UNITI – We’re Stronger Together


Many people know that Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) does good work in the community supporting people who have disabilities to live good lives of their choosing. Not as many people know that SHS has to sister organizations: Peninsula Estates Housing Society (PEHS) and The Semiahmoo Foundation (TSF).  Each of the three organizations has their own constitution and bylaws, and each strives to fulfill its own mission. There are areas where the three organizations’ missions overlap, and, in these cases, it makes sense that the organizations would work in partnership to support the achievement of this portion of their mission. When the three organizations work together, they are known as UNITI. The most obvious focus of UNITI is housing, as the missions or constitutions of SHS, PEHS, and TSF include the following statements:

Semiahmoo House Society (Mission): “People choose where and with whom they live”

 Peninsula Estates Housing Society (Mission): “People live in inclusive and affordable housing that reflects the diversity of their community”

 The Semiahmoo Foundation (Constitution): “To establish a building fund for the purposes of establishing and/or developing building options for adults who have disabilities, primarily those adults who have disabilities having a low or modest income, including constructing, providing, maintaining, leasing, owning and managing low-rental housing projects and/or assisting or collaborating with other organizations for such purposes.”

UNITI partner organizations worked together to imagine, develop, and complete Chorus, the first purpose-built rental apartment in Surrey in over 30 years, which has been the home for over 100 Surrey citizens for the past year and a half, including 21 tenants who have developmental disabilities. For this project, TSF invested in the pre-development of the project and holds a mortgage on apartments; SHS provides supports for 17 of the tenants who have disabilities; and PEHS owns and operates the building.

The missions and constitutions of the UNITI partners ensure that any housing we develop will be inclusive and will reflect the diversity of our community. It is also clear that housing that includes people with disabilities works. We recently completed a very thorough review of what was working and not working with Chorus and the tenants we support there and found that the tenants were thriving in many facets of their lives, including employment, friendships, and independence. Many of the tenants have presented about their experiences living in Chorus as major conferences, including the recently completed Housing Central Conference in Richmond that featured over 1400 delegates from around the world.

One does not have to read many housing reports in local media to understand that Surrey and British Columbia need more housing models like Chorus. The UNITI partner organizations are committed to building more inclusive and affordable housing that reflects the community. We will be looking for support from all levels of government and from our neighbours and supporters to get this done. We are looking forward to the specifics of Surrey’s Affordable Housing Strategy, set to be released in January. We are hopeful that the strategy will have a clear commitment of levels of municipal support for the continuum of housing, and that housing that is run by a not-for-profit organization and is inclusive and affordable will be incentivized differently than privately built market developments.

I was recently invited by Joan, one of the tenants supported by SHS at Chorus, to visit her apartment to check out her Christmas decorations. Her apartment was warm and inviting and wonderfully decorated with Christmas ornaments and a little lighted village with cotton batting snow on a side table. Joan, like most of us, delighted in showing off what she had done to make her apartment her home. She is able to choose who to invite over and to host people she likes when she wants to. In her relationships, she has a stronger position because she is able to share her home with others. Joan and the other tenants of Chorus personify the motto of UNITI: We’re Stronger Together.

By Doug Tennant, CEO of UNITI


Have you Been a Good . . . Role Model?


As another year is coming to a close, I would like to ask you, “Have you been a good role model for your vision? Steven Covey’s website contains an inspiring quote, ”Sometimes people find themselves achieving victories that are empty—successes that have come at the expense of things that were far more valuable to them.” As an organization or as a person, do you find yourself contemplating your successes and whether or not you achieved them in alignment with your values? If that’s the case, it may be a good idea to practice the second habit that Dr. Covey proposed in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “begin with the end in mind.”

To me, beginning with the end in mind, means that once the vision is established—the ideal situation that we all work hard at achieving in our communities—we need to determine what vehicle we’ll use to get there. I’m not talking about governance, strategic planning, or operational implementation. I’m talking about defining our values. Only after that, policy making, planning, and execution can follow.

The reason why examining our values is so critical to our work as community leaders is because values are the principles that guide our every thought, our every decision, and our every action, and they determine the impact our work has on the people we serve and the community at large. When our activities are in sync with our values, we demonstrate integrity, and people take notice. This creates an exemplary effect, resulting in learning circles that emerge from everywhere and interweave to become the fabric of an inclusive community.

On the other hand, people also take notice when behaviours are incongruent with published values, even when these occurrences are seldom.  Naturally, people will remember the slipups more than the abundant efforts of the leader to make a difference. Once that happens, we all know how very difficult it is to overcome the negative perceptions.

The responsibility, to start with the end in mind, rests at the governance and leadership level of the organization. Leaders are accountable to establish organizational culture, and, in order to achieve this, they need to be guided by the right values. Therefore, I would encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your personal and organizational values at your next board meeting and discuss how these should be communicated to the people that work within, or receive services from, your organization. This is a worthwhile exercise to ensure that your values percolate throughout your work in the community and that your vision becomes a reality.

Wishing you a wonderful Holiday Season and a prosperous New Year,

Rich Gorman, Board Chair of UNITI

UNITI is the new umbrella name that integrates three affiliated non-profit organizations that have existed for decades:

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. 

The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.

Peninsula Estates Housing Society provides affordable and inclusive rental housing that reflects the diversity of our community.

Life, as you’ll notice, is a story

Chorus 2017_2

Life doesn’t come to us like an equation. It comes to us in the style that a typical story does, scene by scene. We wake up. What’s going to happen next? We don’t get to know! But, we enter each day and take the journey as it comes. In every story there are different characters, and a wide range of settings. A year goes by like a chapter from a novel. Sometimes it seems like a drama. Sometimes like a comedy. Most of it feels like a soap opera. Whatever happens, it’s a story through and through.

We are here to celebrate milestones. In the past year, I have watched all the residents of Chorus work though and overcome personal challenges. I have recognized a major growth in confidence both within each of them and myself. In the first year of Chorus, we have taken a path that had not been taken. The beginning process focused on building relationships. It was important to establish a level of trust with each resident and their families. So, thank you for always being open to my phone calls and texts.

It is always important and at times challenging to find ways to lead with a positive attitude. The road to independence can be slow and challenging. So, it is always important to celebrate small wins. Starting slow with daily life decisions, many of the residents have experienced strongly nurturing environments. In the beginning, there was definitely some uncertainty to start their venture into living on their own and making decisions at this level.  We started slowly by figuring out ways to empower everyone with daily life decisions. It started with the simple things such as how to wash dishes or what to have for dinner and then that confidence began to transfer to new challenging situations.  The goal has stayed the same: which is to support each person to lead and live a fulfilling and self-determined life.

If you do not have self-determination, then other people are in charge of you and either decide how you will live your life or tell you how to live your life.  If you have self-determination or self-direction, then this means you are in charge of your own life.  You are living the way you want to live.    There are not enough words to describe how I feel when I sit and listen to each resident express that they feel better about themselves and that they are living the dream. In a society where people love to categorize, attach labels and follow stereotypes, it’s important to remember that each person has many labels and each one shapes us, but no single one defines us. It’s been an interdependent relationship all around. We learn from each other and we learn to adapt.

This first year each individual has taught me something that I can take with me and go forward with:

  1. Weakness isn’t always a negative (relationships rule)- Stacey
  2. Embrace everything- Krista
  3. Fitting in is overrated- Katie
  4. Being different is an opportunity- Alexa
  5. Don’t sweat the little things- Cam
  6. Patience can get you through almost anything- Tracie
  7. Help others (Serving creates meaning) – West
  8. Take pride in yourself- Jason
  9. Size doesn’t matter and it’s a good thing to give back- Michaela
  10. Life is the largest stage- Mady
  11. Change is good- Cory
  12. Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures- Natalie
  13. Live the Life of Your Dreams- Katelyn
  14. The purpose of life is to be happy- Janek
  15. Live every day to the fullest–in moderation- Alistair
  16. Some succeed because they are destined. Some succeed because they are determined- Joan
  17. Fall down seven times, get up eight- Mark
  18. Do you! – Roland
  19. Let your voice be heard- Kaly
  20. Memories last forever- Adam (Most amazing memory)

So to conclude, our story is constantly evolving and I am excited to enter this new chapter and see where it takes us all. Thank you!

Kereisha Gordon, Community Support Worker at Semiahmoo House Society

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society. Chorus is an inclusive and affordable housing development owned by Peninsula Estates Housing Society, an affiliate society to Semiahmoo House Society. All three societies are partners in UNITI.

Christine Collison Receives Fraser Valley Community Humanitarian Award

Christine's award 2

Christine, third from the left, among various dignitaries with Liz Deschesnes, far right, Director of Community Services at Semiahmoo House Society.

Christine Collison is a generous member of our community who serves as a volunteer on many initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life of vulnerable people or those in transition.

Christine has been volunteering with Semiahmoo House Society for the last 11 years. Semiahmoo House Society is a non-profit organization that provides services to people with developmental disabilities and their families in Surrey and White Rock. Christine’s services to people with disabilities are diverse and include accompanying them to volunteer at the local Thrift Store or animal shelter, taking them to the swimming pool, going for walks, teaching quilting, arts and crafts and taking them on field trips.

Christine never refuses an assignment; she gladly participates in any way she is needed.
The staff of Semiahmoo House Society report that it is wonderful to work with Christine. She’s respectful, considerate, dependable and reliable. They really miss her when she is away and always look forward to her returning to work. The people for whom she volunteers appreciate her companionship as she is engaging and genuinely committed to making shared experiences that are positive and helpful. She greets and includes everyone and is truly a friend that they like to have amongst them.

Christine cares about the people she serves and takes the necessary steps to ensure their physical and emotional wellbeing. She has a wonderful sense of humour and is quick to share a laugh, which is a wonderful attribute in any situation, particularly when working with people with developmental disabilities. When she goes on vacation, she stays connected with the people she supports by emailing them her travel itinerary and by sharing stories and photographs.

Beyond Semiahmoo House Society, Christine co-directs the chorale music program at Mt. Lehman United Church, where her husband serves as Pastor. In the Abbotsford community, she is involved in a group that applied for and received a grant to organize a support program for caregivers of all ages. The group is named “Side By Side” and members meet monthly to share information about promoting the wellbeing of caregivers and providing necessary support.

In addition, she is involved with Vancouver based Kingcrest International Neighbours, which is an outreach group that meets at the First United Mennonite Church. As part of their work, Neighbours provide English language classes, develop connections with new immigrants and help by referring them to services. The group presently works with 80 families.

By all accounts, Christine’s volunteer work is highly valued by and individuals. “She quite a woman”, says Dorothy Gurney, Volunteer Coordinator at Semiahmoo House Society. “She makes a real difference in many communities by enriching the lives of the people she touches. She deserves to be recognized for her work.”

By Louise Tremblay, Director of Development at UNITI


It’s Giving Tuesday

A tribute to parents
Will you help members of our community access affordable and inclusive housing?
Chorus was purposely built by UNITI to create a community that is truly inclusive and affordable and, more than a year after its completion, I can say that it is a huge success. People of various abilities, occupations, ages, ethnicity, family structures and income levels have become friendly and harmonious neighbours. The building offers 71 new, comfortable and beautiful apartments that residents are proud to call home. The 21 tenants with developmental disabilities who aspired to live independently since they became adults have achieved a quality of life and independence that they could only hope for prior to moving at Chorus.
Kaly moved into her first home in the Chorus Apartment last year. She navigates life in her apartment with confidence and ease. With the support of staff, she is learning to cook, pay her bills, access her community and develop a strong healthy relationship with her boyfriend. To find out how Chorus has touched other lives, please click here to view the video from Accessible Media Inc.
This story is a testament that housing models like Chorus work and make a definite difference in the lives of diverse members of our community. As a result, the board of UNITI has committed to developing additional affordable and inclusive housing in Surrey within the next few years. Therefore, we are launching our first direct campaign aimed at raising funds for this cause which can benefit so many individuals and families in our community. If you wish to participate in this campaign, you have the option to contribute to two recently created endowment funds:
  • The Ankenman Architects Associates Inc. Endowment Fund was initiated by the firm that designed The Treehouse at 15306 24th Avenue and Chorus at 2358 153rd Street. The Fund is intended to provide affordable and inclusive housing.
  • The Independence Endowment Fund was created by a woman with a developmental disability who feels privileged to live at Chorus and who wants to provide the same opportunity to others. The fund, which is restricted to benefit people with developmental disabilities, is intended to provide subsidies to address rent gaps and make independent living attainable.
We are very grateful to the initiators of these endowment funds. Join their campaign by giving generously while making a difference and ensuring that inclusive and affordable housing is available in our community. You can donate by going on-line at www.inclusionsurrey.com and clicking on the yellow donate button.
UNITI is the new umbrella name that integrates three societies that have existed for decades. Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and support to people with disabilities and their families in the community. Peninsula Estates Housing Society owns affordable and inclusive housing that reflects the diversity in our community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society and Peninsula Estates Housing Society. For more information, please contact our Director of Development, Louise Tremblay, by e-mailing l.tremblay@shsbc.ca.
UNITI and all logos

Developing Faith-In-Myself Muscle



When a storm roars through the forest, blasting everything in its path, it’s the tree that’s deeply rooted in the earth that doesn’t fall over.  For people, it’s the bounce back muscle that grounds them and gives them the strength to stay standing when the wind of fear, anger or despair threaten to knock them down.

When the Faith-in-Myself muscle is strong, your self-esteem is high.  You believe in yourself.  You’re kind to yourself.  Your self-talk supports you and helps you to achieve your goals.  You move forward even when you face obstacles and challenges.

When you don’t have faith in yourself, it’s almost impossible to succeed or to be happy.  Even when things are going well, you don’t feel you deserve your good fortune.  You are carried away by negative chatter in your mind, and it eventually pulls you down.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a conversation going on in your head.  Without even moving your lips, you tell yourself that you look beautiful or you don’t, you did a great job or you made some mistakes.  We all talk to ourselves and are deeply affected by what we say.  Our lives are just a living, breathing manifestation of the conversation going on inside our heads.

To build your Faith-in-Myself muscle, you have to first become aware of your inner conversations.  Do you talk to yourself the way a loving friend would?  Or are you hard on yourself – critical, impatient, and even verbally abusive? Without awareness, you can’t change.  Once you’re aware of your self-talk, you can then learn how to stop the negative chatter whenever it rears its destructive head. Instead of beating yourself, you will love yourself!

Contributed by:

 S.K.Counselling Services

Shabnam Khan

Master’s Practioner of Counselling Psychology

Registered Professional Counsellor


Phone: 604.720.8095

Introducing UNITI

Uniti new with tag on side (002)

While many people in our community are familiar with Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) as a provider of quality services for people who have disabilities, not everyone knows that SHS has two sister organizations: Peninsula Estates Housing Society (PEHS) and The Semiahmoo Foundation (TSF).

PEHS and TSF are registered as individual societies and have unique missions that they must uphold. PEHS exists so that people will “live in inclusive and affordable housing that reflects the diversity of their community,” and TSF exists to gather and provide funding for the “social betterment” of people who have disabilities.

SHS, PEHS, and TSF worked closely together to complete the Chorus Affordable and Inclusive Housing project and will be working together on future housing projects. When the three organizations work together, their partnership will be called UNITI.

UNITI will become more recognizable to the community over the next year as we launch projects that feature the three organizations working together. “Together We’re Stronger” will serve as the motto for this partnership and we expect UNITI to be a significant player in the development of quality affordable and inclusive housing in Metro Vancouver in the years that come.

UNITI and all logos

By Doug Tennant, CEO


Tracie Sheppard Take 2


Tracie eating the dinner she prepared (002)

Tracie eating the dinner that she prepared

You may recall reading one of our blogs published in 2013 about Tracie Sheppard, a content and independent young woman who described herself as the queen making all the rules in her home. For many years, Tracie lived independently in a rented house across the street from The Treehouse and developed her own routine with supports as she needed. Tracie was happy then and she’s even happier since another of her dreams has been realized.

For years, Tracie was aware of talks around Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) of an eventual housing option that would bring together people with developmental disabilities and other members of the community in an inclusive and affordable building. Relishing the idea of living in an apartment and having her friends as neighbours, she apprised her mother, Marie Sabine, of her desire to live in one of the units once the development was finished.  It took several years for the board and leadership of SHS to work out the details and take the project from concept to reality, but she remained patient while keeping a close eye on the evolution of the project.

Finally one morning, she observed from her living room window heavy machinery beginning the process of demolishing old houses on a number of lots adjacent to The Treehouse and preparing the site for the construction of a fresh new mid-rise building.  Determined that this would become the site of her future home, she enlisted the assistance of her mother and staff to complete the necessary application and reserve one of the apartments in the housing project that would be later called Chorus.

Tracie eagerly watched Chorus go up stage by stage until the development was complete and her one-bedroom apartment was ready to move in. Meanwhile, she happily went shopping for new furniture, including a futon and a lingerie dresser that would properly suit her bedroom that she decorated in a bright and cheerful yellow. This was an exciting time for her as she was fully involved in furnishing and decorating her new home.

When the big day arrived, she received help from her mother Marie and her aunt Helen to move her belongings and set things up. In spite of a few stubbed toes and bruises, the day ended well with the three women clinking together their wine glasses to toast Tracie’s new digs.

It took a little while for Tracie to get accustomed to using the elevator and greeting people in the hallways, but after nearly a year of living at Chorus, she feels safe and happy to be surrounded by friendly neighbours, including 20 of her friends who have apartments throughout the structure. In addition, she loves the convenience of walking anywhere including to her favourite shops, restaurants and cinemas.

To ensure a successful transition to independent living, SHS hired employees that are dedicated to supporting the 21 people with developmental disabilities in a person-centered way, providing assistance in the areas that they need and want the most. Although, Tracie is not new to living on her own, Marie is very happy with her daughter’s new environment.  “The Chorus support staff have been great,” said Marie.  “Tracie is doing better than ever and she’s even learning to cook fantastic meals.”

Tracie has done very well in accomplishing her personal goals and living the life that she wants. She is a trailblazer and an example of possibility. Her vision, courage, patience, perseverance and leadership have been an inspiration for all of us. As we speak, she’s probably lounging on her fourth-floor balcony, admiring the magnificent view of the North Shore Mountains and overlooking the soothing building that she knows as The Treehouse, with a smile that says it all.

By Louise Tremblay, The Semiahmoo Foundation

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society. Chorus is an inclusive and affordable house development owned by Peninsula Estates Housing Society, an affiliate society to Semiahmoo House Society. The Treehouse is the beautiful post and beam building on 24th avenue where Semiahmoo House Society conducts many of its programs.


A Tribute to Courageous Families

A tribute to parents

Dear Parents and Families,

With many of you I have had amazing conversations and I just wanted to express to you all truly what a privilege it is to know you and the amazing group at Chorus I have the opportunity to support. Thank you all for taking my many calls and sharing your thoughts with me.

I will never ever know what it is like to walk in your shoes but I’m grateful for the opportunity to work alongside each of you. I have a great amount of compassion and admiration for you and the work you have put into raising the most amazing group of people I have been blessed to spend my days with. Because of that work doesn’t feel like work. Often, I find being around these amazing people is when I am truly myself.

I’ve been doing this work for almost 9 years and for so many of those years the idea of Chorus seemed impossible and so many never believed it could happen. The one thing I can truly say is that Chorus has taught me that everyone truly has something rare and powerful to offer society no matter their abilities or insecurities, as the quote says, “Different but not less”.

In the moving in process I know that the word anxious doesn’t begin to describe the feeling most of you had. But from where I stand the transitions were successful and each person is living a life more independent and each day I see their confidence grow. They have a special glow and recognize the responsibility of living their life the way they want to.

I admire you all tremendously. You have dealt with unexpected situations and showed such strength and love. No matter how tired, no matter how challenged, no matter how thankless it sometimes is, you guys LOVE and give, wholeheartedly, with no restrictions. You are often so selfless and put them first and often miss out on things and opportunities for yourselves.

I want to reassure you that everyone in Chorus is doing great. They have surpassed milestones. They are thriving daily. They bring such joy to the people they meet their trust is refreshing and these days unheard of.

I am writing this because Chorus has reminded me that compassion, love, patience, community and relationship are what life is all about. So, thank you for sharing your child (Now independent adult boss of their own place) with us. I am still in the process of learning and there are days when I feel like I am going in circles. Ironically both staff and the residents help each other, so that we can keep moving toward our own individual greatest possible potentials whatever they may be.

I will continue to be a guide and support to each person in the best way I know how. I will continue to support them to focus on their capabilities rather than obstacles. Thank you for the amazing opportunity to be a part of inspiring change in the lives of many, many, many others who are awaiting this amazing Chorus opportunity.


Kereisha, Community Support Worker at Semiahmoo House Society

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society. Chorus is an inclusive and affordable house development owned by Peninsula Estates Housing Society, an affiliate society to Semiahmoo House Society.


The not quite Charlie and his Definite Chocolatey Factory

charlie 2

“Hi’s, hello’s, how you doins?” Mambo jambo pleasantries for us to connect to people around us. It is guaranteed to spark casual day to day chitchats. A lot of the times when we throw these phrases to people, it stops there and we never get to know them. Then, they get lost in our bin of memories and we live on. Everybody gets their vanilla flavored days.

Ever thought of “Saying hello” as a skill? – A skill that needs practice? Also, how that simple “hello” can go a long, long way. Well, this is where our story begins.

The final hours of the crew’s work week – everybody is excited for the weekend, “Fri-Yaay” as what others call it. All of us are exhausted already and just about ready to jump to our beds except for a single soul – my friend, Gary “The Cleaning Machine” Falcone. He is Mr. Detail and would not stop until the last speck of dust in our work site is obliterated. He is the last one who has enough energy to notice things around us.

Gary then approached me one day and told me, “That guy is working hard!” At this point, being tired and having “Fri-yaay” written on my forehead mode, I just politely brushed his comment off with “Oh yeah he does” without even really looking at what he is pointing at.

Another week has passed and Gary said that again. “That guy is working hard!” as for my response, “Oh yeah he does” with the enthusiasm of a depressed snail.

For the third week, I wore my curious hat and decided to listen intently. “He works hard”, Gary said. Then I (about time) finally paid attention and took note of who he was taking about. He was pointing at this man behind the glass window of Michael’s Bakery, masterfully kneading something and stirring soup and making what looked like a sandwich almost simultaneously – a man on a mission, super impressive! He did look like he was working hard, focused on what he was creating. Perhaps the better term was working passionately.

Gary has always been a hard worker, a passionate worker. I guess something in Mr. Multitasking baker guy resonated in Gary in that, weekly, he would notice him and talk to me about the chef’s work ethic. One day, Gary asked me “Jasper, what is his name?” I honestly answered, “I don’t know, maybe Michael? Since that is the name of the bakery? I am just guessing.”

Gary then responded, “Jasper, go and ask for his name.” I then suggested that since he was curious, then he should be the one asking Mr. Mystery chef’s name. “Can I do that? Is that legal?” Gary anxiously asked. “Of course Gary it is legal (Gary is the guy who will be the last to break any rule / guideline), as long as the chef is not busy and we are done with our job too.”

Gary thought for a moment and said “Nah, You do it Jasper, come on!” I responded otherwise and asked why he won’t ask for his name himself. “How do I do it? Is it illegal?” Gary butted in. At this point, I can see Gary’s genuine interest to meet the chef and, at the same time, his reluctance to connect. Perhaps he was needing support how to start his “Hi’s and Hello’s”. It sank in me too I guess in general, it is kinda embarrassing to ask someone his name out of the blue. It made me think too how to do it, in an age when more acquaintances are made by “Likes, follows and DM’s (direct messages) via social media.” I then had to review how we do it “old school”.

At this point I reiterated enough that “It is legal and I guess it is ok to talk to him, we just have to start somewhere.” I followed up with “Do you want to be friends with him?”

“Yes, can you make him my friend?” Gary bashfully replied.

I said that I can connect them but I feel that it would be better if Gary was the one who will approach Mr. Baker since it is him who is interested. “Gary, I think this is something that you can totally do.”

“Can I? It is not illegal right? Ok, how do I do it? Can you show me?” “Can you help me?”

“Ok Gary, how about we start with a smile, then a wave or a good afternoon?” I suggested. Gary being Gary asked, “In that order?”

So Gary waved at the man a week later and the man waved back. The look in Gary’s face when he reported back to me that Mr. Multitasking baker waved too was priceless. “What’s next Jasper? Let’s practice”

Long story short, we had lots of Fridays role playing this script: “Hi, my name is Gary Falcone and I work with Semiahmoo House may I know your name (cue handshake)”. Gary perfected his lines and waited for the Friday when he mustered enough courage to befriend Mr. Busy Chef.

“Charlie! Charlie is his name!!” Gary excitedly yelled his name to me as hastily ran towards our truck flailing his bucket and broom in the air. (At this point, I have a crew of 5 antsy-borderline upset people, waiting in the truck wanting to go home because it is the end of the work week already.)   We did finish late that day because of Gary’s interaction, but I think it was all worth it. I had to appease the other crew members and explain what was happening, one too many times.

Finally about Charlie,  I thought I could have easily asked Mr. Chef myself for his name but Gary’s eagerness  masked by reluctance was worth the effort to work on and make it a teaching moment and a way to connect to the community.

A year has passed and the 5-minute Charlie visit has been the official way to sign off our week and kick off our weekend.

May 2017 came, Mr. Gary Falcone’s 72nd birthday was fast approaching and we were thinking of a way to celebrate his birthday. The crew schemed to surprise Gary and made a reservation for lunch at Michael’s Bakery.

I finally got a chance to talk to Charlie. I was excited to tell him how much he has become a part of our crew, “The A-Team”. However, before I uttered my first word about what he meant for the group, his crew beat me to it. The ladies and gentlemen who worked for him talked more of how Gary has been very much a part of their Friday. They spoke of how polite and thoughtful Gary was and how he brought them nuggets of happy thoughts like finding a dime or a beer can that we can return to the depot. When I talked to Charlie, he told me about how Gary’s presence was missed when he took time off for his surgery or even a day off or two when he has a cold. Charlie seemed to know who Gary was for us too. My enthusiasm for telling them my side of the story was matched by their version of it. My heart grew bigger as they accurately described the Gary that I know and how much his little joys have touched their lives too. Our Gary is their Gary too.

The Michael’s Bakery team arranged a cozy table for us one Friday after work to surprise Gary and David, as it  was his birthday too. They set us up with the chocolatiest Lamington cake the crew has ever tasted as recommended by one of Charlie’s Angels. We got Gary really good that afternoon as he never expected the treat. Charlie gave Gary’s cake for free and everyone had the biggest selfie smiles.

I also had the chance to meet Charlie’s wife. “We are happy to do things like this especially if it gives people a chance to improve their lives, their confidence and their feeling of being a part of the community”, she added to our short chat.

Before we left Michael’s and said our “Goodbyes and thank you’s”, Charlie came close and whispered to me, “By the way, my name not Charlie, it is Chander, but Gary likes calling me Charlie and I don’t mind. Charlie is a good name too”

By Jasper Macabulos, Semiahmoo House Society

Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community. The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.