I am a PhD student at the University of Calgary. I have been a support worker with ENABLE since November 2017. When I first heard about the grassroots social enterprise, their mission to create meaningful partnerships between people with disabilities and support workers stood out to me. I signed up shortly after meeting Sue Crawford, the co-founder of ENABLE and a fellow graduate student. I was matched to a youth who excitedly waits for me to take him out each week (okay, I might look forward to it as much as he does).
Let me start by saying, being a student is isolating. I spend long hours cooped up on campus in my office researching and writing. It’s crucial for one’s health and social well-being to engage with and feel a part of a community, but it is hard to know where to start — especially if you’re from out-of-province, like me. ENABLE offered a great opportunity for me to travel off campus and see what this city has to offer, meet new people, and have fun. I know there are other students who are in a similar position as I was, so this post is for you. I hope this helps you reach out to take up new opportunities.
As an ENABLE support worker, I was paired with a 17-year-old named, Connor. Connor is one of the most social, friendly people I have ever met. We get together weekly and always have a great time go-karting (yes, we hit Speeders at least once per month), ice skating, swimming, going to the mall, walking the family dog, and whatever other adventures we can think of! No hang-out is complete until we make our customary trip to the local car wash and indulge in Dairy Queen Blizzards; two of Connor’s absolute favourite things in the world. It didn’t take long until we became great friends texting one another to see what the other was up to for the weekend or to plan our itinerary for our next hang-out. How easy it that?
Connor and I at Pinnovate DIY Craft Studio making a leash hook for his dog, Charlie.
Over the last year, I have seen tremendous growth in not only Connor, but in myself too! When I first met Connor, he was timid, not willing to step outside his comfort zone or try something new. Connor would rather watch other people (or me) go down the largest water slide or climb that daunting rock-climbing wall than try it himself. However, as we grew closer and as I worked to gain his trust, Connor tried that new rock-climbing route or obstacle course. After a few short months, Connor doesn’t even hesitate to try something new — the only challenge is for me to keep up!
Connor has yet to meet a person he doesn’t like. Every time we hang-out, I am amazed by how he can strike up a conversation with complete strangers while standing in line — say, for example before our next race at Speeders. At first, I wasn’t sure how others would feel about Connor interrupting their conversations, but I was surprised to see how genuinely appreciative people were to speak with Connor as he asked about what they were doing today, told them what the weather was supposed to be tomorrow and when the Calgary Flames were to play next. It was amazing to me how much joy a quick five-minute conversation left our newfound friends with. Without a doubt, Connor is in his element when making new friends and sharing these moments with fellow Calgarians.
Connor’s social nature has had a big impact on me. I think it’s safe to say that in our hectic world, we are encouraged to treat strangers as just that — strangers. Sure, you can say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”; but that’s typically where the conversation ends. Thanks to Connor, I now see that I (and we) can (and should) do better. Calgary is a welcoming city with some of the friendliest people. So, why not take advantage of this? Take a page from Connor’s book and strike up a conversation with the person behind you in line at the grocery store. After seeing Connor’s success, that’s what I do now.
Working with Connor has also impacted me in other ways. Our weekly adventures have opened my eyes to the many amazing places and activities Calgary has to offer. For instance, have you ever gone ice skating at Bowness Park in the winter?! Or rekindled your inner child-at-heart while trampolining at InjaNation?! If not, I have an itinerary for you thanks to Connor.
Lastly, I feel that my communication skills have improved over the last year while working with Connor. I have built confidence in communicating building goals with Connor and his parents, and sharing my expectations with Connor for what I expect when we’re in public. This experience has reinforced the importance of clear, continuous communication to ensure that our relationship thrives and the Connor gets high quality support.
ENABLE has resulted in such positive growth for me and for Connor. The opportunity to work with someone as amazing as Connor, to connect with other support workers, and belong to an organization that strives to increase social inclusion throughout Calgary has changed those feelings of isolation to feelings of connectedness. If you’re reading this post and think, “Yea, I want those experiences too,” connect with the team at ENABLE to begin your journey in helping make our community more inclusive for people of all abilities.
See you around,
Simon Barrick, Connor’s support worker