The signs on the window of the Bike Peddler tell the story of what’s happening at the long-time non-profit agency: For lease; Come in, we’re open; Open house closing party Sept. 24, 1 to 3 p.m.
For the Hill family, those are signs of the unknown about what will happen to their son and brother. Jonah, 31, is legally blind, with two-per-cent vision in one eye, and is mentally challenged.
He has been working at the Bike Peddler for several years, the last three or four of which he has been going four days a week.
On Sept. 30, his Bike Peddler career ends.
“It was a sad day when we had to take his tools home,” said Terry Hill, Jonah’s father.
“We go to work every day. He goes to work every day. He loves it,” said sister Amanda Hill.
Despite Jonah’s lack of vision, he has learned to take bikes apart and put them back together again. For his work, he gets a small ‘paycheque’ that doesn’t interfere with his government pension.
The Hills are huge supporters of The Bike Peddler program. They’ve seen what it has done for Jonah’s self esteem and feeling of self worth.
“I have seen him grow in leaps and bounds. I never expected to see him using tools to built or take things apart, but he does. He's made friends and is very friendly and sociable. He loves his work and takes great pride in it. I have taken great pride in seeing all of his accomplishments,” his sister said.
They don’t want it to end, nor do they know what alternatives Jonah will be offered. They are also unhappy with how the closure was communicated, with some caregivers of program clients getting letters a few weeks ago and some not.
Kamloops Society for Community Living executive director Gail Saunders said Friday The Bike Peddler is the last of the agency’s employment programs. Already gone are the Paper Chase and Rainbow Ribbons.
The Bike Peddler’s building came up for lease renewal, which is when it was decided to close the program, she said.
“It’s outlived its original purpose,” she said. Those who attended learned bike-repair skills as well as how to deal with customers.
“Over the years there’s fewer and fewer people who can and will do that work. Younger people want genuine employment.”
Saunders thought the program was 20 years old, but Terry Hill thought it was older than that.
The program started with eight workers, but it has dwindled to four or five.
“They’re aging, they’re expressing interest in wanting to do other things. We just thought the time has come.”
Saunders said the goal these days is to find actual employment for as many people as possible.
“We’re looking at individualized services for people now, and we will build some kind of a support system that reflects their desires,” she said.
”We’re not abandoning the support needs of people, we’re just trying to meet individual needs. Some people spend their whole lives in programs like that. They never get to try other things.
“It’s not a financial decision, by any means. It’s a philosophical and moral decision that we need to offer something better to people and we need to respect everyone’s wishes.”
David Hurford, communications director with Community Living B.C., said it’s up to each community society to decide what programs to offer.
CLBC was paying for five spaces in The Bike Peddler, and the funding for programs is still with those five participants, he said.
“They’re trying to find other options for these folks,” he said.
He hasn’t seen a trend away from programs like The Bike Peddler, but there is an effort to match clients with jobs that fit their interests and abilities.
“If there’s a trend, it’s toward a more individualized-customized jobs,” he said.
There are still programs like The Bike Peddler around the province, including in restaurants, recycling, pet grooming and farming.
The Hills are concerned because the looming change means a disruption in Jonah’s routine — a routine that’s important to him.
“He’s losing this thing he has such pride in. He has his tools, his lunch kit. It’s normal. This is what everybody does,” said Amanda Hill.
“Being an active part of the community through volunteer and work programs allows them to not only contribute to the community, but to learn work and life skills, to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work, and give them incredible amounts of happiness and self esteem.”
Terry Hill said Jonah has tried working in a few businesses, and it didn’t work out. He’s worried about the impact on his son when The Bike Peddler closes for good.
“There’s not much for him in the world, with being blind and mentally challenged.”