A Million Possibilities campaign launched

Community Living Ontario officially kicked off its A Million Possibilities Campaign at the Centre for Social Innovation on Wednesday night. Around 70 people attended the three-hour event, titled An Evening of Possibilities with John Baird, Colin Sanders and Michael Jacques: Stories of Personal and Collective Triumph.

After an introduction by Community Living Ontario’s Manager of Strategic Partnerships and Fund Development Heather Evans, Masters of Ceremony Sara and Gurvir Singh charmed the audience and tickled their funny bones as they discussed their personal story and introduced CEO Chris Beesley and each of the speakers.

“The Singhs have been powerful advocates for inclusion in the Greater Toronto Area over the last number of years,” said Evans, referring to their initiative, the PowerofONE Project, which turns hurtful words into encouraging ones through art.

“So who better to kick us off this evening?”

“That’s what we’re all here for tonight, isn’t it?” asked Sara. “So that our friends, family members, and fellow community members don’t have to suffer the pains of a society that often doesn’t understand or know how to support them.”

The A Million Possibilities campaign aims to raise $1 million for Community Living Ontario’s initiatives. Beesley elaborated on four areas donors can expect their funds to support.

Those areas include bolstering youth initiatives, such as the Re:Action4Inclusion program and the Anne Stafford Light up the Future Bursary; strengthening the Family Leadership Series, which helps families to network and explore possibilities together; addressing urgent priorities; and, of course, the organization’s advocacy work.

One of the urgent priorities highlighted was the recent challenge faced by Ian and Audrey Cole. Ian was under the threat of being removed from his home, where he lives independently with a roommate, because he was exceeding the daily limit of in-home support visits by one.

“They launched a human rights complaint,” Beesley explained, “and, with Community Living Ontario’s help, got that regulation changed—not just for Ian, but for other Ontarians that want to live in their homes, but need support in order to do so.”

“Of course, these initiatives require funding. So, our goal is to raise at least a million dollars to help us continue to make positive change” for people who have an intellectual disability and their families.

Videos featuring Family Leadership Series participants Patricia and Gabi Franks (watch their video here), Advocate Yvonne Spicer (click here to watch her video), and Re:Action4Inclusion Ambassador Michael Jacques (view Michael’s video here) demonstrated the impact of the various initiatives.

The first speaker of the evening was the Honourable John Baird, who discussed his time as Ontario’s Minister of Community and Social Services, as well as his roles as a strategic advisor to Community Living Ontario and Co-chair of the A Million Possibilities Campaign.

“It’s one thing to advocate,” he assured. “Tremendously important—but Community Living Ontario and its member agencies provide direct services to so many of our fellow Ontarians, from Cornwall to Kenora, from Toronto to Windsor, right across the province. So, they have a deep-rooted understanding of the needs and the challenges of people with intellectual disabilities, and just as important, their families, and also the people in the sector.”

“So, they’re probably better-placed to be effective advocates because they have such important relationships on the ground, right across the province.”

He cautioned that one of the problem’s in Ontario is that the biggest voices are often the ones heard in government.

“Often, it’s the largest group and the loudest group that has the power and influence. So, if it’s a teachers’ union who controls the education of literally millions of children, or whether it’s a group of big banks who have a lot of economic clout, they can always get their voices heard,” he explained, which makes it harder for organizations like Community Living Ontario to be heard, and yet the organization has probably been more successful than you’d expect.”

He pointed out that, through the last decades of changing provincial governments and policies, support for Community Living and deinstitutionalization is one of the few things that has remained bipartisan thanks to all the advocacy work that’s been done.

Attendees also heard from Colin Sanders, the person responsible for sparking the campaign in the first place. In December, the 64-year-old Port Hope resident will be rowing 4,000 kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean by himself—from the Canary Islands to Antigua—to raise money for Community Living Ontario. While the organization’s fundraising efforts will continue after he’s arrived, his 90-day Solo Ocean Row 2017 adventure is at the very heart of this movement.

In addition to discussing his preparations and regaling the crowd with jokes about the people who’ve suggested he make stops along the way, he made a heartfelt appeal by discussing the story of his son, Jeff. Their family was on the provincial waiting list for housing for 12 years, until they finally decided to build him a home of his own.

He stated that the province needs more activists, in order to get things done for family members who have an intellectual disability.

Community Living Ontario Board member and A Million Possibilities Co-chair Michael Jacques, along with his father Marcel, took the stage. In addition to what was shown in the video, they discussed how Re:Action4Inclusion enabled him to soar by gaining the confidence to pursue a job at Sobeys and assisting him in telling his own story to youth groups and other organizations.

“When I was in Grade 10, I was kind of shy…but after [Re:Action4Inclusion], I went back to my high school to show what real inclusion is.”

The night was a success, with attendees buzzing, and, true to Community Living Ontario’s goals, Beesley made sure everyone felt included and important.

“We couldn’t do the work without [our guest speakers], you, and our wide network of community partners and self-advocates dedicated to making Community Living Ontario’s mission a reality.”

Click here to view photos from the event.

Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario