At Mistletoe and Ivy, GROW Studios woodshop showcases handmade signs, cheeseboards, and coasters. From left, GROW woodshop instructor and supervisor Nathan Ayer, with workers Darl Gamble, Dave Murray, and instructor and supervisor Jon Mains. Photo by Tiffany Edwards, Centretown News.

Craftsmanship market for people with disabilities

By Tiffany Edwards

GROW Studios, an Ottawa-based social enterprise, is working to empower and employ people with disabilities while showcasing their work at events such as Mistletoe and Ivy — a Christmas-themed sale held on Nov. 4 at the Bronson Centre.

GROW helps Ottawa tackle a pressing issue: according to a 2017 report from Citizens for Public Justice, people with disabilities are far more likely than other Canadians to face precarious employment and to live in poverty.

The report stated the need for a national anti-poverty plan to combat the effects on individuals. “Ultimately, this plan must be grounded in the dignity of all people and the well-being of individuals and communities.”

Part of Christian Horizons, a world-wide organization providing support for people with special needs, GROW employs 50 people with disabilities in its workshops.

For GROW, it is important “each person we work with has their God-given talents recognized and valued,” said Victoria Edwards, GROW’s business development coordinator. She said GROW’s goal is to create a sense of belonging in the community and inspired the second annual Mistletoe and Ivy event.

“We really wanted an event where the people we support would be showcased,” said Edwards. “(Mistletoe and Ivy) gives them an opportunity to see other makers and belong to that community of makers.”

“The money goes right back to the makers — they provide all the products,” said Becky Peck from GROW Studios’ jewelry division.

GROW craftspeople brought their jewelry, pottery, paintings and woodwork to the event. There was also a range of other vendors and artisans from across Ottawa who sell crafts of all kinds, from bath bombs to homemade jams.

GROW Studios supports various art forms, including pottery, woodworking, jewelry, repurposing, art and ink printing.

Nathan Ayer, supervisor and instructor for the GROW Studios woodshop, said employees come in most days for at least a few hours and transform wood into works of art. Instructors not only teach the skills, but help students get a feel for employment, he said.

GROW Studios also provides day services for people who can’t work the whole day. “Working the nine-to-five (day) can be pretty exhausting, so we try to have all these alternatives like working at different studios or recreation activities,” Edwards added.

In order to join GROW, “people would (have a meeting) with the managers and see what type of support they need,” said Edwards. From the assessment, they see whether GROW is suitable or if another place would be better.

Edwards said GROW’s goal is to help people bridge high school and the world of employment. It is an opportunity to “learn the soft skills and hard skills in order to get a job elsewhere.”

While some people would like to stay at GROW long-term, Edwards said that GROW wants people to eventually immerse themselves in the broader community.

Edwards says that in the future, management hopes GROW will open more studios across the city, as it already has with its woodshop.