It all started out simply enough. Eleven families, each with a child with disabilities, came together in 1965 with the common goal of creating brighter futures for their children. Living in rural Alberta, they found it challenging to access the resources that would be available in urban centres. Rather than uprooting their families and farms and moving to Edmonton or Calgary, they sought to create supports closer to home. They gathered in St. Paul, a community two hours’ drive northeast of Edmonton that had a growing reputation as “A People Kind of Place.”
At the time, the chances for kids with disabilities were limited, particularly outside of larger cities like Edmonton or Calgary. But these families wanted more, and formed the roots of what would later become the St. Paul Abilities Network, a charity supporting children with special needs from across Northern Alberta. The new network offered hope close to home for rural families.
Within a decade, SPAN successfully developed a school for children with special needs, as well as a group home for children whose families lived outside of St. Paul in more remote communities or on farms. As time went on, SPAN’s scope expanded to match the needs of its growing student body and maturing graduates. Vocational training and day activities were created, offering graduates and other adults with disabilities the chance to make quilts, placemats and wood products for sale in the community, with the ultimate goal of offering meaningful activities and social interaction for individuals with disabilities.
Over the years, these initiatives grew into a collection of social enterprises that helped to support SPAN’s operations. Today, SPAN is focussed on those activities which provide opportunities for disabled individuals, from supportive living options to employment in a catering company – a person centred focus to support a full life in community.