Those of you who have been following this rabbit hole stream of consciousness – that I call a blog, will know that nearly a month ago now I wrote a piece on Cosmo Industries in Saskatoon Saskatchewan Canada. Through much correspondence and through the graciousness of the folks that run Cosmo I was invited to spend an entire day at the facility, complete with a guided tour, an opportunity to sit and commune with the leadership team, and most unexpectedly cake.
For some time now I have been mulling over how to describe to my experience. For this reason I have decided to stick to the facts (or rather try to stick to the facts…) to quote Norman Kunc “I have my biases and I’ve worked hard to get them.” To that end I submit for your information the following points;
- Cosmo Industries is one the largest vocational sheltered workshop in Western Canada.
- Their are on any given day over 400 participants in their various programs.
- Cosmo has a 0 rejection policy.
- Participants range in age from folks who have been attending the centre for close to 40 years and many 21-year olds with disabilities who have just been discharged from the school system.
- Cosmo has over 90 bus routes which support participants to come and go from the Centre.
- Many participants take public transit to get to and from the building.
- Cosmo has a few off-site work contracts, volunteer sites, and leisure activities that take place away from the building.
- Cosmo regularly welcomes corporate volunteers to the Centre from all sectors of the Saskatoon business community.
- There are as many as 4 adults with disabilities who work along side employees without disabilities on the recycling contract who do not make the minimum wage that their non-disabled colleagues do (It should be noted that the workers who have disabilities seldom do an entire days work, individuals cycle in and out of this contract, and even on an hourly basis do not make minimum wage for whatever hours they do work).
- Every participant who attends Cosmo industries makes a stipend of approx. $60-$74 dollars a month, regardless of the type, quality, or hours of work completed.
- Cosmo Industries is the home of one of the largest and most fully outfitted Snoozeland rooms for adults I have ever seen (It’s actually the only one I have ever seen for adults).
- The building is very large, contains an auditorium, catering kitchen, and multi-leveled work/grouping centres.
- They take in a variety of business contracts including confidential paper shredding, completing corporate mail-outs, flower pot cleaning, phone book recycling etc.
- Participants are sometimes grouped together based on their work interests, and in most cases based on what the level of care they require.
- Besides the work-like activities on and off site, their are smaller “classroom like” centres where citizens who require a significant support work on developing communication books, cutting and pasting, arts and crafts, etc. Most of these smaller activity rooms are seasonally decorated much like elementary school classrooms.
I had a serendipitous meeting of a number of folks that I lived in a group home with in Saskatoon when I first graduated from University. They still attend the same program they did some 20 years ago. The leadership and board of directors are some of the kindest and most sincere professionals I have met, they were most gracious of their time, and indulged me by allowing me to give a short presentation, show some videos and leave a plethora of printed materials about community and work and an authentic life. I left with an open offer of support, consulting, training and facilitation/coaching, free of charge, at any time.
When Cosmo opened it’s doors some 40 years ago it was a cutting edge. Their founders believed passionately that their sons and daughters ought to go to “work” like everyone else during the day.
Here is my wish for Cosmo… I wish that the leadership and board of Directors would once again harness some of that same innovation and passion in order to bring their programs into the 21st century. I am not naive enough to think that this is the only program like this that exists, I have had the horror and education of seeing the insides of some of Canada’s institutions, and segregated schools and other sheltered workshops.
That being said – a girl can wish can’t she?
To date I have had no follow up from Cosmo Industries.
For those of you keeping score… that’d be – score one for inertia, zippo for social change.