Sunday, November 28, 2010

Canadian program helps people with disabilities to experience outdoor recreation, nature

From Kelowna Capital News in Canada:

When Katie Johnston came to Kelowna as a summer student, she got a job working with people with disabilities, helping them get out on adventures like hiking, biking and kayaking.

By the end of the summer, the New Brunswick native continued to volunteer at the Community Recreational Initiatives Society (CRIS).

The following year, she was hired full-time by CRIS, the community group that helps disabled people get out into nature and push their limits.

“It’s pretty amazing how something as simple as giving an hour or two of your time to go out hiking in his beautiful area we live in makes such a huge difference,” said Johnston, now the executive director of CRIS. “Seeing the difference it makes in people’s lives is inspirational. It really puts your worries and problems into perspective.”

For the past nine years CRIS has been helping people with disabilities get out into the wilderness on day trips or longer excursions.

The group has adaptive hiking, kayaking and biking equipment and teams trip leaders with disabled persons to take the participants where they can’t go on their own.

They utilize popular spots like the Mission Greenway, the Kettle Valley Railway and Knox Mountain and have gone as far as Vancouver Island and the Bowron Lakes for longer trips.

Johnston says it makes a big difference in the lives of people who might spend a lot of time inside.

“We’ve had participants who have been reluctant to go on an outing or were worried that they felt they couldn’t do it,” she explained.

“But all of a sudden they are trying things. They really come to life.

“They are pushing their limits and getting back into society. It only takes one outing to break down those barriers and open their eyes to what they can accomplish.”

To help spread awareness of what CRIS offers, the volunteer-based organization has partnered with Shoppers Home Health Care to host a one-day information session.

The event, on Dec. 3, coincides with International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

“It’s really for awareness. Getting people aware of what we do and the impact that we make. A lot of our participants are very open about what it means to them to be able to access the outdoors. These are some of the greatest people I’ve ever met,” Johnston said.

The event will be at Shoppers Home Health Care in the Capri Mall, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., on Friday and will include many occupational and physiotherapists as well as participants in the CRIS Adapative Adventures program.