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Richmond society celebrates 40 years with a name change

Aspire Richmond - formerly Richmond Society for Community Living - will hold a gala on May 26 with the goal of fundraising for a new playground at Treehouse.
Marla Pattern has been accessing programs at Aspire Richmond - formerly Richmond Society for Community Living - since she was a child.

Forty years ago, families were asking that their children with disabilities could live in the community – not in institutions – with proper supports in place.

Hence the name “Richmond Society for Community Living” was given in 1989 to an organization originally called “Richmond Society for Special People.”

These parents wanted their kids to have a good quality of life and be integrated into society like their peers.

But after 40 years, people with developmental disabilities in Richmond are largely integrated into society – many attend regular school, have jobs, recreate and volunteer.

So, it was time to change the name of the society again.

Its new name is now “Aspire” to reflect what its clients want to do – aspire “to be seen as contributing members of society,” explained Lisa Cowell, manager of community development with Aspire Richmond.

Aspire Richmond will hold its annual gala on May 26.

The society’s gala was last held in 2019, and then the pandemic hit.

In 2020, there was a virtual gala – which included all guests receiving a meal delivered to their homes.

But in 2021, the society felt there was “virtual event fatigue” and the gala wasn’t held.

Because this year marks 40 years since the founding of the society, Cowell said its gala theme will be about “coming back together.”

The gala will also be a fundraiser for the original child-care space run by the society – Treehouse, which needs a new playground. The existing one is from 1999, and is a sorry state, Cowell said.

The society received a $70,000 grant from the federal government, and they now need another $70,000 to build the new playground.

Families lobbied for support

The Pattern family moved to Richmond in 1973, and, at that time, there was little support in the city for their daughter Marla and other people with developmental disabilities.

The Vancouver-Richmond Society for the Mentally Handicapped – currently called Developmental Disabilities Association (DDA) - was mainly operating in Vancouver, but did help Richmond families.

“We needed help, we needed understanding, we needed lots of different things,” Pattern said, adding “parents can’t do it by themselves” and need to connect with people going through the same issues.

“There’s strength in that,” Pattern said.

Much of the support they did receive was grassroots – meeting in church basements or people’s homes - but families felt government needed to step up to help their kids, Pattern said.

DDA helped the Richmond parents organize and what is now Aspire Richmond was born.

The society was a place where families felt heard and Marla’s needs were met, Pattern explained.

Over the years, Marla has been able to access a wide variety of their programs, including employment, volunteer work and leisure activities.

But the most valuable has been the “home share” program.

As a young adult, Marla was adamant that she wanted to be independent and not live at home.

Through the support of the society, Marla has been able to live in a variety of home share programs - even Marla herself said this is the most important thing that Aspire did for her.

As Pattern and her husband are aging, they see community support through Aspire as a “safety net” for Marla.

“If something happened to me, they would step up,” she said.

But there’s always more work to be done.

More employment needed for people with developmental disabilities

While a lot of support and programs are available to Marla and her family, Pattern said she wishes the community would step up more to offer employment to people with developmental disabilities.

“Everyone needs to be valued and needs a place in the community,” Pattern said.

Marla can’t work full-time, Pattern said, but a job with four-hour shifts three times a week is doable for her.

Marla has worked for HandyCrew – doing landscaping and cleaning as well as delivering the Richmond News.

HandyCrew is a Richmond social enterprise that does contract work for various companies. People with developmental disabilities can be part of the work crew while getting support and supervision while gaining work experience.

Tickets still available. 

Aspire Richmond’s gala “The Benefit of Possibilities” will be held May 26 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Radisson Vancouver Airport Hotel.

Tickets are $125 each and available by calling 604-279-7040 or emailing