By Wendy Elliott
The Support Services Group (SSG) opened its first office in the Valley recently to better serve clients in two counties.
“You get to do what you want to do,” said Windsor resident Shelley Robar, who joined the unique co-operative in 2009.
Wolfville residents Andrea Harvey and Angie Henshaw wanted to live independently, but having disabilities meant they also needed some support.
Harvey says the late Dick van der Baaren of Wolfville helped her find a home in the community. She loves her living arrangement and adds, “if it wasn’t for Dick, I wouldn’t be here.”
The two women rent their own apartments in the same building. They appreciate the fact that financial support from the Department Community Services allows them to hire support staff.
“We have a say,” says Henshaw. “I can say when it doesn’t work for me.”
Hall’s Harbour native Andrew Sullivan been a member of SSG for 14 years. A 13-year employee at Rafuse Home Hardware, he says he appreciates having his own place and feels SSG provides him with valuable backup.
Long time SSG coordinator Barbara Aikman says that the success of the SSG model is due to very appreciative SSG members who value their independence and to committed support staff who, in turn, value the individuals they support.
“The willingness to be creative and think outside the box also contributes to our success,” adds Aikman.
Wanda O’Neil is executive director of the co-op, which began locally and spread to Windsor, the South Shore and Halifax, where the head office is located.
Establishing and maintaining independent lives and easing the transition from living with immediate families into living in the larger community are two key goals of the co-op, O’Neil said.
SSG was founded in 1991 by van der Baaren, who was the father of a daughter with a disability. A strong believer in a person-centered approach to support, he was an activist on behalf of those who wear the label of a handicap since the mid-1970s.
“I always had a keen feeling we must prepare for the future. I didn’t like what I saw and I know it takes 20 years to make changes,” he once said.
Twenty years later, SSG facilitates 110 individuals who are receiving the support they need to live in their own homes, Aikman said.
“There is much to celebrate.”
SSG strives to improve the quality of life for its members, to support healthy lifestyles, link with existing community services and allow for what Aikman calls ‘the dignity of risk.’
“Meaning, everyone has the right to make a choice and experience the consequence,” she said. “The whole community benefits when all people are included. Dreams can come true.”