Mentoring helped Jared connect with his community.
Jared is an active 23-year-old downhill skier, volunteer, pizza aficionado and Nintendo Switch gamer who lives in North Bay with his parents, Cheryl and Todd. Like many young people, Jared, who has autism, has experienced peaks and valleys as he tries to find his own path and build a full life for himself within his community.
Cheryl and Todd indicate that when Jared was growing up, he was quite flexible and adapted to moving to a number of different schools. But eventually, they decided that Jared might benefit from additional support to build his social skills and to become more independent. That’s when Cheryl and Todd were referred to Community Living Ontario’s Student Links initiative, and the peaks on Jared’s journey started to far outnumber the valleys.
Student Links is an opportunity for students (ages 14 to 21) who have an intellectual disability to explore ideas for their future after high school. It matches students
with mentors who share a common passion or interest. This gives students a chance to make informed decisions about their future prior to leaving school and to support the natural development of relationships and connections to their community.
Students are often introduced to several mentors, which helps them explore different options and build a variety of skills. One of Jared’s first mentors with Student Links ended up moving to Ottawa, which cut short their in-person relationship. However, she began to write to Jared and they continued to correspond. Seeing Jared’s communication skills growing in this way was a new and surprising development for Cheryl and Todd.
Jared was also interested in exploring volunteer opportunities in his community, so one of his mentors helped connect him to a role at the North Bay Golf & Country Club. The experience Jared gained in this role helped enhance his confidence and instill the values of hard work and responsibility. Opportunities to exercise these skills are unfortunately often filled with barriers for people who have a disability, but thanks to the support and guidance of his mentor, Jared was able to successfully navigate these barriers.
Jared’s final mentor match was Hobie, then a student at Nipissing University who is now a Northern Ontario Police Officer. He helped broaden Jared’s network by introducing him to a number of people in the university campus community. When Hobie learned that one of Jared’s goals was to get a job at a local pizza restaurant, he helped Jared prepare a resume, research employers and job opportunities, and practice interviewing skills.
As their mentorship progressed, Hobie and Jared learned that they shared many things in common. In addition to their skill-building sessions, Jared and Hobie would regularly engage in long nights of gaming with Hobie’s roommates and grab a bite to eat at Jared’s favourite pizza place.
With the help of his mentors, Jared is finding his place and building a great life in the community. Cheryl and Todd encourage all families who have a loved one who has an intellectual disability to consider Student Links. In their view, the right mentorship relationship has the power to catalyze positive change – and create opportunities to have fun as well! They have been active within the Community Living movement for a few years no w, and over the past several months have generously volunteered their time to help Community Living Ontario develop a new program evaluation model with staff and other families.
“We want to help other families make those connections earlier and get more involved and let other families know they are not alone,” says Todd.
While the pandemic has altered some of Jared’s plans, he continues to look to the future with newfound confidence and skills that will help him on his journey toward finding employment, making new friends and building an even fuller life within his community.
Community Living Ontario works hard every day to support people who have an intellectual disability and their families. And we in turn need the generous support of people like you to continue this work – even more so now as we continue to navigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Help us help people and families like Jared’s forge a path towards independence, inclusion and a full life in our communities.