Before the Port Alberni Association for Community Living (PAACL) opened its doors in the Alberni Valley in 1957, known then as the Alberni and District Association for Retarded Children, individuals living with developmental disabilities were routinely sent to live in institutions.
For hundreds of years, it was felt that handicapped people were better off in a segregated living environment, for theirs and the community’s protection.
Since opening, PAACL has made great strides in recognizing the rights of people with disabilities. In June they celebrated 60 years as a society in Port Alberni.
“In a nut shell, [PAACL] supports individuals with intellectual disabilities to live as independently as possible while giving supports and resources needed. It’s about quality of life,” said PAACL executive director Craig Summers.
Throughout the 1960s, the idea of group homes for adults with developmental disabilities took hold and the Arrowsmith House was established on Argyle Street, across from the Paramount Theatre. Also during this decade, Arrowsmith Services Sheltered Workshop was assembled to provide individuals with daytime activities.
The 1970s saw more supports in place for children with special needs, with the addition of the Learning Place. It was also during this time that advocates worked to enhance the image of contribution of people with developmental disabilities. Many individuals who were institutionalized had the opportunity to move back to their home communities to be closer to family.
In the 1980s, the B.C. government re-states its goal to phase out the province’s large institutions and PAACL’s Huff Drive residence welcomed four people from Glendale Lodge, a home for adults with disabilities, in Victoria.
The 80s saw even more growth for PAACL. They opened another residency on Fifth avenue, welcomed four more people from Glendale Lodge and the Community Employment Program was funded and established.
Today PAACL’s Community Employment Program helps employ individuals with unique disabilities at more than 40 local businesses.
“Our community employment program been really successful, I think we had about five jobs five years ago,” Summers said.
The 1990s saw a milestone celebration as B.C.’s three largest institutions closed. It was during this time that PAACL opened their Ninth Avenue and Russell Place residence and supported child care became available in Port Alberni, that provided subsidies and support for parents of special needs preschoolers to attend the neighborhood preschool or day care of their choice.
The 90s also saw the Fifth Avenue and Huff Drive residences close as residents moved to individuals support models and private homes.
In the 2000s, the Glenside and Russell residences close and PAACL opens a five bed home at Westporte Place.
The Millennium also saw the inception of PAACL’s Pathways program that offered support to individuals who are on the waitlist for programs—this program is now open for all individuals in the community to access recreation, leisure and social networking opportunities.
During this decade, Huff Drive residence opened its doors again as a residential home and a Personalized Supports Initiative program is established that provides supports to adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and autism spectrum disorder. In addition, PAACL opens a three-bed resource home in Parksville called Gilley Residence and renovates an old church on Dogwood Street that is currently occupied by the Supports to Community Living outreach program.
This year, PAACL is celebrating 60 years of support for people with developmental disabilities and their families. They launched a Clothes Drop program to generate revenue for non-funded programs with locations at 4521 Dogwood St., 4471 Margaret St., and 3008 Second Ave. Also this year, PAACL has piloted a Youth Transition Program to capture a gap in service and support for youth transitioning from high school to adult services.
“We help in laying ground work for them. There’s a lot of need,” Summers said.
PAACL will be holding a youth transition and resource information nigh at ADSS on Nov. 18.