Open Sky opening opportunities

A deeper look into Sackville’s non-profit

Open Sky Co-op (OS) is a non-profit organization aiming to “Foster Inclusive Communities.” It is located right here at home in Middle Sackville. OS was founded in 2011 with the goal of offering opportunities and skills to young adults experiencing barriers to employment due to Autism Spectrum Disorder or mental health challenges. The OS team supports participants by teaching valuable life skills through various services offered, including gardening and taking care of animals on the farm. With two donkeys, four goats, and a few dozen chickens, OS is a safe space to learn, grow, and have fun, too.

 

The dedicated staff members and passionate participants of OS make it a sanctuary. Peter Stephenson, a Mentor at OS for three years, facilitates gardening and farm chores with participants, and models “resilient behaviours, creative problem solving, and overall good coping mechanisms directly related to success in the home and workplace.”

 

Rebecca Tower has worked as a Mentor, Kitchen Manager, and Assistant Farm Coordinator at OS since the fall of 2020. In these roles, Tower works with participants on a daily basis in various domains, especially in the kitchen for their two-times-a-day communal snack, a valuable time for learning and bonding between Mentors and participants. Tower is also in charge of the health and well-being of the animals, teaching participants “what is involved in caring for animals (feeding, water, vet care, safety) as well as helping them to become aware of changes in animals that might warrant further examination or observation.” A huge part of OS is the animals that “help us with our mental health and well-being, so spending time interacting, grooming and loving them is also one of the best parts of my day,” says Tower.

 

Arguably the best parts of OS are the participants, who each bring their own skills, passions, and interests to the group. A few participants were asked about their experiences at OS, and the reviews speak for themselves.

 

Harris McSheffrey enjoys cooking, feeding the animals, and taking the chance to perform here and there to help advance his music career. As a participant since 2016, McSheffrey said that “inclusive, transformative learning opportunities” were his favourite part of OS, and he has also had the chance to learn about entrepreneurship. 

McSheffrey is not the only participant dipping his toe into the world of business, as Isaac Lee has already been attending business meetings in the few short weeks since he started at OS. 

 

Jesse Anderson is also learning valuable business skills while he manages wholesale orders and works on developing customer relations, a key to success at OS. Anderson has been working at OS for a year now and loves “interacting with the new friends I have made at OS. They really understand me.” 

 

Included in those friends are the furry ones too, especially Mocha the goat who, Anderson said, “rubs up against my arm like a giant cat.” Mocha seems to be a fan favourite, as Greg Wessell also said he was his favourite creature. Aside from caring for Mocha, Wessell specializes in yard work, housework, and gardening, and he loves working with all the lovely people at OS. 

 

Christy Watts, a participant of 10 years, plans and hosts events for everyone at OS and is also “involved as an OS board member and some committees.” Watts’ favourite fur friends include the donkeys, Ophelia and Lily. Nicole Brine and Allison Borden agree that the best part about OS is seeing their friends and that baby goat Joni is a highlight of their visits to the barn. Brine particularly enjoys making lunches with Tower, “doing art, working with animals and gardening,” while Borden likes gardening and caring for the animals. 

 

When asked what his favourite part of working at OS was, Stephenson said: “seeing the world through [the participant’s] eyes. I enjoy their success and their learning process.” Tower truly enjoys “the supportive and inclusive community that is the essence of OS.” This compassionate community values individual strength and collaborative communication, and in the words of Tower: “It is also amazing to be a part of learning about how to develop relationships with the land we live on and the animals that are also a part of our community.” 

 

It is for this reason that Dr. Barbra Clayton’s students from her Advanced Studies in Eastern Thought seminar are currently volunteering at OS–to be involved in the Sackville community and learn how to better care for animals and the planet. 

 

It is evident that OS is a valuable part of the Sackville community, so how can Mt. A students get involved? Stephenson says that OS “love(s) our interns and summer students,” positions of which are available through Mt. A’s Experiential Learning program. “It is a great opportunity to get dirty and hands-on with fresh food and make lifelong friends and contacts,” he said. Aside from summer employment opportunities, volunteers are welcome. OS gives volunteers the chance to garden, cook, and gain experience in animal care. Given that OS’s goal is “to build community and connect with the community we live in and beyond,” working or volunteering at OS as a Mt. A student is an excellent way of bringing Mt. A and Sackville’s worlds closer together. As Tower says, “There is such a welcoming atmosphere, warmth and magic to OS that you feel when you walk through the door.” Whether you are a participant, student, or curious guest, OS welcomes all with open arms.

 

In the words of Stephenson: “It is a challenge to know someone’s strengths and potential but to also be aware that modern society is not the safest space for them,” highlighting the importance of organizations like OS to provide opportunities for all members of society. Tower also agrees that meeting “the diverse needs of everyone in our community” requires immense adaptability and resilience, as staff members have to “step outside of ourselves and be open to listening and thinking about how we do things through a new lens or perspective.” She said that while challenging, “creating a sense of belonging and community is foundational to who we are and what we do.”

 

OS’s mission “means doing the tough work of checking our biases, privilege and ego at the door each day and honestly facing our group with loving spirits and open minds,” says Stephenson. If you are curious to learn more about what OS does, are interested in their services, or simply need some farm-fresh eggs, head on out to 12 Folkins Drive, Sackville, or visit the OS family at openskyco-op.ca



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