The Power to Be’s name pretty much sums up this organization. Their vision is that nature is accessible to everybody. They offer programs that encourage nature-based activities for people with a barrier or a disability. Power to Be is based in Vancouver and Victoria, which are two of the most beautiful and nature-blessed cities in the world.
Today, just outside of Victoria, I watched a young lady with CP be lifted out of her wheelchair to kayak in the gorgeous open ocean. My son joined her on an accompanying kayak with his Corrie. Corrie is on a practicum placement with Power to Be to finish off her kinesiology degree.
The kids saw seals, crabs, and even a submarine from the nearby naval centre. The sun shone down on them, and there was a soft breeze across the deep blue ocean water.
Aaron embarked on a six hour hike along a meandering ocean trail in Sooke on Tuesday, and this kayaking adventure on Friday. He is not a kid who is naturally drawn to nature. We are not an outdoorsy family, and I blame my nerdy library girl self, and our 8 months of winter in Edmonton for this. So this was a fabulous opportunity for the professionals to step in and offer him new experiences. Life is for living, right?
I dropped him off with the staff and I wasn’t there, so I cannot report precisely on what happened. But the lack of Mom is part of the point. He’s 11 years old, old enough to be without his mother. My older two kids were staying at home solo by this age. Aaron is not ready for this, but we are fiercely pushing his independence this summer. Is this in spite or because of his Down syndrome? No matter. Eleven year old boys do not hang out with their moms.
He’s been ordering for himself in restaurants, going to the bathroom solo, scanning all the groceries at self-check out and handling his own transactions in retail stores. If we want him to be independent and move out one day, we must to stop holding his almost-teenage hand when he is crossing the street.
As Lou Stein wisely says about his own four year old son with Down syndrome, it is our job as parents to encourage confidence in our children. Part of doing that is guiding our kids to do the things that they think they cannot do. This is the only way they acquire confidence.
So Aaron and I boarded a plane to Victoria after our family vacation in Naramata. The Power to Be was shockingly easy to sign up for. I didn’t require a physician’s letter, or ok from our Family Support for Children with Disabilities social worker, or an interview process. I sent in the simple registration forms and he was in. They didn’t seem to care that he lived out of province.
One of the things that I really love about the Power to Be is their cost. To keep things accessible for all people, we were asked to bring $10 per program. Ten bucks. And if you had a hard time paying that, there was a subsidy.
In Alberta, an adapted horse riding program costs in excess of $300 a session. We have to beg our social workers for approval to get our kids into other programs. There are onerous screening processes to access services, where you have to emphasize what is wrong with your kid in order to get them in. I hate all that. None of these jump through the hoops processes make programs accessible to families.
So hurrah to Power to Be for being truly accessible. Hurrah for their enthusiastic, friendly and knowledgeable staff. They start each session with an opening circle, where everybody introduces themselves and answers an ice-breaker question as best they can. The activity has a closing circle where the participants can express their favourite part of their day.
How I wish we had such a program in winter-heavy Edmonton. I wish that classes weren’t segregated into types of disability or severity of condition, or by how well the parents can advocate for participation for their child, or by artificial age groupings. I wish that our kids could participate with community kids so they could all learn from each other.
At Power to Be, nobody was freaked out by the girl in the wheelchair, or blinked an eye in response to my son’s silly rolling around on the ground. Because a wheelchair, diagnosis or challenging behaviour should not be barriers to experience nature, should it? Mother Nature-God-whatever spiritual being you believe in – says emphatically: I created this beautiful Earth for everybody.