Chris Arnold, co-founder of the Provincial Networking Group Inc. and a nationally recognized employment advocate for those living with mental and physical handicaps, has passed away suddenly at the age of 48.
Arnold started PNGI with Marg Anderson in 1992, what was then a private consulting company that quickly expanded to include life-skills and employment support services to those living with developmental disabilities. Within 10 years the company held offices in Terrace and Kitimat, providing regular services to Prince Rupert, in addition to training and consulting services throughout the province.
PNGI’s current program director, Kristie Ebeling, says Arnold’s passing has had a deep impact on the PNGI family. “Our mission statement of ‘empowering people toward excellence’ speaks directly to who he was,” she said. “He was always encouraging us to be empowered and amazing. It’s tough to lose him. It’s a big loss.”
Last Monday friends, family and colleagues gathered at the Terrace PNGI offices to share their grief and offer support, brainstorming ways to honour his legacy.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, because he did so much as one person,” Ebeling said. “But we hope with 20 of us we can carry on what he started.”
Employment programs of Arnold’s devising are now used around the country, but his passion was always the one-on-one interactions with clients. With a masters in psychology, Arnold was prolific as an educator, lecturer and writer. In 2003 he released a book entitled Screaming for Attention: True Stories About the Puzzle of Human Behaviour, “to show that behaviour problems often happen for identifiable reasons, and understanding them is key to helping people improve their behaviour.”
In a long and personal letter about her brother on the PNGI Facebook page, Chantelle Adams reflected briefly on his book, saying the stories are but a small fraction of the many lives he affected.
“When everyone had given up on someone who was struggling, Chris was called in to help and always he was able to reach them, to make a difference, often changing their life and those who loved them forever…where most would isolate or punish individuals for their behavior, my brother loved and respected them and helped them feel seen, heard and then helped them be able to make massive progress in a positive way.”
Arnold last made the pages of this newspaper in July 2015 when he was recognized nationally with the CASE-Wiltshire Award of Excellence in Supported Employment.
One of many awards received in his career, he said this one was special as the award selection came from peers.
“People with disabilities are not well enough represented in the workforce,” Arnold said at the time. “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 year marks PNGI’s 25th Anniversary. “We support people with disabilities in life and at work,” Arnold recently wrote in an email to the Terrace Standard after the quarter-century accomplishment. “We have also been a local entrepreneurial business that has built successful businesses that are still operating today, like the CHILL Soda Shop and the Confidential Shredding Company.
To mark the anniversary, Arnold and PNGI had committed to giving back $2,500 to the two communities where they have offices.
“Our employees and the people we support came up with a list of people and organizations that deserve special recognition,” he wrote.
“We then set out over the past few months surprising them with everything from an $800 donation to the Terrace Community Foundation Fund, to a gift certificate for spa treatment for an amazing customer service staff at a local coffee shop. We have supported the Happy Gang Centre, Skeena Diversity, Kimmunity Angels, Hennies Giving Tree, The Kitimat snowmobile club, Save on Pharmacy, Rainforest wellness, a local firefighter, and more!”