In 1988 professor John McKnight from the Northwestern University in Illinois was invited to Prince George by their local Association for Community Living's (ACL or Aimhi) executive director Lorna Dittmar to initiate a project based on his community building philosophy. John had spoken at the BCACL Annual Conference in Vancouver in 1988 that Lorna had attended. Aimhi was providing services to people with intellectual disabilities and struggling to integrate them into community.
According to John a strong community is one where everyone participates and contributes. Contributions are based on ones capacity to give of their gifts and abilities. Communities are weakened when we isolate people because of their deficiencies and disabilities. An example of this would be mandatory retirement, which devalues and discriminates against a person's age, which has nothing to do with their ability to do their job well. The person who may want to continue to work is denied. As a result society has lost this person's contributions often resulting in their isolation and decline in health. This is the same for people with special needs. In order for them to feel valued they need an opportunity to contribute and participate in community, resulting in their acceptance and self respect. Al Etmanski, the executive director of the BCACL, funded John's visit to two communities in British Columbia: Prince George and Powell River.
John's first order of business was to find a citizen leader in Prince George to build the project around, someone well respected and connected in the community. Lorna introduced him to Bob Harkins who accepted his invitation to building a stronger community. Bob was a city councillor, radio and TV personality who knew just about everyone in Prince George.
John started visiting Prince George regularly in February 1989, monthly for the first year and bimonthly for the second year. Under John's direction, Bob gathered a group of friends and formed the Joshua Committee. Aimhi funded a coordinator's position and referred a few people with special needs to meet with the committee to befriend and connect into the community, to break down the walls of isolation around them.
The coordinator's position was independent of Aimhi, under John's direction, and was temporarily filled until Sandra Nahornoff was hired December 1989. John directed Sandra to strengthen the support group around Bob, resulting in the first board of directors and the incorporation of the group into the Project Friendship Society.
The first board of directors included Reverend Lance Morgan, pastor of the First Baptist Church and founder of the PG Ministerial Association; Bob Buxton, of PG Rotary; and Aimhi's President John Unsworth, PG Symphony Orchestra Conductor; and Director Al Wells, fellow Rotarian; and Lorna Dittmar. Aimhi continued to refer more people and by 1993 the society became a registered charity with referrals coming from other service agencies in the community.
John has always maintained contact and support of the society and often invited Sandra to speak with him throughout the US and Canada of the connection work accomplished in Prince George. Many directors have come and gone over the years. Lance is a past president and Barbara Harkins is the current president who is keeping Bob's legacy to building a stronger community in Prince George.
Project Friendship Directors 2004
Project Friendship Directors 2002
Project Friendship Directors 2000