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Open Sky is a model for skills training for people with intellectual disabilities
Open Sky is a model for skills training for people with intellectual disabilities
September 7, 2017
OPINION
Image of Nancy J. Hartling
Nancy J. Hartling, New Brunswick
Image of Jim Munson
Jim Munson, Ontario

Senator Nancy Hartling and Senator Jim Munson visited the Open Sky facility in Sackville, N.B., in July.

The Open Sky facility in Sackville, N.B., is proving the sky is the limit for adults living with intellectual disabilities. It is an innovative program for training, counselling and supporting people who are capable of living independently. It is doing a world of good for people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, an intellectual disability or who have a mental illness.

Its beautiful, rural environment offers a different approach from conventional skills training programs. Some people respond better in this type of setting.

Canada needs more programs like this one, especially in smaller communities where it’s often more difficult for people with intellectual disabilities and their families to access the skills training and support services that can help them live independently or land a job.

Open Sky is a charitable housing co-operative in Sackville that provides accommodation, skills development, job training and community connections to adults with intellectual or social disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders or mental illness, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

Operating out of an historic farmhouse, Open Sky hosts three participants at a time while they learn life skills and employment skills. Staff and volunteers support each resident as they learn to cook, clean, self-care and socialize. In a classic case of “learning by doing,” participants share responsibilities around the farmhouse.

Along with Sackville Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, we recently had the opportunity to visit the Open Sky program to see firsthand the wonderful work it’s doing to give adults the tools they need to live independently.

Through our work with both people living with Autism Spectrum Disorders and people providing affordable housing for single parents, we have seen how much good can come from helping people who are vulnerable meet their basic needs. Everyone’s quality of life improves when they are given the dignity of living on their own and are equipped to make their own decisions.

The Open Sky program treats its clients with respect and inclusion while helping them become independent. It helps them to set and meet their own life goals, to bounce back from the setbacks life throws at all of us. Ultimately, the goal is for participants to have gainful employment and to support themselves.

We heartily encourage other communities to look at Open Sky as a potential example for their own programs. During our visit, Open Sky’s executive director Margaret Tsuz-King indicated her organization’s willingness to share its business model with other communities.

Many of Canada’s community-living or independent-living programs are geared toward clients in urban centres. Open Sky, however, is a reminder that there are different strokes for different folks.

Our visit was a reminder that one size does not fit all, especially when it comes to supporting people who live with social, developmental or mental-health challenges.

Senator Jim Munson, represents Ontario, and is Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights and a longtime advocate for individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Senator Nancy Hartling, represents New Brunswick. As an advocate for women’s issues and social issues, she was a founding member of an affordable housing complex for single parents in Moncton, N.B.

This article appeared in the August 24, 2017 edition of the Telegraph Journal.