Update: Trekking Our Way To Core Gifts!

Julie and I have given a lot to LiveWorkPlay over the past 22 years or so, but we’ve lost track of how much we’ve received: the incredible people we’ve met, and the experiences we’ve had that would not have been possible on a different journey.


Trekking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path! Five across the back that’s Julie, Jenn Marilyn, Andrew, and Danae. Then we have Barb, Frances, Janie, Marg, and Bruce, with Michael kneeling and Keenan holding the selfie stick!

Many years ago thanks to our great friend Mike Coxon, we heard about Bruce Anderson and how he was supporting organizations to benefit from hopeful and resilient teams. Any work in human services can take a heavy toll on staff, and their mental and physical health impacts the quality of their relationships with those they are helping. We have worked very hard alongside our colleagues to build an organizational culture where we don’t pretend that “being professional” means being unaffected by challenges in our own lives, in the lives of the people we support, their families, or our volunteers.


We both learned something from everyone on this trip, but in terms of those who “demanded our gifts” it was Julie and Danae, Keenan and Michael.

But this isn’t about that,  it’s just a preamble for answering the inevitable question “How’d you end up following this guy along the coast of Wales and then to his house on Vashon Island in Washington State to become a Core Gift Master Facilitator?”

While the trip was technically in the personal domain (and certification in the professional domain) we long ago abandoned any notion that one’s full-time vocation lives in a separate dimension in some place called “work.” Who we are is everything we do, no matter which clock we are on. And so it is that without knowing Bruce through work, we’d not have gone on the trip. And without having gone on the trip, we’d not have ended up completing the certification.

Although certainly possessing of unusual wisdom and also possessing of an intriguing Viking-like appearance, Bruce would be the first to say it’s not just about him. The walk was a co-leadership experience with Andrew Bryan of TrekEpic fame as well as the group of trekkers they managed to assemble. One of the them was another great friend Marg McLean, and let’s face it, without her recommendation we’d probably have been scared off by the entire idea. OK, well, Keenan speaks for himself on that one.


Another amazing group! Back five Keiko, Dan, Julie, Andrew, Joy, then Bruce and Danae, and in the front Wesley, Tracy, Lisa, Keenan, and Charles.

As it happened, it was a marvelous experience on many levels, and one that we’d recommend for others. If you are skeptical, read on!


Julie and Dan got into some deep discussions down at the fire pit!

When the opportunity came to take our appreciation for the Core Gift experience to a deeper level, we found ourselves in Bruce’s living room (and kitchen, and back yard) with yet another incredible group, sharing a different type of journey. We even got to spend some time with Jenn (yep, small world).

This was an intense experience because it’s actually harder to be vulnerable in the presence of people you respect than in front of complete strangers. And in this case, it’s both – people you already know and admire, plus newcomers who have a breadth and depth of experience that make you blurt out an authentic “wow” as you get to know them.

If you’ve read this far, it’s probably because you are still waiting for some answers, like WTF is a Core Gift?


Keenan was paired with Keiko for a key piece of the Master Core Gift Facilitator training.

“Your core gift is the central and innermost contribution that will require both courage and heart for you to bring to the world” or so says Bruce Anderson, but he’d also take care to ensure that you understand this is an ancient concept, not something created in the 00’s to give people something to do on staff retreats.

Every person on the planet is a unique collection of skills, talents, gifts and one core gift. They lie on a spectrum that goes all the way from basic skills we need in daily life, to talents that we have a natural ability for, all the way to the central spark or core gift that gives our life purpose and stability through our darkest moments.

Why should you discover your gifts?

It can be an important way to get to know ourselves better and understand not only “what we are good” at but what brings us joy while doing it. Paying attention to our gifts and especially our core gift allows us to nurture and build on what we are already highly motivated to do. Our self-esteem grows. We recognized that our gift is connected to our purpose in life and we begin to look for new ways and places to use it.

What’s this got to do with LiveWorkPlay or other human services?


Believing everyone has a gift helps us to better understand and be more compassionate with the people in our lives. We also begin to see the world around us through the lens of gifts. In a healthy community, the gifts of every single person are valued and needed but it can take time and effort to make these connections.

This is especially and perhaps uniquely true of people with intellectual disabilities – given they have so many encounters with others based on their perceived deficits, the opportunity to have a different lens – one that is focused on assets and contributions – is a vital role that we can play.


How do you find out what your core gift is?

One way is to have a core gift interview done. It is a series of 19 questions which are thought-provoking but not intrusive. Well, maybe a little, but in our experience, it is rare that anyone is unable to answer. The interviewer helps the interviewee sort through their own answers to develop their core gift statement.

It’s not necessary that the interviewer is a certified facilitator, because all the information needed will be available by following the process and the steps. But what we’ve learned is that more experienced interviewers can be helpful in organizing the information and asking clarifying questions that can help the interviewee when they get caught up in the details.


The “group gift” can be a great exercise. On the trek we all gathered over drinks and came up with this statement that everyone new was exactly right!

What are we going to do with this?

We are still in the preliminary stages of incorporating core gifts into our culture at LiveWorkPlay. We certainly want to honour and promote the gifts of the people we support, our employees, our volunteers, and our community.

One of the ways we hope to do this is through the planning processes we utilize in welcoming and supporting individuals and families who have put their trust in us to help them pursue the life they want in the community. In some ways, it is a familiar practice for all of our staff team – getting to know the people they are supporting and looking and listening deeply to understand what is important to the person, and what excites them.

People with intellectual disabilities may not have a lot of experience with others who are looking to follow their lead (more commonly, they are used to being told things, not doing the telling) so we have to ensure that we bring the core gifts concept into their lives as part of an overall effort to build trust and develop mutual respect.

To that end, we ourselves must be vulnerable and ensure that we do not mistakenly communicate our interest in core gifts as some sort of “disability evaluation tool” we are implementing. Rather, we are looking to help the individual develop confidence in who they are and what energizes them so that we can in turn be of help in supporting them to live the life that is right for them.

And so, what about Julie and Keenan’s core gifts?

You probably have some guesses about that, and you’d like to compare that with what our own experiences have revealed. Well, we’ll do that, but another time. It will be a great opportunity to take a deeper dive into understanding the difference between skills, talents, gifts, and core gift.



About Keenan Wellar

Keenan is a citizen of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and co-leader of a social change and community benefit organization, LiveWorkPlay.ca, a registered charity which helps the community welcome and include people with intellectual disabilities, autistic persons, and individuals with a dual diagnosis to live, work, and play as valued citizens. LiveWorkPlay was named Ottawa's Best Non-Profit of 2019 by the Ottawa Board of Trade and Ottawa Business Journal "Best Ottawa Business Awards " With Julie Kingstone, Keenan is co-owner of Wellstone Leadership Services, dedicated to supporting a culture of excellence for non-profit, private sector, government organizations, collaborations, and partnerships. Keenan is a founding member of the leadership group for the From Presence To Citizenship collaborative. Keenan is a regular guest (monthly) of the News 1310 Power Lunch radio show, and he writes the monthly NPQ North column for Nonprofit Quarterly. When not working and supporting various social causes, Keenan loves kayaking and wildlife photography, cheering for the Ottawa RedBlacks and Pittsburgh Steelers, and causing a disturbance on social media.
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