Many people love their communities, like we do here in East Hants. But not every community can boast a story like the one you’re about to read. A story that shows how a community can come together to fix a huge problem that transforms lives. It’s even rarer for the ‘problem’ to become a success story, like our local Rick’s Riches Thrift Store.
I interviewed three people about how it all began and all three said: “It started with a need in the community”.
“In those days the handicapped never left their homes,” says Lenny Gallant, who served on the board for years. “There was a national charity organization that offered programs, but there was nothing locally.”
“Folks were isolated back then and there were no available services,” says Phyllis Parker, who was involved from the beginning. “I had a couple of friends who were in need; I think back then it was one person saying to another, “What about…”
Once the idea to create work programs for the disabled took root, the next stage was to recruit clients. Parker’s good friend Daun Bona also had a hand in the project from the earliest days. “We would go from door to door, and people were resistant at first, as if we shouldn’t even know they had someone with a disability,” says Bona. “They would hide their handicapped children in a different room before they answered the door. Back then it was a shameful secret. We often had to return several times to convince the parents that their children would benefit from this. They’d have something to do. They wouldn’t be so alone.”
“A survey in East Hants showed there was approximately 120-150 people in need at that time. We started with 12 participants,” says Gallant. “Our goal? To get them jobs.”
“To bring adults together to develop and grow,” explains Phyllis. “I used to load my first child in the car in sleepers and drive around collecting the participants. At first, even making a cup of coffee was new to them. How they blossomed! I remember one young woman wouldn’t communicate at first. She sat and knitted all day long—one long strip, continuously. Then one day she suddenly said, “Hello Phyllis, it’s nice to see you. My, you have a nice hairdo.”
“They felt they belonged in the program,” says Bona. “They wouldn’t miss a single day! Once the parents saw how it was helping their child , they were so grateful.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. To get a vibrant program up and running took a lot of work and fund-raising. Twice, fires destroyed the facilities they were renting, through no fault of the participants. So Parker persuaded her husband to donate a piece of land and fund-raised for a new work facility.
Surely these years of dedicated volunteer work—not to mention massive donations like gifts of land—reflect deep funds of compassionate altruism? Not according to Parker: “I think it was mostly selfish,” she says. “We worked hard, but it didn’t feel like work, because it was so meaningful and positive. There have been so many rewards from this group. I learned so much about what they were capable of, given the chance.”
The participants worked on a number of different projects as the years went by, from refurbishing furniture to packaging earplugs for Air Canada to woodworking projects. Indeed, there were multiple opportunities to see what they could do, “given the chance”, but the most successful and longest-lasting venture was Rick’s Riches Thrift Store.
“Rick was my first cousin,” says Bona. “He might be diagnosed today as on the spectrum, but he always knew right from wrong. He wanted to be part of everything, and everyone knew him–the police gave Rick a uniform and a badge, the Fire Dept gave him an outfit. He was in the program from the moment it began until he died 10 years ago.”
Today, the original group are in their 80s and younger people have taken the reins, and they are just as dedicated. Today, their fund-raising efforts are going towards a new 7-million-dollar establishment in the Elmsdale Industrial Park. The trajectory from rentals in existing buildings to designing a beautiful new building from scratch reflects the huge growth and success of this venture, which started with the recognition of a need and ended up giving so many lives purpose—not just for the 100s of participants, but for those who helped them.