His love for his developmentally challenged son inspires his passion and vision for an inclusive, accessible future for all.
Kimberly Smith was recently named Kings County’s Provincial Volunteer of the Year. Smith said he has “very naturally” stepped into his various volunteer roles and the pattern is very clear: His son, Brendon Purdy-Smith, has a severe developmental delay.
“Because of that experience and having to advocate for him anyway, it just was a very natural thing for me to start to work with all the other organizations that are in line with that kind of advocacy,” Smith said.
The 62-year-old Canning man has worked as an advocate for affordable, accessible housing and for equitable treatment for people with intellectual or other disabilities.
Smith has volunteered for the Community Association of People for Real Enterprise (CAPRE), the Alexander Society for Inclusive Arts, the Housing First Association, People First Kings County, L’Arche Homefires and Chrysallis House.
Smith said one positive aspect of receiving the award is that it will draw more attention to the worthwhile causes he is passionate about.
He learned of the recognition within a day or so of a documentary about his son being broadcast nationally on CBC. The piece focused on how Smith and his wife, Kathleen Purdy, care for their son and how it remains to be seen what will happen to him once Smith and Purdy are no longer able to do so. He said there are 1,500 families in this situation across the province.
Smith said this is just the tip of the iceberg when you consider demographics and the thousands of adults who are going to need care when they’re no longer able-bodied and not able to pay for it. He hopes the recent attention will stimulate more open, collaborative conversations.
Smith said his jaw dropped when he received a phone call from the municipality to let him know he had been selected Volunteer of the Year. He was “genuinely surprised” even though he was aware that a board member from the Alexander Society for Inclusive Arts had nominated him.
“It just seems like second nature that you step up and you do what needs to be done,” Smith said. “If stuff in the community needs to be taken care of, somebody’s got to show up.”
He was recognized at a provincial celebration in Halifax and then at a municipal celebration in Port Williams. Getting to share the experiences with his wife and son made the events very special. He particularly liked that all 23 Kings County nominees were equally acknowledged at the Port Williams celebration.
Smith said it was humbling and he felt a mixture of happiness and embarrassment to receive accolades for his efforts. He is appreciative of and grateful for the recognition but said that working toward positive change in the community is reward enough for him.
PROUD OF SMITH AS REPRESENTATIVE
Kings County Mayor Peter Muttart said there were a large number of people who were nominated and considered for Volunteer of the Year. Although all nominees are worthy of the honour, Smith stood out as exemplary. The municipality is proud to put him forward as the provincial representative of all Kings County volunteers this year.
Muttart said Kings County seems to have more volunteers per capita who contribute personal hours and demonstrate an emotional commitment to any number of worthwhile causes. Municipal government wouldn’t be able to function without volunteers and he views their contributions as irreplaceable.
“I don’t know if we are unique in this municipality, but when you look out there, the impression I get is that we are unique,” Muttart said.
Although volunteerism seems to be declining in some areas, which is regrettable, he said this isn’t the case in Kings County. People continue to step up. It could have something to do with the number of small, close-knit communities that thrive on volunteerism and generate volunteers.
“Whatever we can do to foster that and never, never allow the light to dim, we should be doing it,” Muttart said.
VISION BEYOND GHETTOS
Kings County Volunteer of the Year Kimberly Smith says the word “independence” is antisocial because we are interdependent no matter what.
He prepared a document for a recent housing summit entitled “Vision Beyond Ghettos.” It outlines elements necessary for inclusive neighbourhood design and a shift away from the current practice of living in social silos or ghettos.
Smith said his son has been on a waiting list at L’Arche Homefires in Wolfville for nine years. He said people who are in a crisis situation tend to get moved first and this is why Brendon hasn’t received a spot yet.
Since there are so few places such as L’Arche available, people are getting taken away from the communities they’ve known all of their lives to the closest facility.
“This is the challenge we have in Nova Scotia, that we haven’t invested in building the infrastructure we need to take care of each other properly, and so we’re really behind,” Smith said.
The summit focused on the crisis in residential options for people with developmental disabilities and involved organizations such as the Community Homes Action Group, the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living and the Autism Society.
In his submission, Smith wrote that the built environment, construction and real estate markets in Nova Scotia are major impediments to genuine inclusive culture. Building codes and zoning must be updated to enable Nova Scotia to renew, rebuild, and invent thriving mixed-use inclusive communities. Smith said the co-housing movement shows great promise but Nova Scotia is not prepared for supporting blended residential, commercial and green energy-producing neighbourhoods for people of all incomes, ages, abilities, races and cultures “living in harmonious interdependence.”