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Richmond's HandiCrew offers more than income

The cooperative partnered with LUSH for its holiday promotion
Suzanne Jackson of RSCL (left to right), Emin Jassal, member of Handicrew and Michelle Cambruzzi of LUSH hold up the Christmas Bubble Wands.

Heather Langridge barely looks up as she deftly wraps pink string on what looks like a wooden lollipop stick. She then strings a bell on it, and with a big smile, triumphantly looks up.

Im the fastest in the group, said the 32-year-old member of the Richmond HandiCrew Cooperative about the soap wand.

The province has declared October Community Living Month, a time when the skills that people with developmental disabilities can offer their communities are celebrated.

The News is highlighting a couple of the many programs and services offered by the Richmond Society for Community Living. This feature about the Richmond HandiCrew Cooperative is the first of a two-part series.

The cooperative began five years ago and is owned and operated by its employers the members.

The HandiCrew is a social enterprise staffed and owned by about 20 people with disabilities and supported by RSCL, said RSCL manager, Lisa Cowell.

Recently, LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics hired our members on a short-term contract basis to help on its pre-production of its holiday season promotion [putting together the wands].

The HandiCrew offers its members so much more than an income, said Suzanne Jackson, RSCL employment specialist.

Working on the crew helps the individuals improve their skills, become more independent and self reliant, and, more importantly, they gain confidence and build their self esteem, she added.

Its also a way for our members to reconnect with friends they might have known in other programs, such as Transitions, as well as make new friends.

Tuesday, around the table of busy Magic Wand Bubble Bar workers, laughter and chatter abounds.

Bobbie (Barbara) Abbott has been coming to the RSCL office at least three times a week to work on the wands.

I love it its cool and we are like one big happy family working together, she said, adding the money is great too. Im saving my money to go with my caregiver to Las Vegas.

Last year, we went to the Philippines with what I made last year (with HandiCrew).

The crew began the project on Sept. 11. As of Oct. 2, they have already produced 10,770 of the contracted 16,000 pieces. Because the team has worked so diligently and ahead of schedule, LUSH asked if the HandiCrew team would produce an additional 5,000 pieces for the Toronto market.

Michelle Cambruzzi, manager of the massage department at LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, said the company is delighted with the partnership. Its been a great partnership which has exceeded our expectations. We have invited them to make additional pieces for Toronto because they are so advanced in their West Coast pieces. Its the first time weve partnered with the society and it has been a real eye opener for me. Its great to see the good work they are doing.

Emin Jassal, 22, is a newcomer to the cooperative. Shyly, she said its her first paid job. I wanted to do something because I wanted to save money for the Diwali Festival. It makes me feel good that I can work, and bring home a paycheque.

Because Jassal has limited use of her hands, it was challenging at first, but she soon realized her forte was putting the bells on the sticks.

HandiCrew members take on two to four hour shifts, Monday to Friday. We alternate shifts and most members work one or two days a week because they have programs they attend as well, said Jackson.

Whats nice about [the LUSH] contract is that its not physical, which means we can open up more opportunities for those who are more physically disabled.

The HandiCrew Cooperative has nearly 35 contracts. The members typically receive minimum wage as well as profit sharing.

Some, like the LUSH contract, might be a one-off, added Jackson. Someone might call us up to fix a fence, clean a garage or even take a large appliance for recycling.

There is five RSCL employment staff that work directly with the HandiCrew and theres always one of them supervising the job site.

For more information about the HandiCrew, call 604-241-4113, email or visit online at

Next week, the News covers the Tree House Early Learning Centre, a daycare in Steveston that integrates RSCL children with children in the regular preschool program.