, and going home to nothing. There was no facility for them. Guysborough County was the last county in the province of Nova Scotia to get something for people with special needs and we had to fight really hard to get it.”

In March of 1996 the doors of GOALS officially opened. In that first year the program had eight clients and over the years that number has varied, currently the program has 19 full- and part-time clients and three school-to-work transition clients. The program accepts clients from anywhere in Guysborough County. Clients work at the GOALS site, overseeing the operation of the used clothing store and preparing the Friday meal. Many clients also take part in community work placements in locations that include, or have included, local businesses and organizations such as Guysborough County Kids First, the Strait Regional School Board, the local supermarket, the Post Office, Guysborough Memorial Hospital, and the Afrikan Canadian Heritage and Friendship Centre.

“Twenty years ago, you did not see many handicapped people walking on the streets of Guysborough but today you do. They can leave at any time as long as they punch out. They can go and do their errands,” said Cook noting that visibility leads to acceptance.

The program is funded mainly by the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services and in kind by the Strait Regional School Board, which provides the facility in which the program is located and transportation via school buses for GOALS clients. The Municipality of the District of Guysborough is another key funder that has supported the program since its inception.

The program runs Monday to Friday with clients on site during school hours; 8:30 to 2:30. Staff, of which there are three full-time positions and several workers who are assigned to individual clients, are on site at 7 a.m. Days are varied depending on special events, amount of work needed to prepare the second hand store for shoppers and the Thursday / Friday rush of preparing a meal for the public, which all the clients take part in preparing. These meals typically serve 40 to 60 people and as many as 100 when turkey is on the menu. “Each of the clients knows their own job now and over the years they have perfected it. They do a good job,” said Cook of the meal preparations.

“We also pay them a stipend. I think everybody needs a reason to get up in the morning so they know they are going to get up and get paid. That’s a big deal for them. It’s not a lot of money...but it is pocket money for them and you’d be surprised how important that is for them...They’re contributing to society.”

In between all the hustle and bustle there are movie afternoons, sing-a-longs, crafts, and bingo. Clients also take part in the Special Olympics, proudly carrying the GOALS banner.

Part of the 20th anniversary celebration is an open house on Wednesday, May 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. The public is welcome to attend and see GOALS in action. Cook stated that some people in the community were still unsure of the nature of the GOALS program and the benefits it has brought to the clients and the community as a whole. Being inclusive of all abilities benefits us all, she said, everyone has something to give back to the community. “They’re good people to be around and I think the community is lucky to get to know them.”