Community Living Essex County

Community Living Essex County hosts 13th annual “Luncheon with the Mayors”


By Ron Giofu


Community Living Essex County (CLEC) invited mayors, political leaders and business people to see what initiatives the agency has been working on.

CLEC held its 13th annual “Luncheon with the Mayors” last Friday afternoon with the program consisting of discussion of what programs and initiatives the non-profit agency is up to. CLEC supports more than 650 people with intellectual disabilities and their families across Essex County.

Tony DeSantis, manager of community relations and resource development with CLEC, pointed out that May is “Community Living Month” in Ontario and that local businesses and municipalities either have been or are invited to light up their buildings blue and green for the month.

CLEC executive director Karen Bolger said the luncheon gives the agency a chance to bring community leaders together and show what the agency is doing. She added she is excited to build on the “positive relationship” Community Living Essex County has with community partners and municipal leaders.

“We can’t do it alone,” said Bolger.

Bolger said the agency was accredited in 2014 with FOCUS Accreditation leading the agency through a re-accreditation process, something Bolger is confident the agency did successfully.

Natalie Crawford, project manager for community engagement, spoke on the “My Community Hub” project. The networking website, found at, is described as an “online registration space for activities, classes, programs, workshops, respite and camps offered by developmental service agencies across Ontario.”

“We’re really excited to be part of this,” said Crawford, who pointed out CLEC is the only service provider in southwestern Ontario currently enrolled in My Community Hub.

Julie LaSorda, manager of administration with CLEC, spoke on the “REAL Xchange” initiative, with the goal being to provide more options to the people it supports yet do so efficiently. The project came out of the “REAL Change” initiative and currently has 77 unique users and 56 developmental services agencies in Ontario registered since its launch Jan. 30.

LaSorda outlined that pillars of “REAL Xchange” include exchanging knowledge, collaborating and mentoring, passing along their knowledge and even being able to create a revenue stream from it.

“We didn’t have to take (the REAL Xchange project) on but it’s the right thing to do,” said LaSorda.

Community Living Essex County held its 13th annual “Luncheon with the Mayors” Friday afternoon. Back row (from left) CLEC 2nd vice president and LaSalle Councillor Sue Desjarlais, Tecumseh Councillor Rita Ossington, Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos, Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale, Essex County Warden and Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain, Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche, Lakeshore Councillor Tracey Bailey and Essex Mayor Ron McDermott. Front row (from left): CLEC manger of supports Derek Roy, project manager-community engagement Natalie Crawford, manager of administration Julie LaSorda, Brigitte Gagnon from the self-advocate group, New Day – Leaders of Today, executive director Karen Bolger, director of Community Living supports Corey Dalgleish and manager of community relations and resource development Tony DeSantis.

Corey Dalgleish, director of Community Living supports, outlined the “Smart Support” technology-enabled services with that coming out of the “REAL Change” project. The agency uses a variety of technological devices and apps, many of the latter being free or carrying a modest cost.

“Not all of this is customized technology,” said Dalgleish. “It’s available to all of us.”

Dalgleish added that technology “isn’t a support, it’s a tool,” and “the focus isn’t to replace supports with technology, it’s to enhance supports with technology.”

Derek Roy, manager of Community Living supports, outlined the “Career Compass” employment service where people with intellectual disabilities are matched with employers. The Career Compass team works with job seekers and employers to find the right matches, with current statistics showing that 58 people are employed, 38 more are actively looking for work and five people being hired in April.

Roy also outlined the “Job Path” project with that being pre-employment consultation and the “Youth in Action” project where youth with intellectual disabilities are assisted with co-op placements as well as part-time and summer job placements.

Bolger called the presentations “only a sample” of what Community Living Essex County is doing in the communities it operates in.

“We have lots to celebrate,” she said.

For more information on CLEC or its programs, call 519-776-6483 or visit The agency also is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Flickr.

Community Living Essex County, friends and supporters bid farewell to retiring executive director



By Ron Giofu


After a 32-year career as executive director with Community Living Essex County (CLEC) and 45 years total within the developmental services (DS) sector, Nancy Wallace-Gero is entering retirement.

And last Friday night, CLEC staff members as well as those the agency supports, dignitaries and members of Wallace-Gero’s family came out to celebrate her career.

A retirement celebration was held at the Ciociaro Club where Wallace-Gero was honoured with words like dedication, passion, intelligence, drive and role model coming up early and often to describe her.

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak added words like “amazing” and “loving” in describing Wallace-Gero.

“You are the best of the best,” he said. “You are an angel that walks among us. We love you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Essex MP Tracey Ramsey said when she was first elected, people would come to her constituency office seeking help and one of the places they were directed was Community Living Essex County. Ramsey said they were referred to CLEC with complete confidence as it was known thanks to Wallace-Gero and the team there that people would get the support they needed.

“Congratulations on reaching the next phase of your life,” said Ramsey.

Nancy Wallace-Gero (second from right) accepts awards from Essex MPP Taras Natyshak, Essex MP Tracey Ramsey and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Cheryl Hardcastle. Wallace-Gero retires as Community Living Essex County executive director April 13.

Windsor-Tecumseh MP Cheryl Hardcastle said Wallace-Gero is “an inspiration to the work we do” and that she would be missed. She added that Karen Bolger, who is taking over as executive director following Wallace-Gero’s official retirement date of April 13, will continue the great work started by Wallace-Gero.

David Hingsburger, a friend and colleague of Wallace-Gero as well as being an author and speaker on issues regarding developmental disabilities, noted they have known each other for 32 years and have made many changes over the years. He said organizations are only as good as their willingness to make changes and noted CLEC has never been afraid to make changes to benefit the people they support.

Hingsburger added that Wallace-Gero will take her passion and dedication into retirement with her “and continue to be the amazing person she has always been.”

Community Living Ontario CEO Chris Beesley said he has learned a lot of lessons from Wallace-Gero since assuming his post five years ago and said she is a leader who is committed to the cause for all the right reasons. Wade Durling, chair of the Provincial Network, added that Wallace-Gero’s contributions can be seen throughout the DS sector.

“You’ve made many contributions and the sector is better for it,” Durling told Wallace-Gero. “You have left a real legacy. We will miss you and never forget you.”

Retiring Community Living Essex County executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero (right) was “crowned” with a tiara from director of human resources Claire Market (left).

Anne Bilodeau, chair of the DSHR Strategy, added that CLECL “walks the talk” thanks to Wallace-Gero and the team. She stated that everything Wallace-Gero did during her career was selfless.

Wallace-Gero was also honoured by Kelly Runnals from the Ensemble parent group, fellow executive directors and the CLEC board, the latter having presented her a gift of jewellery two nights earlier at their board meeting and a honourary lifetime membership Friday night.

Members of Wallace-Gero’s family also honoured her, including daughters Kerri and Kristy, granddaughter Alexa and grandson Evan. Kerri called her mother “my definition of a success story,” noting Wallace-Gero’s adoption out of foster care at age five and Wallace-Gero being instilled with a need to help others and compassion for those with disabilities or other needs.

“Her passion for her work and her passion for helping others is contagious,” Kerri said.

Kristy added that her mother taught values and about social change, to be a leader and to challenge the status quo. Another lesson was to be humble.

“From the beginning, she was destined to achieve great things,” said Kristy. “She shines at everything she does. My mom will continue to shine on into retirement.”

Alexa noted her grandmother has changed lives and has instilled empathy in others for those with intellectual disabilities. She added that Wallace-Gero has taken on many challenges in her career, most of them to better the lives of others.

“I’m very thankful Nancy is my grandmother,” added Evan. “She is kind and loving. When people ask me who my hero is, I say my grandma.”

Nancy Wallace-Gero (centre) is surrounded by her staff during an April 6 retirement celebration. She officially retires from her job as Community Living Essex County executive director April 13.

Bolger said it was difficult to believe Wallace-Gero’s retirement has arrived.

“Community Living Essex County and Nancy are synonymous with each other,” said Bolger.

Noting the agency was struggling when Wallace-Gero took control in 1986, Bolger said Wallace-Gero has helped turn it around to where it is now vibrant, progressive and innovative.

“She is a consummate professional,” Bolger said of Wallace-Gero. “She is a person who talks the talk and walks the walk. She is a fierce advocate who gets the job done. She has never passed up an opportunity to move the agency forward. She has been my mentor.”

Wallace-Gero concluded the evening by saying how much she has enjoyed her career with CLEC.

“I am just so grateful to everyone,” she said.

Noting she has worked for 32 different boards of directors over her career, she credited them with having the leadership to move the agency forward. She also praised the management team for their work in helping to grow the agency and provide ongoing help to those with intellectual disabilities.

Wallace-Gero also thanked Ensemble and New Day, the latter being a group of self-advocates, and said giving up directly helping those with disabilities has been the hardest. She also thanked her family and friends, whose support has been tremendous, she said.

“I take with me into retirement memories of each of you. I have had the best job ever at Community Living Essex County,” she stated.

CLEC receives provincial funding, funds evaluation of employment services


By Ron Giofu

Community Living Essex County (CLEC) received $27,400 from Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund and used it to evaluate its employment service.

The funding was put towards an independent evaluation by University of Windsor researchers into Career Compass, a CLEC-sponsored employment support service geared towards promoting inclusive hiring and finding employment for those with intellectual disabilities.

The research was performed by Kelly Carr, Laura Chittle, Sean Horton, Patricia Weir and Chad Sutherland from the department of kinesiology. Carr, a PhD candidate, along with CLEC executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero and director of supports overseeing Career Compass Rosa Amicarelli presented the results at a media conference April 4.

Community Living Essex County (CLEC) received $27,400 from Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund and used it to evaluate its employment service – Career Compass. From left: University of Windsor PhD candidate and researcher Kelly Carr, CLEC director of supports overseeing Career Compass Rosa Amicarelli, Community Living Essex County executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero, self-advocate Reggie Wilson and Essex MPP Taras Natyshak.

Carr explained there was a 2004 report that showed that people with disabilities were traditionally paid $8.66 – slightly higher than the minimum wage at the time – and mainly held sales and service industry jobs with no health benefits. The results of the research recommended a “strength-based employment service” which marketed job seekers for their strengths, promoted an untapped talent pool of employees and adopted more of a business-like approach.

Such recommendations would result in increased hourly wages and jobs outside the service sector, further income security by increasing hours of work including at permanent jobs outside the sales and services sector and allow for long-term considerations including medical and health benefits. Carr noted that qualitative and quantitative evaluations of workplace attitudes were taken with a strength-based employment services, as opposed to a social service approach.

Carr added that strength-based employment services resulted in “significantly higher wages” as well as an estimated 55-times greater likelihood of working outside the sales and services sector.

Amicarelli said that the University of Windsor’s results will be shared with the employment team, which consists of herself and four others.

Kelly Carr, a University of Windsor PhD candidate, fields a question during a media conference held at Community Living Essex County’s main office April 4. Carr was one of the researchers that evaluated CLEC’s employment service Career Compass.

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak was also on hand for an official cheque presentation, and said that upwards of 30 per cent of people in the next decade could be faced with some sort of disability. He said it makes business sense to hire people with intellectual disabilities as it is reflective of what is happening in society.

“We were very fortunate to get this grant,” added Wallace-Gero, adding Community Living Essex County was one of the few agencies in this end of the province to receive such funding.

“We will document proven strategies that move people with disabilities toward meaningful employment within a diverse and inclusive workplace,” she said. “This research will demonstrate the real shift occurring for people with disabilities; that is, a shift away from unemployment, isolation and poverty to a real career, inclusion and income security.”

The study originated in January 2017.

For more information on Career Compass, visit, call 519-776-6483, “Like” them on Facebook at or “Follow” them on Twitter at

Community Living Essex County appoints new executive director


By Julianna Bonnett


An Amherstburg resident will soon be taking the helm as Community Living Essex County’s new executive director.

Following an extensive search process led by an executive search group that was appointed by the board of directors, Community Living Essex County (CLEC) has announced that Karen Bolger will become the new executive director.

Bolger will become the new executive director in April. She has been with Community Living Essex County since 1985, working her way up through progressively responsible positions within the agency.

Bolger expressed that she is thrilled to be stepping into the executive director role.

“My entire career has been devoted to the work of the developmental service sector and in particular in Essex County so it’s a great fit for me. I am looking forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead,” said Bolger.

Karen Bolger will become Community Living Essex County’s new executive director next month. Nancy Wallace-Gero retires April 13 after a distinguished 32-year career.

Bolger’s current position has been as the Director of Community Living Operations, a position she has held since 2011.

“I will continue to build on the success of the agency in working towards achieving the goals and strategic directions established by the membership and our board of directors. To offer modern, relevant supports and services to our stakeholders. To provide leadership in innovation through strengthening existing and developing new partnerships,” said Bolger.

The current executive director, Nancy Wallace-Gero, will be retiring April 13 after a distinguishing 32-year career with the agency.

Bolger said the community and the organization is very important to her.  Everything she does will be to better the community of Essex County with a focus on improving the lives of people they support.

Community Living Essex County supports over 700 people with intellectual disabilities and their families throughout Essex County, including operating the Channel Resource Centre and a number of homes in Amherstburg.

For more information on the agency, visit or call 519-776-6483.


Giving Tuesday campaign raises $6,754 for Community Living Essex County



Special to the RTT


The results are in from Giving Tuesday and Community Living Essex County is pleased with them.

Community Living Essex County joined the Giving Tuesday movement once again in 2017. It was a movement on a national scale where non-profit charitable organizations across the country banded together to kick off the giving season while spreading awareness for their cause.

Community Living Essex County is pleased to share that with the help of many generous supporters in the community, the non-profit agency received an amazing $3,754 in online donations during our Giving Tuesday Campaign starting on Giving Tuesday itself (Nov. 28) and running up to Dec. 24.

Corporate partners Green Sun Rising of Windsor agreed to generously match each donation up to $3,000 – bringing the grand total to $6.754! All proceeds from the campaign will be directed to purchasing smart devices such as smart phones, tablets etc. to help provide technology-enabled supports for people with an intellectual disability throughout Essex County.

The official cheque presentation was made in late-January.

Representatives of Community Living Essex County, Tony DeSantis, manager of community relations (left) and executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero, acknowledge corporate support from members of Green Sun Rising including Tanja Nuske, Klaus Nuske, Michael Schneider and Brett Ziter for their contributions to the 2017 Giving Tuesday campaign. (Submitted photo)

“Community Living Essex County would like to say thank you to everyone who participated in our campaign,” commented CLEC executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero. “Whether it was by donating, sharing posts from our social media sites, or simply by spreading the word – every contribution towards this campaign was sincerely appreciated.”

A special thank you to Green Sun Rising ( for being incredible supporters of the work being done by Community Living Essex County.

Community Living Essex County supports over 650 people with intellectual disabilities and their families throughout Essex County, including at several locations within Amherstburg. For more information on the agency, visit