Sep 15, 2011

Chopping volunteer program ‘hurts most vulnerable’

MAPLE RIDGE—The BC Liberal government’s decision to terminate a supported volunteer program funded by Community Living BC is a poorly conceived cost-cutting move that only punishes society’s most vulnerable, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

The volunteer program, run by Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows Community Services, currently supports 28 clients referred by CLBC. The purpose of the program is to support adults with disabilities to participate and contribute in their community, through a volunteer placement in a non-profit agency. The program ends on December 1.

“This program has been funded by CLBC for 20 years, and most of the clients have been accessing the service since day one,” says CUPE 3941 president Charlene Linden. “Pulling the rug out from under these people is really unfair. It robs them of opportunities to engage with the larger community.”

Linden says the program provides a bridge between volunteer training and real employment—a positive step that CLBC is aiming for “real work for real pay”.

During the past year, the 28 program clients have contributed a total of 5,400 volunteer hours throughout Maple Ridge/ Pitt Meadows. The program has a total of 14 agencies. Local agencies include the Family Education Support Centre, SPCA, and Meals on Wheels.

Linden sees the program’s termination as part of a disturbing trend in provincial funding that devalues community-based services for the disabled. Earlier this week another 20-year program of the CLBC, Ridge Meadows Recycling Depot, was cut. And another group home will be closed in Powell River.

“These clients really value the program, and don’t see it as a volunteer placement—it’s more like a job for them,” she says. “But most could not find a job on their own, so what are they going to do now? Some of them are older, and it’s difficult to look for work. What kind of message is the government sending, by leaving them out in the cold?”

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