Earlier this year, we featured a story about Community Living Essex County and its relationships with key stakeholders that enable the organization to provide individualized and flexible support to people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
We recently reconnected with the agency to get an update on theirTogether, One Dream model and how they’re looking to make it available to others.
Since 2000, Community Living Essex County has partnered with Ensemble, a parent-directed resource for families caring for someone with a disability, to make more informed organizational decisions and to enhance support, resources and services to the communities of Essex County.
“When we started, one of the main objectives was to have family leadership consultants who would connect families with families to empower them, and to do it in a way that only families can,” saysNancy Wallace-Gero, Executive Director of Community Living Essex County.
“At first, it was ‘Let’s try this out and see how it works.’ But, to be honest, it worked so well that it wasn’t very long after that the Board of Directors was quite prepared to embed this model in the organization in a way that Ensemble’s funding would be seen as part of our annual expenditures and something that was critical to the organization’s success.”
In 2004, New Day – Leaders of Today was formed, a self-advocacy organization. It too plays a vital role in ensuring that the collective voice of people with intellectual disabilities is represented.
“Something was missing with only the family leadership group and the agency itself. You weren’t hearing from the people that were supported, so that’s where New Day came in,” says Ray Renaud, a member of the group. “We wanted to know what was going on and how we could help out and have a say”.
Wallace-Gero says that while the family connection is a critical one and brings a great deal of opportunities to families, New Day is the voice of the people that Community Living Essex County supports.
“A lot of New Day’s work is directed towards helping people find their voice, helping people learn how to make decisions and completely control their lives, and helping the agency understand what it really means to provide good support to people.”
Marilyn Godard is a member of Ensemble’s Advisory Committee, and she’s also the parent of an adult daughter with a significant disability. She says New Day not only provides a support to the agency, but the group also provides assistance to her as a parent.
“When I listen to them, I’m learning. ‘Oh, this is the perspective that they have.’ And it helps me get some direction for my own daughter, because she can’t tell me those things.”
As part of their commitment to the Together, One Dream model, Community Living Essex County’s Board of Directors makes funding and support resources available, but each organization, including New Day and Ensemble, has full control over the direction of their own work.
Now, thanks to a generous grant from Green Shield Canada, the partners have developed tools that allow them to share the concept and their successes with others. Over the last month, they have presented their model at Community Living Ontario’s annual conference in Hamilton and the Claiming Full Citizenship conference in Vancouver. A video has also been created to highlight the benefits of the partnership.
“People were very touched by the video in Hamilton and Vancouver,” says Godard. “We were asked on numerous occasions how to access the model, would we be willing to do a workshop, and would we be willing to provide training – we got that in both locations.”
Wallace-Gero says in addition to using the grant money to create the video and presentation, some of the funding is being allocated for the development of tools and a how-to companion guide that will accompany the video. Other organizations will then be able to access the video and guide as part of a package when developing their own framework.
“It’s a relatively simple model when you look at it, but it isn’t happening everywhere. And we believe there are huge benefits to the partnerships and lessons that we’ve learned along the way that, if we share them with others, could help other communities consider a similar approach.”
Godard adds, “We all need to connect and share; agencies providing supports to individuals living with disabilities, families and self-advocates; creative and meaningful supports ensuring lives that maximize potential and access to full citizenship. Together, One Dream.”
– Ron Laroche, Community Living Ontario