Building job skills is a game for Board-er Games staff

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

With provincial backing, Valley Adult Learning Association (VALA) is launching a new business venture that will allow it to teach job skills to clients in a setting that is flexible; suiting their needs.

Matt Smart has trouble with anxiety, making certain tasks that might be assigned in some jobs a challenge. He has had to give up jobs in the past because of this.

“I get a lot of anticipation anxiety,” Smart said. “So, many sleepless nights. I have issues with using the phone because I’m afraid. I don’t know why someone’s calling. Is something wrong? I’m always worrying about the job and what’s going on.”

Smart said there are some days where he is just unable to work because of his anxiety.

“There’s just some days where I’m having a hard time controlling the anxiety and I need to take a personal day,” he said. “I need to have a little more flexibility than just working 9 to 5, five days a week.”

VALA has received money from the Skills Development Fund created by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to start a business. They hope the business will be a training ground to help people like Smart, who have issues that hinder them from succeeding in a traditional work space. Program manager Alyce Elson said they also hope to make a spot for members of the community to come together.

“The concept that we’ve received funding for is to create a work skills centre,” Elson said. “But we also want to create a social space for the community and there’s a large need for people to have a place to socialize and connect.”

The setting for the program will be a place called Board-er Games. It’s a place for people to come together and spend time playing a game and enjoying bubble tea, which is not available in the area. Bubble tea is a tea-based beverage usually with milk and sugar. The primary feature is the balls or ‘bubbles’ made from tapioca that sink to the bottom of the cup.

The space will allow for VALA participants to learn job skills in an environment that allows them to cope in their required ways.

From Left: Program participants Shannon McFarlane, Tasha Wagner and Ryan Buckshot, with Program Manager Melissa Pearson, Program Assistant Angie Redford and Program Manager Alyce Elson. The Board-er Games logo was created by program participant KC Oster. -Allan Bradbury photo

“Our participants have disabilities and/or mental health issues,” Elson said. “ We have clients with a vast range of different needs. Some might have difficulty with depression, anxiety, ADD, ADHD. So we provide an accommodating and safe space and it’s a great way for them to enter the workforce with those accommodations and that understanding.”

For example, if someone with anxiety can have a safe space to decompress and have a moment alone to gather themselves, and then hopefully be able to get back to work.

Melissa Pearson is also a program manager with VALA. She said that all the participants self-identify with their disabilities or mental health issues, and do not have to present evidence of their issues. From there, VALA helps them to develop learning plans.

“We do individualized learning plans for each person,” Pearson said. “So sitting down with them and finding out what their goals are and what kind of success they want to have. Then what some barriers are that pop up for them that are preventing them from getting to those goals.”

Another participant in the program, Tasha Wagner is hoping to learn the skills she needs to help her start her own business and has already picked up some valuable skills even before Board-er Games opens.

“I’ve learned how to make a business plan, and budgeting,” Wagner said. “And marketing, we’re hoping to be at the Market Square.”

Board-er Games has been at the Rainy Lake Square on alternating Thursdays since the weekly markets began. The participants spend time talking to people about the centre and giving people a chance to play in a game of Scrabble taking surveys to grow their offerings and offer prize draws.

Troy Parks is another program participant. He came to the program via a focus group. He’s also hoping to learn about business development.

“I’d like to learn the aspects of the Board-er Games café that I can take into my own business in the future,” Parks said. “I want to start a multi-media production company. I’ve worked in economic development and I took film production in college. A lot has changed and I’m learning again and they’re helping me do that.”

Smart also is working on new skills.

“Everyone struggles with anxiety to some degree or another,” he said. “The only way to fix that is exposure and rebuilding confidence. So much of it is just conditioning yourself and becoming acclimated and adjusting. It’s a safe environment where I don’t have to worry where there are systems in place in case something goes wrong or if I’m having a bad day. So I can feel safe and comfortable to expand and grow and acquire the experience and confidence to be able to take the next step to a more permanent position.”

VALA has room in this program for 30 participants and there are currently 19. If anyone is interested in the program they can call 807-274-3553 or contact them via their website,

As Board-er Games prepares to open in fall, Smart says he is hoping to be able to host regular Dungeons and Dragons sessions there, hopefully on a weekly basis.

There are currently plans underway for a Trivial Pursuit night in August at the Rainy Lake Square. They would like to register six teams of four to six players. Anyone interested can contact Board-er Games via their Facebook page. The plan is to open at 328 Scott St. in September.