Executive director explains the why and how of Weyburn Wor-Kin Shop

The Weyburn Wor-Kin Shop exists to serve a segment of society that is often overlooked, and they provide meaningful programs for clients with intellectual disabilities as well as employment opportunities.

Executive director Jeff Richards shared these and other insights about what the Wor-Kin Shop is all about, in a presentation to the Weyburn Rotary Club at their Zoom meeting on Thursday.

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A resident of Weyburn for over 20 years, Richards began on March 16 in his new position as executive director, only to have the province-wide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the facility had to close its doors for a time.

As of September, the day program and activities of the facility were back up and running, said Richards.

The vision and mission statements of the Wor-Kin Shop lay the foundation for what the organization does, said Richards, noting the vision is inclusion and equality for everyone. He used a quote to further illustrate this, saying, “’Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a decision’, and that means a lot. There a lot of different levels of folks in our world, they’re all over the place. That’s what makes us great as humanity.”

The mission statement is to provide support services for citizens with intellectual disability, so they can achieve a good quality of life.

The Wor-Kin Shop has four divisions or departments, along with the SARCAN depot, which operates separately while employing clients of the Wor-Kin Shop.

There is the activity centre in the main building, also known as the day program building, and the bulk of the participants are there during the day.

On an average day, there are about 20 participants and five staff on the main floor. The centre is run by Carol Leslie, who has been involved there for about 30 years.

Some of the programs provided include personal development and life skills, and they are given opportunities for interaction with the community.

“You’ve all seen our folk at the hockey games and at baseball games. It’s good for them to learn how to be good neighbours,” said Richards, adding a comment they are great at stopping to smell the roses when they’re out and about.

The participants have a wide range of activities available to them, such as music, art and sports, as well as guest speakers and performers who come in to play for them.

The participants go on tours once in a while, including as far as Regina to see sights like the RCMP Heritage Centre.

“All of these activities are based on a person-centred plan. Every one of our participants have one that lists stuff they like to do, stuff they want to do, and stuff they have to do. All of the activities we do are built around those, and sometimes we’ll have a roster of five or six who have very similar goals,” said Richards.

A feature of the centre is a snoezelen room, which used to be located at the Weyburn Comprehensive School. It’s a sensory room where people who agitated can go and settle down, such as those with autism.

“They find great solace in this room,” said Richards as he showed photos of the coloured lights, mirrors, bubble tubes and a light curtain that can be found in the room.

The vocational training centre is also an important feature, located in a separate building with the wood shop. There are 10 to 12 participants with two staff supervising, along with paper recycling and confidential paper shredding services, used by a number of business customers around the city.

In the wood shop, they build a wide array of products like picnic tables, benches, stakes, pallets, toy boxes, bird houses, bat houses and Santa Claus decorations.

Staff member Meagan McLeod runs the supported employment program at the Wor-Kin Shop, which provides a job coach to participants who are able to find meaningful employment.

An enterprise the Wor-Kin Shop has taken on in the last few years is the Harvest Pie Company, located up on the second floor of the main building, which also provides employment for those involved.

They make Saskatoon pies and spreads, with the Saskatoon berries sourced from a berry farm near Weyburn. They are sold at local retailers like Prairie Sky Co-op, Maurer’s Meats and MD Convenience Store, as well as at retailers in Regina and Moose Jaw, and they are served at places like the Diplomat Restaurant in Regina.

Dealing with the COVID pandemic has proved to be a challenge, and currently just one participant works in the kitchen along with a supervisor.

“The people working upstairs (for Harvest Pie) are paid $12 an hour, and they’re expected to work and do anything you would do at any other business in town. They’re paid a wage to get to work on time, follow the rules and they have to get the right amount of work done,” said Richards, noting this is the same for those participants in the supported employment program.

One participant works at the new RONA store, others are on an odd job squad who will come and do work around a residence and get paid for it, or will take things to the landfill for residents for a fee.

“Nobody’s coming to work for free. That’s what the program is about. We empower people to give them the best quality of life,” said Richards.

Explaining the arrangement for the SARCAN depot, he said it’s run like a franchise, where the Wor-Kin Shop hires a depot supervisor and an assistant, and SARCAN provides the equipment, shows them how to use it and sets out their requirements for the handling of returnable drink containers.

They have roughly eight million containers go through the depot each year, said Richards, with about 15 participants employed from the Wor-Kin Shop, in addition to the 18 to 24 participants in the day program.

The Wor-Kin Shop pays about $60,000 a year in property taxes to the City, provide employment for around 40 people in the community, and is a $1.7 million organization.

“We make sure these people can stay in Weyburn, and make sure people have meaningful lives and make sure they have reasons to be out in our community and reasons to go home,” said Richards.