Overcoming some access issues at Forward House in Parksville

A new concrete pathway has been poured off the alley behind the house, leading to a deck onto the back door

Mobility-challenged clients will soon have an easier time accessing the services of Parksville’s Forward House, thanks to a donation from Knox United Church and a provincial rehab grant.

“We’ve been here almost two years, and we have stairs in front, stairs in back,” said Sharon Welch, executive director of Forward House. “No matter which way you go, there has just been no way to get someone with mobility issues into the house.”

Now, however, a new concrete pathway has been poured off the alley behind the house, leading to a wheelchair-, walker- and scooter-accessible deck onto the back door. The final piece of construction, which is expected to be completed in March, will be replacing the sliding door off the deck, which currently does not permit passage of a full-sized wheelchair, Welch said.

Funding for the project, which will include a second phase of interior renovation, started with a seed donation of $3,200 from Knox United Church. Forward House, which provides day programs for clients with mental health and addiction issues, leveraged that funding to obtain a $4,377 B.C. Rehab grant.

“Almost all of our clients live independently still,” said Welch. “But we are seeing more and more using canes, and some driving scooters to the house.”

To that end, a scooter parking area has been cleverly created in an alcove of the new deck.

Welch said the need for mobility-challenged access was driven home one day late last year, when a client awaiting hip and knee replacement surgeries arrived to negotiate the four steps to the back door.

“Even with two people helping her, she was in tears as she came in and out,” said Welch. “That just reinforced the need.”

She said a member of the community has donated a small, folding wheelchair to Forward House, so wheelchair-bound clients may temporarily access the building with volunteer help by transferring from their larger chair to the donated unit.

Phase II of the project will be the changing of some interior walls and widening a bathroom doorway to allow passage of a wheelchair, she said. When the project is completed, Forward House hopes to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We’re hoping it’s going to be completed in its entirety in mid-April,” said Welch. “That’s the goal.”

Forward House, which works in partnership with a variety of area social service organizations, is funded primarily through Island Health, along with community donations and $20,000 in grants Welch was able to secure in the past year. But funding challenges remain.

“We just had to purchase a new trailer last year, and there’s just not a lot left to get a truck,” said Welch, who hopes community donations can help offset the need. To learn more or to donate to Forward House, call 250-954-0785.

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