Selkirk students host inspirational conference
Selkirk College Transitional Training students from across the region put together an inspirational three-day conference earlier this month that showcased the talents of differently-abled adults.
Called Branching Out, the conference featured 19 different presenters and 18 workshops between May 12 and 14 at Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus. More than 120 participants took part in the conference that was geared towards practitioners, instructors and families of adults with diverse skills.
The conference was opened by Nelson-based student Natasha Bidinoff-Gardiner who set the tone for the three days with her touching words.
“We didn’t ask to be born with a disability or to be physically injured or physically abused, but it happened,” Bidinoff-Gardiner told the audience gathered at Mary Hall. “We are judged and mocked. But instead of focusing on picking on each other’s weaknesses, why not learn to work together, accept each other and collaborate to make life beautiful.”
Bidinoff-Gardiner explained that the seeds for the conference were planted two years ago by her classmate Summer Clement who wanted to host an event that would deal with topics relevant to people with disabilities. In 2013, the Transitional Training classes – part of the Adult Special Education (ASE) Program – hosted the auction at the Selkirk College Gala and raised more than $12,000. It was those funds that helped provide the ability to host the conference.
“We wanted to prove to ourselves and to others how truly able we are, in fact how truly remarkable we are,” said Bidinoff-Gardiner. “We decided that rather than waiting for others to do for us, we would do for ourselves.”
One of the keynote speakers at Branching Out was Ean Price, an inventor, entrepreneur, board director, volunteer and founder of ICAN Resource Group Inc. Born with Muscular Dystrophy, Price discussed what self-respect and respect for others means to him as a differently-abled adult and how people can improve life through increased respect.
The conference featured workshops in massage, communication, fire safety, self-defence, entrepreneurship, dealing with stress, yoga, cooking and more. There was a gala banquet at Nelson’s Mary Hall, a dance and plenty of opportunities for social engagement.
“The entire event was inspirational for all because it was so positive,” said Allison Alder, the Chair of the Selkirk College School of Academic Upgrading & Development. “It will have a lasting impact in the community as the event’s inclusivity and the students’ capacity continues to ripple outward. Everyone had shivers and tears hearing first-hand what it’s like to live with a disability in our society. Many new bonds were forged and ideas hatched.”
Selkirk College offers Transitional Training classes in Nelson, Castlegar, Grand Forks and Trail. The classes enable adults with barriers or disabilities learn to participate more fully in daily life within their communities, including preparing for paid or unpaid work. With a mission to nurture interdependence and independence through meaningful learning, the program builds upon unique personal strengths, confidence, awareness and skills.
Bidinoff-Gardiner has been in the Nelson class for three years and has helped organize three major events during that time. The 22-year-old completed her core high school classes in the program and with a passion for singing hopes to be admitted into the Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program. The closing words of her opening address at the conference had the audience on their feet.
“We are hoping this information will soak deeply into your minds and hearts,” she said. “We want people to understand that we are part of this world, and we deserve to be respected and to be loved. Let’s not forget about the message of this conference and take up this challenge to make a difference to brighten the world.”
All four Selkirk College Transitional Training classes were instrumental in organizing the Branching Out Conference. Organizers were assisted by the generous sponsorship of Columbia Basin Trust, the Grand Forks Rotary Club and Community Futures Boundary.
Learn more about Transitional Training at Selkirk College at selkirk.ca/program/ase.