White Birch Special Needs Day Program is introducing a new and exciting feature to their building for members of the community to enjoy – the Birch Shoppe.
The White Birch Special Needs Day Program was developed in 2014 by Carlo Summaria as a space for all adults with special needs to attend and enjoy classrooms set up with computers, books, crafts and other activities for each individual.
Located in Palgrave, the program treats each and every person as family, and aims to create a warm and welcoming environment for all those with special needs.
The day program runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m., five days a week, where activities are presented throughout the day to allow for mental and physical interaction. Alongside the Day program, transportation is available for participants to and from. One on one support is also provided if wanted.
Once a month, a movie respite night is held for participants to join the staff at White Birch for dinner, activities and a movie. How fun!
White Birch, like many other organizations, has had its share of challenges since the pandemic began, but an opportunity arose for an ongoing thought to become a reality.
“I was sick and tired of watching what I created over the past seven years die because of the pandemic,” said Carlo Summaria. “I have been racking my brain since July to try and come up with something different. The store idea, actually, I’ve had for a few months now, and I was just trying to find the right location.”
Fortunately, he found that perfect spot inside their own building.
“In the midst of finding that, I got word that we had a room in our building that was still zoned under a retail zoning from a few years back,” he continued.
The room was in much need of sprucing up, which allowed not only staff, but White Birch participants to come lend a hand, allowing them to become a part of the process.
“I’m always trying to do more [with] these guys,” said Summaria. “We thought, we’ve had a good group of participants stick with us during the pandemic, we’re going to reward them with giving them a little bit more purpose and something to do, and to finally give back to their community instead of always benefitting from it.”
White Birch participants have been joining staff and helping with organizing locally sourced products and renovating and building furniture needed for the shop.
“It’s going to be a farm store, so we’re going to be catering more towards groceries than gifts and stuff like that. It’s all local suppliers, stretching maybe an hour or two from Caledon,” explained Summaria. “The idea is that everybody’s going to have a hand in the shop, whether it’s stocking shelves or working behind the cash register. It’s going to be friends helping friends.”
Because of the pandemic, the program has been continuing on and doing well, without the help from the province.
“I didn’t want to see what we’ve done together dissolved because of low numbers,” said Summaria.
Alongside allowing participants an opportunity to have further purpose and to give back, the store itself aims to give back to the community by collaborating with local business owners by featuring and encouraging customers to purchase their products.
Because the pandemic’s restrictions don’t allow gatherings, the Birch Shoppe isn’t able to host an official grand opening. Instead, the team organized and sold Birch Boxes for customers that were packaged and organized by White Birch participants. Staff and participants just can’t officially open and bring something new and exciting to the community.
“We’re opening up something real. Our goal here is to keep that local feeling going. I don’t want people to come shop because we’re a daycare for adults with special needs,” said Summaria. “I want them to come because they want to try the products and know they’re going to see some great smiling faces behind the counter.”
Located at 17090 Regional Road 50 in Palgrave, the Birch Shoppe will officially open their doors on March 1.
For further information on the Birch Shoppe or the White Birch Special Needs Day Program, please visit whitebirchdp.com.
Alyssa Parkhill, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Caledon Citizen