Airdrie Abilities Centre provides opportunities for special needs teens and adults

Story by Jim Zang

Fall 2023

According to their website, the mission of the Airdrie Abilities Centre (AAC) is “to assist and ensure that all individuals receive the support they need to be actively and fully involved in the community. Airdrie Abilities Centre is committed to creating equal opportunities to support and demonstrate the strengths and abilities of people with special needs.”

In 2014, the organization obtained it’s non-profit society license and has been using donations to offer life skills programs as well as arts and crafts. In 2020, AAC became a federally-registered Canadian charity, increasing their ability to offer participation through community engagement endeavors.

It all started back in 2011, with Barbara Woolsey driving a Handibus within the District of Rockyview. As she got to know the teenage and adult riders, they would talk about how they were looking for activities for special needs individuals.

Family members would talk to Barb about their need to find activities that were more social and interesting to adults – and before you know it, she went from driving the bus to driving programming in Airdrie for individuals with special needs to be able to socialize and try new things. Family members and volunteers eagerly came forward to help coordinate and provide assistance with the activities (AAC has no employees, only volunteers), and the beginnings of AAC were born.

From those early days of reaching out to the Airdrie community, church groups, businesses and the City of Airdrie asking for donations of venue space, supplies, cash or volunteers to provide a social meeting place and an activity one day a week, to offering programming Monday to Wednesday, AAC is now a Canadian Registered Charity, providing up to 200 events annually, Monday through Friday, 50 weeks of the year.

Programming has grown to include events with local artisans, musicians, magicians, dance and movement instructors, craft persons, and small businesses, all coordinated by volunteers and supported by donations from individuals, community groups and businesses in Airdrie and surrounding communities. There are also family events to celebrate holidays, and road trips to farms and ranches, with anywhere from 30 to 100 people in attendance.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Barbara and Robert Woolsey’s commitment to the cause, as both remain deeply involved, Barb as president of the organization for the past 10 years.

Specifically, AAC assists any Special Needs Individuals age 15 and over who are being phased out of their current education/support system to find ways to engage in activities within their community. Participants currently have limited access to local programs that are not geared towards education or some form of therapy and are looking to socialize and participate in activities that promote their individuality and independence. They want opportunities to make friends, find a job, move out on their own, get a pet, create personal relationships, get married, and most of all, they want support for their life choices.

AAC coordinates events Monday through Friday for approximately 80 participants and their caregivers, depending on the activity and the time of year. Friday is bowling day and the average is 30 participants and caregivers. They have between 20 and 40 regular member participants during the week, depending on their personal schedule, interests, and the time of year, as colder weather brings increased participation in activities.

Some of the activities offered include:

  • Music and singing
  • Arts and crafts
  • Dance and movement
  • Games – indoor and outdoor
  • Healthy eating and cooking classes
  • Animal therapy
  • Laugh therapy
  • Magicians and balloon artists
  • Gardening
  • Community volunteer activities
  • Special event parties
  • Additional fee events: Cinema and theatre, field trips and bowling
  • Life skills opportunities for independence (in coordination with their parent/guardian/trustees): math for budget and banking, skills for employment, assistance with filling in employment forms, mobile phone assistance for applications for emergency contact and reading text out loud, assistance with understanding lease and employment agreements, assistance with applying for funding for the disabled.

Capacity for each event is limited to the venue location, with finding locations for some events becoming more challenging as Airdrie and the number of people using the organization grows. Currently, events are located at various venues, including Living Springs Church, Iron Horse Park, Daybreak Church and Shamrock Lanes.

Airdrie Abilities Centre is committed to creating equal opportunities to support and demonstrate the strengths and abilities of people with special needs, with the aim of being able to one day provide a dedicated, permanent space for any individual with a disability, and their families, to have access to services and activities, and to be a contributing member of their community and attain their own independence.

To that end, the organization is working on designing and building an Abilities Centre that can accommodate all of their participants’ needs, as some of the present locations, while appreciated, do not provide enough space or access for wheelchairs, or individuals with mobility issues.

The goal is to make Airdrie one of the most inclusive cities in Alberta – and you can help.

There are several ways to connect with AAC as a participant, volunteer, or donor.



Community Events: Watch for the AAC representatives at events like AirdrieFest, Canada Day Parade, and their Fund-Raising BBQ.