A new pilot program at the Pemberton & District Community Centre promises to take down barriers for people with diverse needs.
Beginning in January, Whistler Adaptive Sports Program (WASP) will offer a Leisure Buddy program at the recreation centre.
The trial program, which has funding for six months, will pair paid or volunteer "buddies" with people of all ages with physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities.
"The buddy is there to help model good behaviour and to focus the children, youth and adults on the task at hand," explained WASP director Chelsey Walker.
They can also help "break down" complex instructions, and help ensure that participants "interact at an appropriate level with their peers."
Staff and volunteers who will be working with participants will be trained to specifically work with individuals with various diagnoses.
WASP believes the program will allow for greater participation in adaptive sport by residents of Pemberton and its surrounding area, and would like to see the program serve as a bridge to participation in other adaptive programming.
As part of its business plan, WASP has allocated $825 for a sports supervisor, whose role will see them oversee the intake of the families, recruit and schedule volunteers, help train volunteers and provide support, as well as another $260 for volunteer training.
The organization was recently awarded $3,000 from the Pemberton Valley Utilities & Services Committee, and is looking for a further $2,000 from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.
The total budget for the pilot program is $5,000.
Walker said she has already seen strong demand for the program, and that WASP would like to "find sustainable financial support on a long-term basis."
Pemberton's Leisure Buddy program is based on a similar program that WASP has operated in the District of Squamish since 2017.
Walker said that municipalities are increasingly looking for ways to encourage sport for people with diverse needs, and partnering with an organization like WASP, with its long legacy of making sport accessible, makes sense.
Moreover, this isn't the first time WASP has worked in the Pemberton area, having offered paddling, fitness and yoga classes for the past several years.
WASP has already identified approximately 15 individuals who could benefit from the program, but Walker said there are likely more people in the area who could participant. (The program is open to qualifying individuals of all ages.)
She added that WASP is eager to gain strong participation from the Lil'wat Nation, saying that WASP is working with school administrators in Mount Currie to encourage participation.
Like in classrooms—where advances and more teacher support is resulting in more students with diverse needs attending regular classrooms—having a diverse community people recreate together is important for child development, said Walker.
"Everybody is on the spectrum—that's way they call it a spectrum," she said. "We all display unique behaviours. The more inclusive and accessible we can be through this type of program ... the stronger our society will be."