CLEC spreads its message through Luncheon with the Mayors

Robert Pio Hajjar mugs for the camera prior to his speech at Community Living Essex County's Luncheon with the Mayors held May 16.

Robert Pio Hajjar mugs for the camera prior to his speech at Community Living Essex County’s Luncheon with the Mayors held May 16.

 

Guest speaker Robert Pio Hajjar (left) dances and jokes with Community Living Essex County’s manager of community relations Tony DeSantis (right) during CLEC’s “Luncheon with the Mayors” last Friday afternoon. After the dancing and joking was done, Pio Hajjar gave a serious message to municipal leaders in attendance about inclusion and inspiration.

Guest speaker Robert Pio Hajjar (left) dances and jokes with Community Living Essex County’s manager of community relations Tony DeSantis (right) during CLEC’s “Luncheon with the Mayors” last Friday afternoon. After the dancing and joking was done, Pio Hajjar gave a serious message to municipal leaders in attendance about inclusion and inspiration.

By Ron Giofu

 

Community Living Essex County (CLEC) helped spread its message to mayors and municipal leaders again this year through its Luncheon with the Mayors event.

The ninth annual luncheon was held May 16 at the St. Mary’s Parish Hall in Maidstone with mayors, council members and other municipal officials including police and fire attending. Mayor Wayne Hurst, Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland and councillors Bart DiPasquale and Carolyn Davies attended from Amherstburg as did Amherstburg Police Chief Tim Berthiaume and Sgt. Mike Cox. Several members of Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157 were also amongst the Amherstburg contingent.

Guest speaker Robert Pio Hajjar, founder of Ideal Way, brought his message of inclusion and acceptance to the event, including kicking off his presentation in an energetic way as he danced around the hall with some of the guests. According to its website, Ideal Way is a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and motivating people with intellectual disability, and others, to reach their potential.

Born with Down’s Syndrome, the 36-year-old Pio Hajjar said when he was born, his parents were told to “forget about me and put me away” and try to have another child. He said his parents were told he would never walk or talk.

“My parents said I was a gift from God and they would never give me away,” he said. “The moral of the story is don’t mess with the man upstairs.”

Pio Hajjar founded Ideal Way with the aid of his aunt, Addie J. Daabou, and his life savings of $62.05. It has grown to where he travels spreading his messages of inspiration and inclusion. He has even been recognized by the United Nations for his efforts.

“Each of you is a leader. Each of you is important to your organization and community,” Pio Hajjar told the crowd. “Everyone together achieves more.”

The theme of Pio Hajjar’s talk was “I Can, You Can” and encouraged the municipal leaders in attendance to do more to help those with disabilities.

“There’s so much you can do to support people with Down’s Syndrome, autism and people with disabilities,” said Pio Hajjar. “People with disabilities are just like you.”

He later added “we are just like you” and that people with disabilities should be valued as “everyone has contributions to make to this world.”

Pio Hajjar said people should be more accepting of one another, including accepting those with disabilities.

“Everyone is a human being,” he said. “Why can’t we accept one another and be friends?”

Ending use of the word “retarded” and the variations of that word – simply referred to as the “R-word” – was also touched upon as Pio Hajjar called for the use of that word “to stop right now.”

Pio Hajjar said he has his ups and downs with having Down’s Syndrome but loves his life overall and loves his work.

“I had a vision and, most important of all, I don’t give up on my dreams,” he said. “The only time you can’t do something is if you don’t try.”

Stating he doesn’t let the negative into his life, Pio Hajjar added that people can be leaders with or without a disability.

“I am proud of who I am,” he told the audience. “The cards I was dealt in life are not as important as how I play them. I have a disability but I ask you to see my ability. I want to inspire all of you to believe in yourselves. I want to inspire you to believe in your dreams.”

Tony DeSantis, CLEC’s manager of community relations, said the luncheon was held as part of Community Living Month in Ontario with another activity the CLEC is involved with during the month is Community Living Day with the Toronto Blue Jays later this month where over 80 people the agency supports travelling to Toronto to go to a baseball game at the Rogers Centre.

DeSantis also noted CLEC is teaming with Joe Meloche Ford on this Saturday’s “Drive 4UR Community” fundraiser where, from now through this Saturday, every test drive will see $20 donated to CLEC up to a maximum of $6,000. CLEC also has its golf tournament upcoming July 16 at Fox Glen Golf Club in McGregor, DeSantis noted.

It was also announced that CLEC has joined social media. The agency can be “Liked” on Facebook at www.facebook.com/clessexcounty, “followed” on Twitter at www.twitter.com/clessexcounty and Flickr at www.flickr.com/clessexcounty.

“We have taken time to prepare social media policies and procedures to ensure we do this right,” stated DeSantis “Participating in social media will provide yet another avenue for those who wish to share experiences and ideas with others and stay connected to Community Living Essex County events and initiatives.”

DeSantis also outlined the reformation of CLEC’s “speaker’s bureau,” which includes those with disabilities going to service clubs and businesses speaking on what people with disabilities can do for them.

Essex County Warden Tom Bain praised the agency and its staff within.

“It’s just tremendous what you do,” Bain said. “There is a need out there and your group answers that need and helps people become an integral part of the community.”

Diane Bourbeau, president of CLEC’s board of directors, said the Luncheon with the Mayors was an opportunity for those within the agency to meet a cross-section of community leaders and network with them.

“Our daily work in our many communities involved providing quality supports for over 600 people of all ages with intellectual disabilities,” said Bourbeau.

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