Chris Arnold remembers fondly some of the positive results his employment program has had for people with hindrances to employment, a career for which he recently won a national award.
One client could finally afford to travel down to Vancouver to see a Canucks game and visit an old friend, while another client used his newly learned landscaping skills to start his own business.
For 25 years, Chris has helped people with employment barriers, be they mental or physical, enter the workforce through the social agency he co-founded called the Provincial Networking Group, and was recently awarded the CASE-Wiltshire Award of Excellence in Supported Employment.
Arnold cofounded the Provincial Networking Group Inc. with Margaret Anderson back in 1992, but his understanding of communications with the disabled, including sign language, goes farther back.
He originally began learning sign language in high school, during which time he had a friend who needed an interpreter.
Born in Fort St. John, Arnold has now lived in Terrace for 25 years, and has been building on those original skills and developing a business career of it at the same time.
The recent award is one of several he has earned over the years because of the success of his supported employment program and other qualifications such as having written a book called “Screaming for Attention – True Stories about the Puzzle of Human Behaviour.” The number of people with hindrances who entered the workforce through Provincial Networking impressed others in the field, and the success has translated into invitations to talks at various conventions.
“I’ve spoken in Calgary, Halifax, Winnipeg, all at these national conferences, and we have spoken up in Alaska and Vancouver a lot. We talk about the innovative work we do, our model. Even though it’s a small rural community, a lot of the strategies we developed here are being used in Halifax and Calgary, and all these other places because of speaking at conferences and things like that.”
He also trains people with disabilities in visual and gestural communication and also offers training to people who live and work with those who have behavioral disabilities.
“Unemployment rates for disabilities are very high and it has been for a long time,” said Arnold.
“People with disabilities are not well enough represented in the workforce. Lots of people with disabilities have the ability to work to some degree. If they are working they are earning income, paying taxes, they are contributing. If they are not, they are on disability, they are receiving support, all of that. Employment is such a huge point of any of our lives. When you meet somebody it’s like ‘what’s your name, what do you do?’”
“This one is really neat. It’s a group of our peers who chose us,” he said of the award. Unfortunately, he adds, funding was cut off for supported employment last year and his company has had to close that service, but he hopes it will one day return.