After 40 years at their home on Sydney Street South in Kitchener, K-W Habilitation Services, which supports people in the region with developmental disabilities, is constructing a new headquarters for their offices and training and day programs. Construction is expected to be completed by April of this year.
The work began last summer and participants in the agency’s day program could hardly contain their excitement. It was not strange to see anywhere from 10 to 20 day or training program participants sitting in chairs near the back of the old building last summer, watching the new building come to life.
The $5.4-million project began as an idea in 2007. Members of the board of directors decided to put the idea of a new building into action when a consulting firm told the agency that it would be far cheaper to construct a new building than to renovate the existing one. The agency was also looking to improve its day program services to better suit the changing job environment and give participants a chance for more involvement in the community.
“This building is falling apart,” said Tracy Franks, director of community participation and employments supports. “The ability to upgrade it was going to be astronomical, and it would still be an old factory. People here deserve better.”
Money for the project came from the provincial government and private contributions by families who have members supported by the agency, as well as from other private donations. The agency also raised money through its Achievability campaign, which is still raising funds for other agency projects and initiatives to this day.
The agency offers employment training by taking on assembly contracts and offering contracts to the people supported by the agency. A changing work environment means that those employment opportunities are disappearing due to automation in the workforce.
The agency is changing its training programs to accommodate these changes and make sure the people they support are given every chance to participate in the community. Activities that help foster strong numeracy and literacy skills will also continue to be offered.
“The message was pretty loud and clear that this was an old idea, it had its time,” Franks said. “The new up-and-coming families we support and the people we support now recognize that this is not an inclusive environment. People who have developmental disabilities deserve to work and live in the community.”
Along with authentic community settings such as a commercial kitchen and social café, the new headquarters will offer music and art programs with more resources with which to work, giving more participants a chance to use them.
The new training program will also be open to people with developmental disabilities who are supported by other agencies or live at home with their families. “We are really hoping to increase our capacity because there are a lot of people who are looking for support options in the community,” Franks said.
The agency is changing but their goal remains the same, to build a community where everyone belongs and participates.