Not your average car wash crew

Disabled adults develop life skills in Oak Bay, one police cruiser at a time

Tommy

It’s noon on a bright Sunday in December, and while many people were out Christmas shopping or sitting on the couch watching football, Andrew and Tommy are hard at work.

Using a long-handled brush, Andrew methodically scrubs the body of an Oak Bay police cruiser. Following closely behind, Tommy uses a hose to rinse the vehicle clean of soap. But the job’s not quite done. Grabbing a bottle of glass cleaner, Andrew opens the car’s doors and wipes down the interior of each window.

One down, three to go.

Andrew and Tommy visit Oak Bay police headquarters every other weekend to wash and detail the department’s fleet. “I mostly do the hose, the rinsing,” says Tommy confidently.

The men are clients of the Community Inclusion Roads program. Community Inclusion is a private company contracted by Community Living B.C. that provides life-skills training and employment opportunities to adults with developmental disabilities.

The program’s employment specialist, Judith Smith, stands to one side watching the men work. She is impressed with the system the pair have established.

“It’s been really good for both of them,” she says. “They’ve both learned how to make a friendship, and who’s doing what. They worked that out themselves. That’s terrific co-operation.”

Smith first approached the police a little over a year ago with the proposal that Roads program clients clean cop cars for the same rate as the department would pay at a commercial car wash, and they’ve been more than happy with the results.

“It’s been working out really, really good,” says Deputy Chief Kent Thom. “They’re extremely thorough, very meticulous in everything they do, and I think I can safely say our cars have never been cleaner.”

For Andrew, who lives in a Saanich group home, the job is one of four he has thanks to the program. Due to a hearing disability, his primary method of communication is through a hardcover journal, in which he exchanges written messages with his employers.

“Thanks for all your hard work and dedication, and have a Merry Christmas!” reads one entry.

In addition to providing a source of income, such jobs also help program clients develop valuable life skills, including money management, nutrition, computer use – even yoga.

Tommy and Andrew take public transit to work – Andrew proudly shows off a dog-eared bus schedule – and the pair have developed their communication skills in dealing with the officers who are on duty when they arrive. Smith says Tommy in particular was “very shy” when they began.

“I would show up for the first four or five weeks with them, and work with them, and talk to the police for them,” Smith says. “And I’d go, ‘Tommy, you’re going to have to do this.’

“It’s taught him to speak up.”

An hour after starting, four police cruisers are sparkling and the cleaning equipment has been neatly piled by the station’s back door. Smith produces a Christmas card, in which she has Andrew and Tommy write well-wishes and messages of gratitude to the police department.

Showing how far they’ve come in the year since they started, the pair knock on the door and shake hands with the officers who emerge.

“Merry Christmas,” says Tommy. “Thank you for the job.”

editor@oakbaynews.com

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