Nova Scotia

N.S. rehab centre opens convenience store that's almost entirely run by clients

A rehabilitation centre for people with intellectual and physical disabilities in Kings County has opened a new convenience store that's almost entirely operated by clients.

Fully accessible store opened in Waterville last Monday

Friendly Neighbours Convenience Store opened in Waterville, N.S., last Monday. It's located next to the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre. (Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre/Facebook)

A rehabilitation centre for people with intellectual and physical disabilities in Kings County has opened a new convenience store that's almost entirely operated by clients.

The goal is to teach life skills and further interaction with the community.

"The Friendly Neighbours initiative is a community-based store specifically for the purpose of clients to be able to come down and shop in the community in a safe and supportive environment," said Lacey Baxter, the lifestyles program manager at Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Waterville, N.S.

"And it also [gives them] the opportunity to work in the community in a safe and supportive environment." 

Baxter said the rehab centre purchased the former site of a nearby convenience store last spring, with the plan to restore it to be fully accessible and operated by the clients.

Store manager Cathy Lewis and Lacey Baxter, the lifestyles manager at the centre, have been working on the Friendly Neighbours Convenience Store since last spring. (CBC)

The store opened last Monday after more than a year of construction and preparation.

"This has been so meaningful to [the clients] to have the opportunity to integrate in the community and connect with the community," Baxter said, adding that employment for clients is limited.

Learning new skills

Baxter said clients have been fully involved with the development of the store. They've learned about permits, the building process and also helped name the store.

Four clients have been hired so far. They've been training for months, and have learned how to prepare for shifts, answer phone calls, wait on customers, order stock, restock shelves and how to budget their own money.

"There were a lot of clients that were really surprised by some of the things that they actually could do in the end," said Cathy Lewis, a centre service co-ordinator and the store manager.

"And so that was really, really encouraging for us that we were on the right track. Oftentimes, if you raise the bar, they will come to the task and exceed it and that's what's happening here."

Lewis said support staff is always at the store to help when needed, but it's mostly operated by the clients.

Fully accessible to clients, community 

Lewis and Baxter made it a priority to make the store fully accessible to clients and the community.

"We've always really tried to stress the importance to the clients that this is their store," Baxter said. "And in order to make it their store, it had to be accessible to them." 

The store is located about a five-minute walk from the centre, allowing clients to visit without public transportation. It also has a ramp entrance, automatic doors, wide aisles for wheelchairs and an accessible work space.

The Friendly Neighbours Convenience Store is fully stocked with bread, milk, frozen food, snacks, baking ingredients and even some craft supplies. (Submitted by Lacey Baxter)

Lewis said the store being accessible allows all clients the chance to shop for themselves, rather than relying on others.

"It's all very worth it when you come down to see them being able to manoeuvre their wheelchairs around and look at everything and make those decisions that they've never been able to make before," she said.

'It's pretty cool'

Lewis said the employees are already starting to recognize regular customers. "It's been phenomenal. It's been so nice. The community has really embraced this," she said.

Nelson Ross, a new employee at the store, said that's one of the reasons he wanted to work there.

"I get to meet new people and people that I know," he said.

Nelson Ross is a resident at the Kings Regional Rehabilitation Centre. He is one of four clients working at the Friendly Neighbours Convenience Store. (CBC)

He also wanted to use his new job as a way to learn important skills.

"I like it down here. It's very fun for me to be down here," he said. "We get to learn more skills … it's pretty cool."

The store is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., although the centre is hoping to expand its hours of operation as more employees are hired in the coming weeks.

Lewis said everyone is welcome to come check out the new store.

"The clients are so proud of the work that they've done. They're so proud of the way things look," she said.

"They've been included in every step of the way so they would love just to meet people."