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A place for the learning-disabled to create

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Karen Lehr paints a birdhouse for DASCH's gift store on St. Anne's Road during the official opening Wednesday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Karen Lehr paints a birdhouse for DASCH's gift store on St. Anne's Road during the official opening Wednesday. Photo Store

From the outside, it doesn't look like anything special -- just one of three units in a nondescript, retail strip mall on a busy St. Vital street.

But looks are deceiving, because there's definitely something special going on inside Unit A, 154 St. Anne's Rd.

The unit, which takes up nearly half of the building, is home to the Scrap Came Back by DASCH, a new gift shop/artists' workspace that is the brainchild of Direct Action in Support of Community Homes (DASCH), a Winnipeg-based organization that is one of the province's largest residential and program-support providers for youth and adults with intellectual disabilities.

People such as Karen Lehr, a bubbly DASCH client who likes to made pottery and decorate birdhouses when she isn't working at a local seniors home or "hanging out with my roommates" at one of the many DASCH-run houses in the city.

"This is like a hobby, but I look forward to doing it for DASCH," Lehr explains to reporters as she carefully applies paint to the outside of a birdhouse made from old barn boards. "I find it relaxing and it's comforting. I just love it!"

Lehr was one of more than 30 DASCH employees, clients and invited guests who were on hand for Wednesday's official grand opening of the Scrap Came Back, which is a play on the name of one of local entertainer Fred Penner's most popular songs -- The Cat Came Back.

"The opening of this store is a wonderful extension of what we do in so many ways," DASCH CEO Karen Fonseth Schlossberg explained. "It not only provides a place to come and work and display art, but it also represents an enterprise, a team environment, a sense of purpose and a place to develop confidence."

Fonseth Schossberg said DASCH clients come there to learn how to create artwork, crafts and gift cards from recycled materials donated by the public -- things such as old, wooden-handled shovels, pieces of scrap metal and wood, pine cones, feathers, paint, ribbons and glue.

The products they produce, along with pieces the shop sells on consignment for other local artists who work with recycled materials, are sold in the gift shop. Some DASCH clients also work as cashiers and sales clerks in the store, which is open from noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday.

Between 700 and 800 pieces of artwork, ranging in price from $5 to $300, were on display at Wednesday's grand opening.

Scott Smith, director of programming for DASCH, said 70 per cent of the money raised from the sale of the artwork goes to the clients and artists who created it, and the remainder goes to DASCH to help purchase homes with wheelchair accessibility for disabled people moving out of institutions and into the community.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 B8

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