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Project Profile: Aspire Richmond

Aspire Richmond, formerly known as the Richmond Society for Community Living, has a rich history of supporting individuals with developmental disabilities. The organization was founded in the early 1980s by a group of parents who wanted to provide their children with more opportunities for development and growth beyond institutional living. Richmond’s largest non-profit social service provider, Aspire supports over 1000 children each year to live thriving, connected, happy lives. 

Aspire Richmond’s philosophy is rooted in the Community Living movement, which emphasizes the importance of community inclusion for all individuals, regardless of their need for additional support.

Over the years, Aspire has expanded its programs and services to include early intervention services, supported child development, employment services, and expanded housing options for adults. The organization’s goal is to help each individual develop the skills they need to achieve independence and well-being. Whether it’s through after-school care or adult residential programs, Aspire offers a continuum of care that allows individuals to dream, plan, learn, and grow.

We spoke with Carrie McLellan-Haqq, Director of Children’s Services at Aspire Richmond, to gain insights into her inspiring work in child care and to learn about her successful career. Our collaboration with Carrie and the Aspire team allowed us to provide Natural Pod furniture solutions for several spaces in their organization. With over 25 years of experience, Carrie has advocated for inclusive child care and early intervention services for children with developmental delays/disabilities. Her background in Special Needs Early Childhood Education and experience in community living agencies make her an invaluable leader in many SCDP committees and a key facilitator of training throughout the province.

What inspired you to be an educator?

Growing up my neighbour was an Early Childhood Education Instructor at our local Community College, and I learned a lot about the education side from her. My Mom through her women’s sorority group volunteered at a place called Carey House for adults living with physical disabilities. In my teens, I volunteered in the community centre’s children’s programs. My interest in working with children that had developmental disabilities grew from those early experiences.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?

I work for Aspire, an agency that supports people with developmental delays and formal diagnosis through their life span. I enjoy the ongoing relationships that are formed with children and their families. I’ve been working in this field for a long time and when a child who is now all grown-up is living a fulfilled happy life, it truly makes me happy.

How do you see education changing to meet the needs of children?

In the Early Childhood Education field, there are many different philosophies for children’s learning. In  Aspire’s Child Care Programs our learning spaces are Reggio Inspired, Emergent Curriculum. Through the Early Childhood Pedagogy Network, we have a Community Pedagogist that supports the educators and children on a pedagogical project/inquiry, to think together the curriculum and pedagogy, and to think with educators about their engagement with the BC Early Learning Framework.

Were your students involved in creating the learning environment? Tell us about it…

Aspire recently expanded our Children’s Services Department and opened Seedlings Early Childhood Development HUB. Seedlings has Early Intervention Services and 107 inclusive child care spaces under one roof. In preparing for the 5 new child care programs, we ordered the basics through Natural Pod: tables, benches, and shelves. Once Seedlings Child Care was open in April 2022 and children began playing in the space, we ordered additional pieces of furniture based on how the children utilized the space. We chose natural wooden furniture as we wanted the children with their energy and creativity to dictate how the space is used. Given that we’ve outfitted all our child care programs with Natural Pod furniture, there is flexibility to move the various pieces from program to program. It allows all children in Aspire’s programs access to the same safe, fun and durable pieces that Natural Pod offers.

What was your experience creating your learning environment(s) with Natural Pod?

Opening Seedlings Early Childhood Develop HUB was a big undertaking. Knowing that there were supply chain issues due to the pandemic, we wanted to plan as far ahead as possible. We began discussions with Natural Pod two years before the HUB opened to review drawings of the floor plans and to begin creating the space. The design team at Natural Pod helped with the final decision process on what we ultimately ordered. The Natural Pod furniture evaluates the spaces, making them engaging and enjoyable.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I want to thank the Natural Pod design team for the support they provided to create the child care learning environments. Each environment turned out beautifully and is truly loved by the children and their family and staff!