At the Annual General Meeting for Community Living St. Marys and Area on Monday, members heard about the ongoing works and priorities of their association, before hearing a speech from director of membership from Community Living Ontario Keith Dee on the important leadership role the local group has played in progressing inclusion throughout the province.
Community Living St. Marys and Area executive director Marg McLean said the association currently supports 59 people, ranging in age from three to 94. Most live in and around St. Marys and Stratford, though she noted some live in Exeter, London, Strathroy and Petrolia. These people are supported by the 94 people on the association payroll, including full-time and part-time workers, as well as students.
McLean talked about events the group has taken part in during the last year, including, but not limited to, the Create A Smile Walk, which raised almost $13,500 in its 12th annual iteration last year and is set to run again on Sunday, Oct. 16, as well as supporting the DCVI Inclusion Challenge led by the school’s inclusion team, supporting accessibility improvements in the downtown reconstruction, and community suppers. The group’s priorities include volunteering in the community, forming networks and partnerships, advocating for people with disabilities and their families, and working to increase accessible, affordable housing, she said.
Updating and improving their website, CommunityLivingStMarys.com, is another ongoing project, McLean said. “It’s been needing to be redone for a longtime, and we’ve been working on it for a few months,” she said, adding that they’ve hired a Stratford filmmaker to create several videos about the association and tasked former member Marilyn Haywood with collecting the stories of a number of people and groups who have been involved with the association over the years.
“I spoke to Barb Taylor a few weeks ago, and she said, ‘you’d better do this quickly because we may not be around forever’,” said Haywood. “It seems like perfect timing to do this.”
With the announcement from the Ministry of Community and Social Services in November last year that there would be no new admissions to sheltered workshops in the province, it does seem like a good time for the St. Marys association to remind people that it’s been over 20 years since the sheltered workshop here was closed.
“Over the years, St. Marys has proven to be a progressive organization in developing an culture based on innovation, learning, listening and being respectful to all,” said Dee, of Scarborough, in a speech later in the meeting. “You have also demonstrated commitment to nurturing your community, and welcoming people as valued and contributing citizens. These are relatively new concepts for many organizations, but for St. Marys, you’ve been doing it for years, and getting well-known throughout the province for showing this kind of leadership.”
According to Dee, “there are organizations out there who are still struggling” to make changes. “The whole workshop issue, for instance, has taken a lot of people off guard in regards to responding to this,” he said. “St. Marys is, I think, a fairly unique organization. You were the real leaders and continue to be the leaders.”
He congratulated the local association treating the people they support s unique, listening to their ideas and vision for their future, and exploring their interests and talents. “This is all done one person at a time,” he said. “Taking risks is how society works. This is not a new concept for many of us, but it is something very new to many in this world that we support. Rather than taking risks, traditional developmental service programs have typically sheltered them from these risks. Unfortunately, this often leads to harm, as people miss out on many opportunities and pleasures a full life in a community offers everyone. As a result, many have led lonely, sheltered lives. Slowly though, we’re turning this around.”
Inclusion, Dee said, not only makes people stronger, but also communities. “Inclusion makes things better for everyone,” he said. “I hope you remain leaders in this movement for many years to come.”