Earlier this summer Wenda Bradley heard from a client upset after he missed his father’s potlatch.
Bradley, executive director for the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon (FASSY), said the man didn’t have the skills to negotiate with his job for time off and couldn’t figure out how to travel to the potlatch, so he missed it.
“That’s pretty sad and if we had known we would have bent over backwards to try and make it happen.”
A new program starting up in the Yukon is aimed at helping prevent situations like what happened this summer.
Four organizations — FASSY, Yukon Association for Community Living (YACL), Teegatha’Oh Zheh and Options for Independence — have received money to launch Out and About — A Mental Wellness Program for Disabled Persons.
The idea is to help adults with developmental disabilities attend events around the community, particularly on evenings and weekends when most of the current programs are closed.
That’s when some people can be particularly lonely if they don’t have the skills to organize their own social events. It’s also when they might be vulnerable, Bradley said.
“Our folks, with our particular disability, are easily led into other activities, so this would also be a prevention program for keeping out of trouble.”
For the last two years YACL has been running a peer mentoring group for high school students.
“We started to notice that some of our kids were coming to the end of their high school time and we started to look at what social programs were available to them, and there really (are) very limited (options),” said Colette Acheson, the association’s executive director.
Over the last year FASSY and YACL have organized monthly “nights out” around Whitehorse for their clients. That might mean a crafting workshop or a campfire, for example.
The successful events are currently put together “off the side of our desks,” Acheson said. The new program means they can be expanded.
Organizers are just beginning the process of hiring two people to run the new program. In some cases the pair might organize group evening programs like what is already being done monthly.
Other times they could act as a go-between organizing transportation or supervision for someone wanting to attend an event either in Whitehorse or the communities.
“It’s more to help those individuals get to what’s important in their life, connecting with family and culture as well as what’s going on in the community,” Bradley said.
Acheson said she’s met a man who works as a labourer during the day but after hours is left on his own to fill his time.
“In the evenings he feels quite vulnerable because he’s trying to change his lifestyle, to stay away from some of the addictions,” she said.
“He said all it takes is you’re out around town and you just bump into the wrong person.”
Bradley has in the past attended events, including potlatches, with clients. She’s seen the joy that comes from being included.
“It gives people something to talk about. Then they do have something in common that they can share from the past.”
The new program is being funded for the next 18 months with a $121,000 grant from the Yukon government’s new Mental Wellness Innovation Fund. It is the largest of 12 grants totalling $620,000 that were announced earlier this week.
The innovation fund was created earlier this year as part of the government’s mental wellness strategy.
The government is slated to hand out more money from the fund later this year. The deadline for the next round of applications is Sept. 2.
Contact Ashley Joannou at