A snowy journey into 'uncluttered now-ness'

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 17, 2004

I first met Bill Nike a few summers ago at Cochrane's Shakespeare in the Park. Performing in Much Ado About Nothing, he was bringing life to delightful imagination.

A few weeks ago as winter made its tempestuous entrance, I spent a day with Bill in quite a different role. As executive director of The Venturers Society of Calgary, he was doing much about something – he was affirming life in the distressing reality faced by persons with developmental disabilities.

The genial white-haired humanitarian picked me up at 8:30 sharp. School buses on their morning arrivals at Cochrane's Glenbow Elementary school were bearing snow-capped witness to the driving conditions that awaited us.

But Bill had commitments to keep with his Venturers teams spread from Fish Creek Park to Kananaskis Country, so I hopped into his toasty-warm 4×4, and off we went on an inspiring journey into – as Bill puts it – "uncluttered now-ness."

Bill founded Venturers 18 years ago out of quality-of-life concerns for the developmentally marginalized, typically excluded from mainstream job opportunities. He was convinced of the value of meaningful employment such persons could experience in natural environments such as parks and woodlots.

With the support of government and service groups, he created work teams of five participants and a team leader each, all male now, and arranged for them to undertake projects such as fire-hazard reduction, trail and bridge building, fencing, and construction of small buildings.

On this increasingly snowy day it would be my privilege to meet some of the participants personally and understand why Bill is so passionate about Venturers.

We grabbed a coffee in Bragg Creek and headed east to our first destination: Fish Creek Provincial Park.

Located in the southern outskirts of Calgary, Fish Creek is Canada's largest urban park. It is also the site where two of Venturers' seven teams were constructing a garage and workshop. Over coffee, team members told me proudly about the Memorial Bench Program installations and maintenance they were responsible for in conjunction with Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park Society.

The snow had let up by the time we reached Camp Horizon, west of Bragg Creek, our second stop. A Venturers team was already at work shoveling the many paths at this Easter Seals camp that specializes in outdoor adventure programs for adults and children with disabilities.

Bill had team members take me on a tour of some of their contributions, including renovation and construction of buildings and recreation facilities. It was with great satisfaction that they hiked me up to the high ropes challenge course which they helped design and build.

When we arrived at Elbow Ranger Station, our third stop, it was lunchtime. Team members were gathered around the table in a spacious, well-equipped workshop they had built with their own hands. When the shop was dedicated some years ago, Bill told me, parents were in disbelief that their developmentally-challenged sons could have achieved something so significant.

A special treat for me was to meet Mel Laine, one of the older team members at the table. In 1972, while on leave from the Canadian Navy, Mel was run over not once, but twice, while hitching a ride to Edmonton. His long struggle back from massive brain injury is the subject of Edna Lissett Hunter's 1989 book, For the Love of Mel.

Our final stop was at a Bragg Creek acreage where two teams were clearing a stand of trees. Bill explained that Venturers often takes on private contracts for clearing trees and shoveling walks for landowners and small businesses in the Bragg Creek area. When we arrived at the acreage, the teams were reducing trees to a pile of chips. At one point, tempers flared momentarily, but were quickly calmed through the team members' collective response of "time out."

As we headed back to Cochrane, Bill helped me put the emotions and achievements of the day in perspective.

"It's about presence," he said, contrasting the human component with project products. "The ephemeral" – the moment-by-moment experiences of self-worth, anger management, and happiness – "outweighs the concrete." Venturers participants live in the "now," and we are called to join them in the "uncluttered now-ness" of their life journeys.

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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