Rick Goodfellow, the executive director of Challenge, sits in his wheelchair and confesses he wants to tear down the building where he assists people with disabilities.
The nonprofit organization helps people like Viola MacIntosh, a mother of six who has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. She is among many people with disabilities who get job training through Challenge.
She has been assisted by the organization for almost 15 years and it helped her land her current job working as a custodian four days a week.
“I like the jobs here,” MacIntosh said. “I’m getting good money.”
Some of the money she earns will go towards birthday presents for her daughter who is turning 10 this weekend.
With a smile, MacIntosh listed off the gifts: “I bought her clothes, a camera, a necklace.”
But Goodfellow’s destruction of the building won’t wipe the smiles off the faces of Challenge members.
The demolition is only to build a new facility with expanded services, said Goodfellow.
“We recognize how incredible and important it is and we’re fortunate enough to own the building and own the property it’s on so, what the heck, let’s try and be part of the solution.”
The problem is inadequate support for people with disabilities. So his solution is to provide a place for them to gain job skills and have a place to live.
The current building houses the organization’s offices. As the former home of Hanky’s Autobody Shop, the walls are made of cinder block and it would be nearly impossible to renovate, said Goodfellow.
The new building would feature a retail store and a deli where participants could practise for industry jobs, two floors of rental units, a drop-in centre and the staff offices.
“The important thing to know is that Challenge will provide employment support for people with disabilities. That’s the key to it all,” said Goodfellow.
Before the demolition and construction can begin, Goodfellow is waiting for a feasibility study to determine funding sources, what services are needed and if it is a viable project.
Despite being at an early stage of the project, Challenge has already received letters of support from seven local organizations, said Goodfellow.
These letters came from the Community Wellness Court, the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society, Elizabeth Fry Society, Mental Health, the Anti-Poverty Coalition, the Council on Disability and Blood Ties Four Directions.
“It’s been just amazing since we started talking about this,” said Goodfellow. “There are two things that are really amazing. The first thing is the response from the community about how much need there is for this kind of facility, how much need there is for housing. It’s absolutely mind-boggling.
“I think the other thing that needs to be noted is just how supportive the (city has) been on the concept and helping us with direction as to where to go and how to get things done.”
They have received grants from the city for the past four years, said Ewa Benson, project clerk in the Department of Finance. This year, the city granted about $4,000 to Challenge.
“It’s getting that kind of support that gives you the energy to try and move forward on things like this,” said Goodfellow.
Part of that energy will go toward geothermal energy and other efforts to make the new building green.
But Goodfellow doesn’t know for sure what design will replace the current red building on First Avenue that houses the nonprofit organization.
“All I know is that we’ve been working very closely with Tony Zedda and Tony, of course, has designed a lot of shed-like buildings around town, so I told him that, if our building was going to look like a shed, I know where he lives,” Goodfellow said with a laugh.
“In other words, it won’t look like a shed in any circumstances.”
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org.