Our vision is for all people with disabilities living in Nunavut to achieve independence, self-determination, and full citizenship in their communities.Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society
The Inclusion Café launched this past summer at the Alianait Arts Festival, and has since expanded in capacity and capability to provide ongoing catering services to a diversity of clients. Since its inception, the Inclusion Café has been involved in some of Iqaluit’s biggest events, including Nunavut Day, Relay for Life, Atii Fitness Centre’s 10th Anniversary, and a recent community dinner that took place during Toonik Tyme.
To learn more about the initiative, I stopped by the Iqaluit Food Centre (formerly known as the Iqaluit Soup Kitchen) on a snowy spring evening. Inside the kitchen facility – bustling with food preparations – I sat down with Carolyn Curtis, Volunteer Coordinator and author of the blog, Inclusive Iqaluit, to ask how it all began, who is involved, and what the plans are for the future.
Inspiration behind the Initiative
The idea behind the Inclusion Café came about during an Inclusion Conference hosted by the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society in 2012. Carolyn noted that at the meeting, “Everyone seemed most concerned about employment opportunities [for people labeled with a disability], and identified it as a major issue here.” Participants discussed successful initiatives that were taking place elsewhere in Canada, and decided to pursue a way to not only provide work experience and training, but also create long-term employment for people with disabilities.
The Inclusion Café seeks to provide Nunavummiut facing barriers to employment due to the label of disability with the opportunity to acquire essential work-related skills and attain flexible, dynamic, and meaningful employment at a fair market wage.Bethany Scott, Volunteer
Carolyn explained that they liked the idea of a café because it would allow the employees to interact with the community and see the rewards of their efforts. She emphasized that, “We wanted something a lot more visible, because a lot of our employees are sometimes overlooked in this community and we wanted that to change. We wanted them to give. They have a lot to offer.”
Hence, the Inclusion Café was started, first as a subcommittee of the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society, and now as a major project that operates as a non-profit social enterprise.
People behind the Project
The Inclusion Café relies a team of dedicated employees and volunteers. At the moment, there are approximately 11 employees – more than doubling the amount of staff that was involved when the project began. Offering a helping hand are a dozen or more volunteers who help bake treats, cook meals, organize work, and publicize efforts. They meet weekly during their regular Tuesday night shift, as well as on an as-needed basis.
The Inclusion Café is also lucky to have some fantastic local partners. Carolyn mentioned that Lester-Landau and the Rotary Club generously donated some start-up funding for equipment and wages to help get the project off the ground. During its pilot event, the Inclusion Café partnered with Alianait to cater the 2014 Arts Festival, being provided a space to sell food to festivalgoers in exchange for providing food to volunteers. The Qayuqtuvik Society, who regularly utilizes the Iqaluit Food Centre for its free meals offered to Iqalummiut every day of the week, graciously shares its much-needed kitchen space. But it doesn’t end there. As Carolyn said: “We consider any group that hires us to be a partner.”
Foundations of the Food
In keeping with the inclusive spirit of the Café, menu options are diverse and cater to the needs of each client. That includes being respectful of both dietary needs and price points. When asked what sorts of catering they’re most interested in providing, Carolyn was welcoming to whatever opportunity may come their way, saying that, “It’s really open. We want to be flexible, and we’re able to do that here.” But whether it’s traditional country food or contemporary lemon meringue tarts, the focus is on homemade fare that tastes delicious.
So who is the culinary mastermind behind all of the deliciousness? That would be Carolyn, though she’s quick to point out the teamwork of everyone involved. Carolyn has developed a top-secret recipe book that features recipes from her own family as well as her favourite food blogs. But it’s not just a matter of compiling ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions – Carolyn adapts each recipe so that it is simple and easy to follow. That means many visuals and minimal text, which facilitates cooking and baking for employees at all levels of literacy.
Secrets to Success
So how has the Inclusion Café grown to be where it is today? Well, it has had at least a few things working in its favour.
It doesn’t take long to realize this: the Inclusion Café is a fun place to be. From the moment I walked in the door, I felt welcomed by the group. Carolyn sees this as a huge benefit of the initiative, saying that the employees and volunteers “feel a sense of inclusion” and “get to be themselves.” She also said that volunteering “is a nice way to escape at the end of the day, where everyone has this energy of learning new things and wanting to be included.” Oh, and they listen to great music, like Old Man Luedecke, which brought back memories of my first Alianait concert.
From employees to volunteers to menus to clients, “inclusion” is not just part of the Café’s name; it is the foundation on which the initiative is built. You can truly tell that Carolyn sees the world through an inclusive lens, and speaking with her for just an hour opened my eyes to the opportunities for inclusion that are all too often missed.
Carolyn was grateful for the reception that the Inclusion Café has received from the community. The local catering opportunities keep the team busy, and sometimes even exceed the capacity of the staff! The community dinner was also a huge hit, and brought together many Iqalummiut, including elders as well as members of City Council.
Plans for the Future
The Inclusion Café has a come a long way in a few short years. But Carolyn says the team has a vision of what it would like to accomplish in the future, including a dedicated physical location that is not only a kitchen facility but also a community space.
Another area for progression, which is not uncommon to this type of work, is increased capacity. Carolyn noted that there are limitations to relying on volunteers, and that a full-time coordinator would go a long way in terms of increasing output. Further to that, Carolyn also hopes to build a larger volunteer base so that they are able to hire more employees.
Beyond logistical operations, Carolyn wants the Inclusion Café to demonstrate to employers more broadly that there is an untapped workforce in town that is ready, willing, and able to do good work – it’s just a matter of flexibility and meeting people where they’re at.
But more than anything, Carolyn plans to keep an open mind, saying that “I think it’s always surprising, the direction that we’ve gone in. We would have never anticipated this in the beginning. We’d like to see what the community really wants and what succeeds and go from there.”
Interested in Getting Involved?
Try them out! The Inclusion Café offers a range of sweet and savoury eatables that are handmade, healthy, and delicious. You can hire the Inclusion Café to meet you catering needs by contacting Wendy Ireland, Executive Director of the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society, via phone (867-979-2228) or email (email@example.com).
Lend a hand! Carolyn noted that it is not the clients that were lacking in number, but rather the employees and (perhaps more so) the volunteers to offer support. Tuesday nights are baking nights at the Inclusion Café, and they are always looking for volunteer support staff to help employees create delectable treats. The standing shift is held at the Iqaluit Food Centre (Iqaluit Soup Kitchen) from 5:30pm to 8:30pm each week. Interested in helping out? Either contact Wendy (see above) or simply drop by.
I would like to extend a huge thank you to the employees and volunteers – especially Carolyn –for taking the time to share their story with me.