B.C. Community Shares its Gifts in Response to Poignant Social Issue

New Westminster residents taking part in the celebration/launch of Kudoz on Jan. 29. Photos: Jay Leung, MicrowavePhotography

B.C. Community Shares its Gifts in Response to Poignant Social Issue

New Westminster takes on ‘poverty of novelty’ in lives of people who have a developmental disability

In New Westminster, B.C., more than 100 community members, including the mayor, recently signed up to host voluntary learning experiences centred on one of their passions, hobbies, skills or an experience they’ve had. Mayor Jonathan Cote, for example, is offering a behind-the-scenes-tour of city hall.
 
By sharing their gifts in this way, community members are responding to a poignant social issue — the lack of novelty, learning and experience in the lives of people who have a developmental disability.

 
  Sharing a talent for breakdancing at the launch/celebration of Kudoz on Jan. 29.

Making this sharing possible is Kudoz, a self-described social startup.
 
Kudoz came out of three months of on-the-ground research in a social housing co-op by an international consultancy, InWithForward. The team moved into the building and found ways to speak to each family in order to learn about social isolation, a very real problem in Vancouver.
 
“We met everyone, by any means necessary: ice-cream delivery, breakfast in bed, dinners, happy hour, coffee in the parkade, decorating the elevator, fixing household items. We heard their stories and got to know their daily rhythms,” says Satsuko VanAntwerp, an InWithForward partner.
 
It was that research that revealed that, beyond loneliness, it’s the dearth of novelty, learning and experience that is drying up the souls and lives of people who have an intellectual disability. “(We found) they had people in their lives, but they were often the same people, or were paid to be there,” Satsuko says.

 
   

Kudoz features an online catalogue of experiences community members have offered to host.
 
People who have an intellectual disability can peruse the catalogue and sign up to participate in an experience. The opportunities are as diverse and intriguing as bread making, learning how to decorate on a budget or changing engine oil.
 
“It’s an opportunity for people to try something out that they never knew they’d like or be good at, to shift course, to discover a new passion, and to find meaningful roles in the community,” Satsuko says.
 
People can earn badges for completing experiences. Kudoz provides support to hosts who wish to boost their hosting/teaching skills. And there’s a chance for everyone to debrief at Reflection Cafes.

The Most Energizing

Satsuko is currently most energized by the interest people have expressed in having experiences that would help them understand more about their specific disability.

  “Experiences that allow self-exploration on this level are a new development, and we couldn’t be more excited to deliver experiences around these requests.”
— Satsuko VanAntwerp
   

“For example, people living with autism are asking for someone who knows more about autism to share their know-how. This is big,” Satsuko says.
 
“They’re coming from a system where often they were given labels and diagnoses but that aren’t explained very well. So having people want to not only go deeper, but to know more about the things that directly impact them is so exciting. Experiences that allow self-exploration on this level are a new development, and we couldn’t be more excited to deliver experiences around these requests.”
 
The community can be a tremendous learning place, if we only have ways to access that learning. Kudoz offers a promising pathway to do just that.

The Next Level

The Kudoz team still has many questions, however, as they seek to move the initiative to the next level.
 
“Many of our questions are at the individual level as we get to know a Kudoer and learn about their dreams and aspirations and consider what experiences might help them get there,” Satsuko says.
 
“We’re also asking lots of systems-level questions, exploring what will work best for recruiting hosts, how can we visualize progress for Kudoers through their online profile, and what can we do to ensure the quality of experiences get better and better. Our goals for getting Kudoz to the next level are part logistics, part tech and part philosophical.”
 
Satsuko also notes the team had a hard lesson this month: “we need to stop trying to do everything. We were trying to build, test, and fine-tune transit support, the online experience catalogue, the booking system, host recruitment, family involvement, profile making, you name it.”

 
  A unique drawing skill gets shared.

“As a team, we’ve reached clarity on what we need to be focusing on right now versus in the next six months to a year. This has meant we’ve had to be narrow our scope, including being pickier about who can become a Kudoer at this stage,” Satsuko adds.
 
“In order to move things to the next level, where Kudoz can be a learning platform for all, we have to figure out how to make it work for some. We are grateful for all our supporters and are excited to keep working together to create a revolution in learning.”
 
To learn more about Kudoz, including its recent sold-out launch party called Resolutionary, click here.

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Michelle Strutzenberger

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