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Charmly and SAS: The Power Of Relationships

Charmly, second from right, joined by SAS members as she receives her award

BC Disability

November 18th, 2021

Charmly Smith was recently recognized by Community Living BC as an inclusion champion, supporting the full community participation of persons with developmental disabilities.

Charmly's work with the Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo shows how powerful a mutually support relationship, and letting self-advocates take the lead, can be.


When the 2021 WOW award winners were announced in October, one person recognized as an inclusion champion was Charmly Smith, a community involvement coordinator with the Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo (SAS).

Based out of Surrey, SAS is no ordinary group of self-advocates. SAS and its members have been recognized throughout BC and Canada for their community work, providing a model of how self-advocates and allies can collaborate to make a big impact.

So what are the key to SAS's success? There are many, but one of the most important comes down to the power of relationships.


For Charmly and SAS, their work together starts with trust.

"I've known many of the self-advocates for a while, which helps, but even with newer members establishing that sense of trust, where each person can be confident to be themselves with others, is the foundation."

In this mutually supportive environment, self-advocates and and their allies openly share their thoughts and bounce ideas off one another, knowing that no one will put them down.

Each member's strengths and perspectives come out in full, which helps SAS develop the effective and innovative approaches to self-advocacy they're known for.

SAS do serious work, but they also have a lot of fun. Like their talent show and crazy hat party (Photo: Self Advocates of Semiahmoo)

This creates the ideal setting for what Charmly sees as another pillar of SAS's success: having the self-advocates at the helm.

"I look at each advocate's interests, what their goals are, and what skills they'll need to accomplish those goals, and I try to make that all come together."

"But I don't steer the ship, I just help it operate so others can take the lead."

And the Self Advocates of Semiahmoo have done just that. They have been at the forefront of self-advocacy in BC, and they stepped up in an especially big way over the last 2 years.


Throughout 2020 and 2021, the self-advocates of SAS have led an ambitious campaign to support their peers and wider community during the pandemic.

They made Valentine's cards for seniors and delivered lunch to Westminster House

Retirement Community.

They hosted mental health workshops and ran SPEAKtacular, a Toastmasters club for self-advocates looking to improve their public speaking skills.

They also gave a presentation to Inclusion BC on effective self-advocacy, raised awareness about voting and public health, and met with the City of Surrey to discuss accessibility. A packed schedule indeed!

And, the highlight of the year for Charmly, SAS held their first annual Christmas car parade.

"Last Christmas people were concerned about distancing and couldn’t gather. With everyone still stuck at home, SAS asked what they could do to help engage the community and bring holiday cheer - and that's why the Christmas car parade was created."

SAS's first Christmas car parade was a hit (Photo: Self Advocates of Semiahmoo)

A distinguishing feature of SAS's work is how they bring in so many other groups and make them part of their world, engaging community members from all walks of life, whether it's seniors, other self-advocates, city councillors and municipal staff, or simply neighbours in their own homes.

As Charmly notes, SAS's ability to connect so deeply into the community goes back to their emphasis on relationships.


"SAS members are great at identifying not just who they know, but also who those people know. There's so much power in relationships and it's something they really focus on and use to their advantage. "


While SAS's members have been supported as leaders by Charmly, they've been there for her just as much.

Being able to virtually connect with the self-advocates during lockdown helped lift her spirits, and she continues to learn from them daily

"They've taught me many, many things. Like the importance of listening - to stop talking and just listen. To be okay with silence."

Looking ahead, she's excited to continue working with SAS on new projects and partnerships. Not only because she gets to work with some of the province's best leaders, but also because it's, well, a good time!

"I love working with them - everybody has such great ideas and energy and compassion. Having people around me like that inspires me to be part of what they’re doing."

"And it's also a lot of fun! I really love what I do."

Learn more about the Self-Advocates of Semiahmoo


Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to!


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