Francis van Kessel, Friendship Circle coordinator, left, and Shonagh McCrindle, Inclusion Yukon executive director, pose for a photo with their office cat Beetlejuice in Whitehorse on Oct.14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Francis van Kessel, Friendship Circle coordinator, left, and Shonagh McCrindle, Inclusion Yukon executive director, pose for a photo with their office cat Beetlejuice in Whitehorse on Oct.14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Building the skills for good relationships

Inclusion Yukon hosts nine-week Friendship Circle

Building positive relationships is about more than access to social events and situations.

There are many skills that go into building and maintaining any healthy relationship and it’s with that in mind that Inclusion Yukon began its nine-week Friendship Circle on Oct. 15.

“It’s an extension of our healthy relationships program,” Inclusion Yukon executive director Shonagh McCrindle said in an Oct. 13 interview.

Over the course of the nine weeks, Inclusion Yukon will host sessions every Thursday beginning at 6:30 p.m. focused on helping those with intellectual disabilities build and improve on skills that can help them in friendships and relationships, McCrindle explained.

As stated on its website, Inclusion Yukon is an organization focused on promoting “meaningful inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities and their families into all aspects of community life by providing advocacy, public awareness and education, community capacity development, and program support.”

That effort includes initiatives like the Friendship Circle and other programs.

As the Friendship Circle facilitator Francis van Kessel noted in an email correspondence, it’s important for everyone to have friends and to choose those friends.

A number of neurodiverse people lack those important friendships with other people, she noted.

“This is why this program is so important, to help gain real friendships in life,” van Kessel wrote. “Friendship with people with disabilities should never be the focus. It should consist of a bond of commonalities and connection among people. Having many types of friends from many walks of life helps us grow into an inclusive society.”

Inclusion Yukon has hosted two Friendship Circle sessions previously, and there will be some changes with the newest iteration.

In the past, McCrindle explained, the topics and activities happened primarily in a classroom-type setting each week with a facilitator leading the sessions.

This time around, that format will change — one week the group will discuss a topic in the more formal setting with the following week’s session providing an opportunity for participants to practise the skills they are learning with the facilitator there to assist.

At the first session, for example, participants learned about how to best greet people. The next session will provide an opportunity to practise the skills they’ve learned by going out with the facilitator, McCrindle said.

As it’s noted on the event listing for the sessions: “We wanted to make it more fun than just learning in a classroom style. We have changed the programming by rotating between learning one week and practising our skills we learned in a safe setting the next week.”

Over the nine weeks of the Friendship Circle, topics will focus on healthy relationships, bodies, reproduction, sexual rights, violence prevention, and sexual communication.

McCrindle said it’s hoped participants will gain skills to help them build relationships by learning reciprocity, thoughtfulness, approachability/hygiene, interests, responsibility, assertion, sharing, manners and the importance of not being socially isolated. As in the past, there’s also potential for friendships to form from the weekly circle sessions.

The fact that the Friendship Circle is being offered in the midst of a global pandemic when social distancing has been stressed is not lost on Inclusion Yukon officials and is in fact part of the discussion that will happen over the nine weeks.

As McCrindle pointed out, COVID-19 has altered etiquette norms like hand-shaking and that will be covered in the circle’s weekly sessions.

Another session also focuses the more virtual social skills that many have been using so much more in 2020 — things like texting and online options to talk with friends — and what’s appropriate in using those platforms.

Planning for the Friendship Circle has also come with some additional work, ensuring COVID-19 regulations and guidelines are met.

With space for up to 15 with physical distancing measures in place, the group can have up to 12 participants for each Thursday evening session. Masks are also being made available to participants.

The program is free and open to those over the age of 18.

Participants can register by calling Inclusion Yukon at 667-4606, emailing inclusionyukon@gmail.com or by messaging its Facebook page.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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