As a parent of a son living with Autism, I never dreamed that I would have been afforded the wonderful opportunities that came my way as a volunteer in the Developmental Disability Sector. It has been both an honour and a privilege to serve on various committees to meet and work with the many Champions who have devoted their time and talent to ensure a better life for individuals and their families. As a volunteer it was my desire to use these invaluable experiences that gave me the knowledge and understanding that could be used to inspire change and share with others the lessons learned.
One of the first committees that I had the pleasure to serve on was the Toronto Developmental Disability Council. This committee works with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. The membership is comprosed of Ministry and Agency Staff, parents and Self Advocates. The Self Advocates told us of the difficulty they experienced not only in navigating the Ontario Disability Support Program but especially when they requested to meet in-person On their own, our committee members made a personal visit to one of the downtown offices. We saw first-hand that the office was not welcoming. The lighting was poor the walls were dark and there only a few chairs. The reception area was a narrow area and the counter had plexiglass shields that extended to the ceiling with small circular holes for conversation. Once you entered the locked door to the inner offices the lighting was bright, there were wall to wall windows providing a lovely working atmosphere. Mindful of the dollars required we recommended that the wall behind the reception desk be removed or lowered, or at least an opening be made in the wall to allow the sun and lights to illuminate the waiting area. We asked to have more chairs and higher wattage bulbs put in place. With respect for the safety of the staff we asked to have the shields lowered to a safe height to allow for better communication. When we returned to see the improvements made we were delighted that all recommendations had been added. This now bright, welcoming, informative office indicated to visitors that they were welcome and staff better able to communicate with them. The reception staff told us they had fewer issues with individuals becoming impatient and families had commented that the atmosphere of the whole office had improved.
Small changes had yielded large rewards.
For nine years I was a member of the Ontario Partnership Table. This group was chaired by an MCCSS Deputy Minister. Our meeting were held four times a year with members from Family Organizations, Self Advocates, Parents and Agency Staff. Sometime during every meeting a discussion concerning the shortage of Housing was raised. During our November meeting in 2012, a member voiced a concern that although Housing was mentioned there was not a concrete effort being made to address the growing crisis. It should always be remembered that if you make a suggestion you might be given the task, this was exactly the case. The member who raised the issue was a father who had for many years been advocating on behalf of his daughter. The Deputy Minister challenged him to put together a group and bring a report in June 2013. I was invited to join this group of eight and a meeting was called for the next week. We were given the name, Housing Study Group. Our goal was to develop an Action Agenda to Address the Housing Crisis Confronting Ontario Adults with Developmental Disabilities. Our report was a Three Year Agenda.
Year One: Work with government to create a Capacity Building Task Force and develop a framework of “5 initiative projects”
Year Two: Funding and initial implementation of Capacity Building Task Force “initiative project” recommendations.
Year Three: Review and assessment of Task Group “initiative projects” by Developmental Service Sector, MCCSS Partnership Table and inter-ministerial committees.
In June 2013, as promised the Housing Study Group (with gratitude to Margaret Spoelstra, CEO Autism Ontario) submitted their beautifully printed 24 page Report entitled. ENDING THE WAIT.
It was a distinct honour to work with this incredibly accomplished group of people. The Report has been accepted. We thank the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services for their acceptance and the formation of the Housing Task Group under the direction of Mr. Ron Pruessen. This most fulfilling endeavour was the next step that allowed me to enjoy the coming highlight of my years as a volunteer.
As indicated I am a parent and I understand well the challenges that parents and individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities face in seeking services and support. It has been my great pleasure to have given twenty-three as a volunteer at Reena. I have had the amazing opportunity to work with the Founding President, Sandy Keshen and the accomplished Chief Operations Officer of Reena, Sandy Stemp, the time spent with them has been an invaluable learning experience. In 2014, Bryan Keshen began his tenure as Chief Executive Officer of Reena. Under his leadership, Reena leads the way in continuing to provide unique, supportive, affordable and inclusive housing initiatives. As chair of Reena’s Government Relations committee, I have had the distinct honour to attend Federal, Provincial and Municipal meetings to put forward not only issues facing government and our housing crisis but to outline cost effective solutions that will allow all Canadians to have a place to call home. Continuing this work is the highlight of my volunteer service.
It is my distinct privilege on behalf of individuals and families to congratulate and thank Raksha Bhayana and the Bhayana Family Foundation for their incredible efforts to implement the historic Ontario Week of Appreciation for the Champions of the Non-profit Sector. Raksha`s commitment to excellence ensured the success that the event enjoyed. During the two years of the pandemic, the employees of the Non- profit sector were asked to make heroic sacrifices to facilitate and maintain the care of Ontario’s most vulnerable citizens. I am not sure what magic they employed to work the long, challenging and stressful hours to maintain the safety and well being of their charges, but I am truly grateful. They not only paid a very high price but their families also suffered from not having time with loved ones. There was no better time to celebrate these Champions and Angels Of Mercy than the week that began with Valentine’s Day. It allowed each one of us to show our heartfelt appreciation for their invaluable service. Our family was blessed to have incredible Front-line workers to support our son. They did this by stretching their shifts to 12 hours some due to Covid stayed in the group homes or hotels to protect their own families. To this marvelous group of people who comprise the Non-profit Sector the debt for their caring devotion and dedication can NEVER be fully repaid.
We look forward with great anticipation to the second week of February 2023, when once again we will have an opportunity to highlight the amazing contribution of these incredible employees. Had I the power, I would bestow the Order of Canada on each one as they have exemplified the motto: “They desire a better country”.
I wish to express my gratitude to each one. Thank you is a small word with a HUGE IMPACT!