Community Living Essex County

Alhambra teams with area marina on special boating day


By Jonathan Martin


Local people with intellectual disabilities got a break from the heat this past Saturday.

Alhambra Garcia Caravan #230 and LaSalle’s Park Haven Marina joined forces with local first responders to offer up boat rides on the Detroit River.

Marina members took passengers for short outings on the water, where the coast guard sprayed them down with massive hoses.  When they got back on dry land, attendees could take part in a barbecue, dance party, or simply hangout and be social.

Dylan Sabi and Ashley Sutton relax on a couch in a leisure vessel they took for a ride last Saturday.

Richard Prieur, who founded the chapter with his brother, said the tradition began to satiate the need for social activities felt when Boblo Island Amusement Park closed down in 1993.

Since then, members of Park Haven Marina have donated their time, boats and nautical skill to bring the community Alhambra serves out onto the water.

“It’s a big deal,” Alhambra branch president Therese Barichello said.  “They’re using their own gas, their own equipment to put on this event.  It’s incredibly generous.”

Russell Mino doesn’t see it that way, though.  He spent the day taking people out on his 32-foot 1972 Pacemaker.

Aaron Rupert enjoys the sunshine and waves on the Detroit River last Saturday. Alhambra Garcia Caravan #230 teamed with Park Haven Marina on a boating day for people with intellectual disabilities.

Mino and his wife have been taking part in the event for between 10 and 12 years.  He said every year, he comes away feeling better than the year before.

Ashley Sutton and Tortia Wysymski brought five people with them that Community Living Essex County supports onto Mino’s craft.

“Being out on a boat is really stimulating for people with autism or intellectual disabilities,” Sutton said.  “All of them had smiles on their faces while they were out on the boat.”

Wysymski said CLEC has been coming to the event for around a decade and she’s been attending for just as long.

“Another major benefit of this event is the opportunity it affords (the people we support) to interact with the larger community,” she said.


Barichello said the community keeps growing.  She said every year, Alhambra sees more people come out to take part in the event.  This year, she estimates that the boat and barbecue day drew more than 200 attendees.

Alhambra’s membership numbers, though, are dwindling.  Barichello said that as the group’s base ages, more and more members are dropping out of active participation.

“We would really like to have some new members,” she said.

The International Order of Alhambra is an organization of Catholic men and women that assists people who are intellectually disabled or physically handicapped.

Barichello said her branch meets for one hour per month for nine months out of the year.

The boat and picnic day will return next summer.

Alhambra Garcia Caravan #230 is based out of McGregor. For more information on Alhambra Garcia Caravan #230, visit People can also call 519-919-6462 or 519-726-6494. More information on the Alhambra organization can also be found at


Community Living Essex County golf tournament attracts 108 golfers



By Ron Giofu


Community Living Essex County’s annual golf tournament was down in the number of golfers this year but did see an increase in sponsorships this year.

Manager of community relations and resource development Tony DeSantis said there were a total of 108 golfers this year. The tournament was played last Thursday at Sutton Creek Golf Club in McGregor.

“We’re down a little bit from last year,” DeSantis said regarding the number of golfers. “We’re up with the corporate sponsors.”

Leamington won the “Municipal Cup” again this year as having the lowest score among the municipal teams that competed in the Community Living Essex County (CLEC) golf tournament. From left: Community Living Essex County executive director Karen Bolger, Paul Barnable, CAO Peter Neufeld, Mayor John Paterson, Rob Sharon and CLEC manager of community relations and resource development Tony DeSantis.

This was the 28th annual golf tournament and tenth straight year where the Municipal Cup was awarded. The Municipal Cup goes to the municipal team with the best score, with Leamington winning it once again this year.

Other towns that entered this year included Amherstburg, Lakeshore, LaSalle and Kingsville.

“It was a really nice day,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis thanked the sponsors, Sutton Creek Golf Club as well as the golfers for the support. He also was grateful for the support from the municipalities.

“We provide services right across Essex County,” said DeSantis. “We wouldn’t be able to do that without the support of our municipalities.”

CLEC executive director Karen Bolger also expressed her gratitude to the sponsors and golfers that were part of this year’s event.

“We can’t thank you enough,” said Bolger.

Bolger pointed out that Community Living Essex County supports over 700 people with intellectual disabilities and their families across Essex County.

Dave Mickle, who competed in the Community Living Essex County and won for straightest drive, stands with Team Amherstburg members. The municipal team included Sandy Lindsay, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Kyle Spearing and Councillor Leo Meloche.

“The proceeds from this event go directly to the people we support,” said Bolger. “The proceeds from the tournament help families of children and youth throughout the summer months to ensure supports are provided to allow children to be involved in summer camps, recreation and leisure activities while children are out of school. The funds also support four teen groups throughout Essex County.”

A final fundraising total has not been released as of yet.

For more information on Community Living Essex County, visit or call 519-776-6483. People can also “Like” them on Facebook at or “Follow” them on Twitter at

Community Living Essex County presents annual awards



By Ron Giofu


As part of the organization’s 57th annual general meeting, Community Living Essex County (CLEC) presented awards to people it supports and those who support them.

The annual general meeting was held recently at the Ciociaro Club with people across Essex County, including several from Amherstburg, among the list of award winners.

Director of Community Living Supports for the west area Anne Garrod presents an Outstanding Achievement Award to Joshua Fex.

Mike Lefaive was this year’s recipient of the Bruce Crozier Memorial Award. The award recognized Lefaive’s accomplishments, including Lefaive’s work with ACCESS Community Gardens and the partnership he helped develop between the two agencies.

“The Bruce Crozier Inspiring Possibilities Memorial Award, presented annually, was created to recognize people who have made tremendous strides in their life while overcoming many obstacles.  This award recognizes dedication and ability to keep moving forward and inspiring others, despite sometimes facing many obstacles,” said CLEC board 1st vice president Sue Desjarlais. “It also serves as a legacy to the memory of the late Bruce Crozier – whose dedicated service as Member of Provincial Parliament for Essex was an inspiration to everyone in our community.”

The Jeremy Hart Memorial Bursary was presented this year to Benjamin Baillargeon.

“Benjamin’s goal for the future is to complete his CICE education with his elective in culinary management, in order to work towards becoming a chef,” said CLEC manager of supports Derek Roy. “Beyond his great love of food, he is really interested in what goes into preparing food and creating meals.  During his placement Benjamin was able to work as a team member in the kitchen at Heron Terrace Long Term Care Center. He really enjoyed working as part of a team. Going to school and securing a job is important to Benjamin as it will help provide independence.  Being independent also means that he will be contributing to the community rather than being supported by the community.”

The Bruce Crozier Inspiring Possibilities Memorial Award was presented to Mike Lefaive. Making the presentation is Barry Keith, manager of Community Living Supports.

Diane Neves, a director on the CLEC board, said the award is named for Hart, who “had dreams and aspirations; one of them was to continue his education to assist him with finding meaningful employment and furthering his independence. Unfortunately, his dreams and goals were not all realized given his sudden death in 2012. As a lasting tribute to his memory, Community Living Essex County, with the support of the Hart family, has established the Jeremy Hart Memorial Bursary Award.”

Four outstanding achievement awards were presented to people in the four geographies that CLEC operates in. The Outstanding Achievement Award for the west area, which includes Amherstburg and LaSalle, saw Joshua Fex be named the recipient.

Director of Community Living Supports for the west area Anne Garrod said Fex’s goals include to finish high school, live independently and get a job. He is accomplishing his goals and Garrod said he is a valued employee at Mac’s Milk and assists at ACCESS Community Gardens.

David Golden was the Outstanding Achievement Award Winner for the north area, with Steven Boal and Elly Taylor receiving awards for the south and central areas respectively.

Fiona Klein won the Kevin McMullan Award with other staff being recognized including Cynthia Castellucci, Ann Laramie, Erin Lettner and Shaylene Lev for their 20 years of service. Unable to attend were Tara Dufour, Michelle Hoare, Terri Cameron, Cheryl Moffat, Carol Young, Donna Rocheleau, Susan LaRue and Lana Quinn.

Heather Hannigan (left) and Michelle Jones-Rousseau were honoured for 25 years of service at Community Living Essex County’s recent annual general meeting (AGM).

Heather Hannigan and Michelle Jones-Rousseau were honoured for 25 years of service while staff members recognized for 30 years of service included Elizabeth Beaudoin and Margherita Vachon. Deneane Mineau and Janice Bondy also are celebrating 30 years of service but they were also unable to attend.

Newly-inducted CLEC board president Robert Tomek congratulated the award winners and praised them for their involvement and passion.

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.