Surrey Association for Community Living celebrates 60 years

Surrey Association for Community Living celebrates 60 years

Non-profit organization has supported people with disabilities since 1958

If you walk through the doors of the Surrey Association for Community Living in the morning, you will be welcomed with a hive of activity.

The non-profit organization, which has provided support services for children and adults with developmental disabilities for 60 years, was a vibrant hub when the Reporter visited ahead of their anniversary celebration.

A tour of the recently renovated building, located on 56A Avenue across from the Museum of Surrey, revealed not only extensive upgrades but also how proud SACL members are of their association.

As executive director Coreen Windbiel took the Reporter from room to room, introducing each person warmly, association member Carlo Trasolini pointed out upgrades with a contagious excitement. Here is the boardroom, here is the new microwave, here is — have you met so-and-so? they’re a friend — and here is the new outdoor patio that overlooks Cloverdale, with a great view of the town centre.

Surrey Association for Community Living executive director Coreen Windbiel and Carlo Trasolini.
Surrey Association for Community Living executive director Coreen Windbiel and Carlo Trasolini.

Samantha Anderson

In each room, participants in SACL’s adult day programs were getting ready for a busy day. Seniors were headed to bingo, a group was packing a car to go on their paper route, a room of folks were exercising. Through open doors, staff members sat in their offices working to keep the gears running smoothly.

All told, SACL has about 190 staff members (including full-time, seasonal and contract workers), and the organization supports about 150 adults and 300 children throughout the year.

From summer camps to employment services, respite care to teen vacations, SACL assists people with developmental disabilities live the best life possible.

As Windbiel explained, the building gets a lot quieter after 9:30 a.m. or so, as everyone goes out in the community, participating in recreation programs, volunteering or working.

It’s the foundation of the association, and it has been since it was founded in Cloverdale 60 years ago — people with disabilities should be included within their own community.

The organization was founded in 1958, at a time “when somebody with any kind of disability, whether it was physical or developmental, was born, doctors would say, ‘Put them in Woodlands,’” she said.

Woodlands was a psychiatric facility in New Westminster that ran from 1878 to 1996. Its residents were found to be the victims of horrific abuse in a 2002 report created by B.C.’s ombudsperson.

“But there were parents who said, ‘No, we don’t want our kids to go into an institution.’ That’s how community living agencies started. It was parents. Parents who wanted their children in the community,” said Windbiel.

SACL began with school programs, and focused on education, recreation and development programs for the first twenty years. In 1977, SACL opened a sheltered workshop called Clover Valley Industries — the beginning of the association’s employment programming.

In the early 1980s, SACL began to open residences for children and adults. In 1988, when Woodlands began to gradually de-institutionalize, SACL created more group homes and inclusion programs, and launched a respite program to support families.

Today, SACL runs three group homes and an extensive home share program. (When adults with disabilities age out of the foster care system, they can choose to move into the home share program.)

“Group homes aren’t for everyone,” explained Windbiel. “We’re big on choices, we’re big on respect.”

“Our main focus here is to make sure that our guys get included in the community. And that means [they get to choose] if they want to live semi-independently or if they would like to live with a family, or on their own.”

“We want to make their life as inclusive as possible, because that’s just the way it should be,” she said.

Windbiel has been with the association for 30 years — and many of her staff have been with SACL for decades as well.

“Once I started here, I never left. It was just something I absolutely loved,” she said.

“I love coming to work every day. It’s always fun. Even the difficult stuff — we work together as a team to work it out.”

Like many long-lived organizations, SACL has changed over the years, moving towards a respectful, inclusive future where people are treated with the dignity they deserve in the larger community.

Windbiel said in the next decade, the association will be working towards securing more employment opportunities for its members, whether it be part-time work at local businesses or customized placements, and they will pursue more housing opportunities in order to provide more semi-independent living and home share options.

The Surrey Association for Community Living celebrated their 60th anniversary on Thursday, May 16, with a flash mob and barbecue.
The Surrey Association for Community Living celebrated their 60th anniversary on Thursday, May 16, with a flash mob and barbecue.

Samantha Anderson

The association can focus on jobs and housing because its strong, 30-year partnership with the City of Surrey ensures that people with disabilities have access to community programming. “In the last five years, the City of Surrey has been hiring their own support staff for community programming,” said Windbiel, explaining that its an outlier within the Lower Mainland, where “no other city does that.”

“They have their own department now that is completely dedicated to supporting individuals with disabilities,” she said. “We can step back, because we know that the City of Surrey will always be inclusive.”

As SACL moves into the next decade, it brings its mission of respect, dignity and inclusion with it.

It was visible on a recent Thursday afternoon (May 16), when SACL held a barbecue and dance performance at the association’s main building on 56A Avenue. Members of the association, their friends, family members and co-workers, all came together on a pleasant afternoon to move to music and enjoy a meal together.

The anniversary celebration kicked off SACL’s rodeo weekend itinerary — locals may have seen members, in their new green t-shirts, at the Cloverdale bed races or the rodeo parade.

If you see someone from SACL out and about in the community — and chances are you will, as that’s the society’s mission — be sure to say hello.

To learn more about the Surrey Association for Community Living, its programs and how to partner with the organization, visit

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