Having a developmental disability does not preclude being an active, contributing citizen in a community. The term refers to any person who faces challenges in the usual learning system. Historically, those living with developmental disabilities faced negative stereotypes and discrimination due to their unique methods of learning and communicating. However, developmentally disabled individuals can greatly benefit their communities, both socially and economically.
There are about 899,000 Canadians living with some form of developmental disability. Of this group, 343,000 able and willing adults do not have the opportunity to work. Although those with developmental disabilities are capable of learning, working, and contributing in all areas of society, they are often barred by social stigma. More than 30, 000 developmentally disabled people remain institutionalized despite their ability to contribute to their communities. Through segregating those with developmental disabilities, society loses about $4.6 billion in lost productivity and unnecessary social assistance payments per year. All institutions in Ontario were closed by 2009, and services in smaller community based organizations were created. Many of the people who had spent years of their lives in institutional settings are now enjoying opportunities to learn, grow and enjoy a quality of life that would not have been possible in segregated facilities.
Best Pack, an Ontario-based co-packing service company, in association with Community Living Oakville, believes that every person should have the opportunity to participate in meaningful activities and contribute to their communities. Through providing developmentally disabled individuals with productive work in a supportive environment, Best Pack proves that those with differences can be some of Canada’s greatest assets.
What Is Community Living?
Community Living theory encompasses the simple idea that all people deserve to make their own life choices and possess a sense of belonging in society. Community Living organizations exist across Ontario, and offer people living with developmental disabilities support in furthering their education, finding meaningful employment, and participating in the pastimes of their choice.
Best Pack is owned by Community Living Oakville, an Oakville-based not-for-profit organization that supports people living with developmental disabilities and their families. Through Best Pack’s operations, Community Living Oakville can provide disabled individuals with a place to work, allowing the employees to function independently, while building funds to further other programs and initiatives.
It was more than 60 years ago when two families decided the Oakville community needed to change its stance on developmental disabilities. The Kelley and Gunn families both had children with developmental disabilities who could not access any form of public education. Yet they knew education would be vital to their children’s’ futures, and refused to bar their children from a fulfilled life.
Kelley and Gunn independently hired a private teacher, and formed a new school St. Jude’s church in Oakville. Class sizes quickly grew, and the community discovered the need to provide inclusion and accessible resources for the developmentally disabled.
Today, Community Living Oakville supports more than 260 people with varying support needs. The organization operates 17 assisted living homes (representing an occupancy of about 81 residents), and assists about 60 people through their supported independent living program. Community Living Oakville also runs an afterschool program and several day service options. These programs allow participants to engage with their community and join in learning opportunities, including computer skills, art, yoga, and music.
A core aspect of Community Living Oakville’s programming is training and employment. The organization actively works in partnership with more than 30 companies in Oakville, matching people who have a developmental disability with the job and employer that best fits their capabilities and interests. Community Living Oakville provides ongoing support to the employer and employee.
Community Living Oakville established Best Pack as a social enterprise in 1980 in an effort to increase the employment opportunities available to people who have a development disability as well as generate revenue to support the goals of the agency. Located in Oakville, Ontario, the 30,000 square foot facility is fully equipped to meet the needs of both small businesses and large corporations. The company’s workforce consists of approximately 50% developmentally disabled persons. Best Pack’s labour force and processes specialize in jobs that need a significant hands-on approach, such as blister forming and sealing, die cutting, kitting assembly, point of purchase displays, shrink wrapping, and labeling.
Best Pack and Community Living Oakville operate with a cyclic business model; those with developmental disabilities can gain employment at Best Pack, and the profits made through Best Pack’s business endeavors are invested into Community Living Oakville’s support initiatives.
“The business impacts more than just Best Pack employees,” explains Janet Lorimer, Executive Director at Community Living Oakville, “It’s highly integrated into Community Living Oakville’s day services and employee training programs. There are many other people who have developmental disabilities benefitting from Best Pack’s work.”
It is important to note that Best Pack is first and foremost a business. Providing high-quality products to clients in a timely manner is the bottom line of the organization. Those that receive services and product from Best Pack are the backbone of the company.
“Our customers are the source of our existence,” explains Irene Cvetkovski-Dukic, Director of Services at Community Living Oakville and Best Pack, “We’re competitive, and when a business works with us, there’s great value both for them and the community. We are a company that provides great services.”
In February, Ivan Bogdanovski joined Best Pack as Business Manager. Bogdanovski took on the mandate to improve Best Pack’s business development initiatives. Under Bogdanovski’s guidance, Best Pack hopes to greatly expand their client base.
“When a client does business with Best Pack, they’re contributing to their community,” says Bogdanovki. Many of our customers are thrilled that they receive quality services at a competitive price, and are giving something important to the community at the same time.
Connecting with Community
The greatest challenge facing community-minded organizations such as Best Pack is increasing competition from cheaper labour alternatives outside of Canada. Larger corporations are regularly choosing to pursue packaging options in nations with less expensive costs.
However, this exodus of business results in fewer opportunities for developmentally disabled people to engage in meaningful work. Organizations such as Community Living Oakville are combatting this trend through actively introducing business owners the value added to their companies through hiring developmentally disabled individuals.
In February, 2014, Community Living Oakville organized the Inspiring Innovative Partnerships Dinner, an evening event focused on connecting businesses with potential employees. About 75 employers attended the event, and realized the benefit to hiring developmentally disabled people.
This is a testimonial from one of the business that has continuously provided employment opportunities for people who have a developmental disability. “We would like to take this opportunity to say that McDonalds’ restaurants of Canada, in Oakville, Ontario are a proud partner and employer of Community Living Oakville. For over 20 years, we have worked with this wonderful organization and employ many of their clients. Our core values are in line with Community Living Oakville’s vision and mission. It is with great satisfaction that we are able to assist in truly making a difference in the lives of those with developmental disabilities. All of us deserve the opportunity to fulfill our full potential.”
Community Living Oakville again brought businesses and employees together this past July at the Business After Hours event, hosted within the Best Pack facility. In association with the Oakville Chamber of Commerce, Best Pack presented their positive experiences working alongside developmentally disabled individuals to more than 100 business owners.
Several clients praise the quality of work completed at Best Pack. “To have a co-packer that you can rely on and you do not have to hand-hold them… big advantage… huge advantage.” Rosemary Morreale-Brum, Sanford, Canada.
For more information on Best Pack and Community Living Oakville, contact:
Best Pack Business Manager
905-8440416 ex. 258