Community focus ~ Hedley’s Foundation Years

In 1973 Len and Jean Roberts, founders of the One Way Adventure Foundation, began with a simple booth at the Cloverdale Rodeo.

Len and Jean Roberts

Len and Jean Roberts

In 1973 Len and Jean Roberts, founders of the One Way Adventure Foundation, began with a simple booth at the Cloverdale Rodeo. They offered camping, cycling and canoeing expeditions. A probation officer liked their vision and on behalf of her Surrey office, negotiated with them to operate an extended program for youths on probation.

Soon probation officers were dropping their most recalcitrant adolescent clients off at the Roberts home.  With these often rowdy youths assembling in their back yard each morning, anxious neighbours across the street peeked through slits in closed curtains, understandably concerned about their property and personal safety.

The Roberts took on workers and as their reputation for effectiveness increased, probation officers and social workers clamoured for more spaces to send youths.

Len quickly realized they would have to get some of these hard to manage adolescents into a more tranquil and secure setting. The Gold House and Colonial Inn properties on the outskirts of Hedley were derelict and available, and he was able to acquire them.

Just prior to the purchase, the Inn was seriously vandalized. One of the young vandals was placed in the Foundation’s Surrey program for other unlawful activities. Not realizing the Foundation had purchased the property, and wanting to establish a tough guy image, he foolishly boasted to Len about his part in the vandalism. Len immediately sent him to Hedley to help staff clean up and make repairs.

Eventually 4 programs operated out of the Hedley setting. The youths were assigned to work projects such as fence mending, building trails, cutting grass etc. In time there were food prep, mechanics, retail and riding courses.  Rigorous back packing and canoeing expeditions, skiing, rock climbing and rappelling were added to the mix. Most students attended the Foundation school.

Needing space for programs and storage, Len managed over time to buy several empty, derelict buildings. Although not charismatic in the usual sense, he was able to explain his vision, purpose and methods in a manner that appealed to individuals eager to devote their lives to a significant purpose. The work was often arduous and the pay wasn’t great, but workers continued to come and stay. Several youths, after completing their program, were accepted into a one year training course for young workers hoping to be employed by the organization. Upon completion, the Foundation hired them.

Liking its highly effective approach combining work skills development, academics and wilderness expeditions, the government contracted for day programs in Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon.

Possibly it was the organization’s success and acquisitions of neglected buildings that aroused the ire of a small cadre of elderly men in Hedley.  For several years they plotted to discredit it. In 1986 they complained to the two major Vancouver dailies that the OWAF was a cult. Always searching for the dramatic, one reporter managed to make the allegation a front page story, based entirely on unproven speculation. A government inspection team, sombre faced men in dark suits, quickly descended on Hedley. They spent a week meticulously scrutinizing financial records and interviewing youths, staff and residents. In the end they completely exonerated the Foundation.

In the early 1990s, a new  government switched its youth programs from a regional to a community model. Len chose not to go in this direction and reluctantly folded the organization.

Now, some 20 years later, newcomers to Hedley might be inclined to ask if the Foundation made a real difference. In response to this question, a resident said, “if it wasn’t for the Foundation, some of our larger structures would not have survived. They did major upgrades on neglected buildings.” The presence of young staff, usually carrying 2-way radios, helped seniors feel more secure. Also, there was no garbage collection and one program provided this service for staff, seniors and the disabled.   Finding someone to replace a door or toilet, or fix a leaky tap was often difficult.  The OWAF developed a service to fill this need.  Certainly, the most important contribution lies in preparing youths to return to their community more willing and able to live productive, law abiding lives.

Their work completed, the Roberts have retired and live quietly in Princeton.