BURNABY, B.C. – What was once a Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI) day program is transforming into a triple-bottom line business employing 12 people.
Called BC Woodworks, the social enterprise that hires people who have a disability or barriers to employment is producing high-quality wood products ranging from Adirondack chairs, tables and park benches to wine boxes and gift boxes.
The furniture is made from re-claimed western red cedar and pine-beetle stained wood, turning what some would deem “waste” into valuable and aesthetically-pleasing products.
Since it rebranded from the Grape Box in March, the company has been doing brisk business, filling orders for wineries in the Okanagan and Vancouver community garden boxes and bulletin boards.
“We’re getting out there,” says Teri Kanner, who joined BC Woodworks in January to help with sales and marketing, adding the company is busy until the end of November.
She says the company is now looking to its next stage of growth with plans to produce new products and employ more people.
While it’s rewarding to see the products get picked up, watching BC Woodworks shift to a work environment that provides paid employment for people with disabilities is most meaningful for Kevin Lusignan, BACI’s senior manager of social and economic inclusion.
He says BC Woodworks underwent a strategic planning session last year, creating a path forward that includes hiring more people, and having staff receive regular reviews and opportunities to advance.
“This is a business. We support our staff, but we’ve raised the bar and there are expectations,” he says, adding the profits from the social enterprise enables BACI to rely on less government funding.
Master carpenter Pratap Singh has been with BC Woodworks for more than 20 years. He says the wood shop is demonstrating what’s possible for people who have a disability. He remembers starting off with BACI when woodworking was still a program. People were making bird houses, and pictures frames but not much else.
It was Pratap who encouraged the organization to invest in new machinery that would enable people to build more complex products. They started building tables for a day care, and picnic tables for BC Hydro.
“It feels good,” says Pratap. “They didn’t think we could do this. These guys have come a long way.”
One staff member, Stan, has been with BC Woodworks for 24 years. He can operate almost every machine, and takes pride being able to support other staff members.
“I enjoy working, having fun, and playing jokes on the others,” he tells BACI Blast.
Eric is one of the newest staff members at 19. He demonstrated woodworking skill in high school and was recruited to join BC Woodworks.
“The first benefit is self-esteem and happiness,” says Pratap, on changes he’s seen in people working at BC Woodworks. “Their families are also happy, and employees are known in the community.”
For Janine, a second-year joinery apprentice working in the shop, the experience has been eye-opening. She says she feels incredibly lucky to have her apprenticeship at BC Woodworks, where she’s learning from people who have a developmental disability.
“These guys teach you a lot. They have so much to offer,” she says.
To learn more about BC Woodworks, click here.