The founding members of PLAN Okanagan had one pressing question in mind when they were developing our organization; the question is…
“Who will look after my family member when I no longer can?”
The answer, unfortunately, “not the government”, so they looked at their own lives and concluded the safety and security of their relatives would be dependent on the friends their relatives had. They developed a model of social networks facilitated by a paid facilitator, bridge builder or community connector.
PLAN Okanagan has adopted this model, we provide assistance in developing and expanding a network of friends and supporters committed to the person with a disability (the person at the centre or focus person), contributing to their quality of life now and in the future when parents are not there. Typically, people with disabilities need a little nudge or support to develop friendships, as social skills may often not be as developed while growing up. Networks consist of caring people who are willing to spend time and assist in carrying out functions that are difficult for the focus person to do on their own. For some, this will mean getting practical assistance with housing, employment and recreation. For others, it will mean developing closer ties to neighbours, and the community.
Personal networks (Social Networks) are developed by a PLAN Okanagan representative we refer to as a Community Connector. While the Community Connector is paid, the people involved in a personal network are not paid to be there. Rather, their involvement is based on caring, friendship, love, and a commitment to work together on behalf of the person with a disability. They often include brothers and sisters, family members, friends, neighbours, church members, and co-workers. They are accountants, lawyers, receptionists, educators, students, teachers, and retail workers. They are you and I.
Social Networks increase social capital, they increase a community’s capacity to support itself and encourage everyone to recognize the value of all citizens. John McKnight, a leader in the movement to encourage full participation of all citizens, points out that…
“For those whose emptiness cannot be filled by human services the most obvious need is the opportunity to express and share their gifts, skills, capacities, and abilities with friends, neighbours, and fellow citizens.”
ACTIVITIES: Educate, inform and engage families and friends of people with disabilities through discussion and exploration of options to ensure safe and secure lives for people with disabilities that are grounded in the values of inclusion and full participation of all citizens. This includes information on social networks.