Fort Fun Centre

Essex County Heroes wrap up year with Robert Pillon Memorial Award presentations



By Ron Giofu


The Essex County Heroes celebrated the 2017-18 season in a little different fashion than what they are used to, but no one was complaining.

Instead of the dinner they usually have, the athletic club for people with intellectual disabilities had a carnival-type party Saturday night at The Fort Fun Centre. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Robert Pillon Memorial Award, given to the Heroes’ athlete that demonstrates outstanding sportsmanship and dedication to the program, with two people getting it this year.

As the Heroes now has basketball programs running Tuesday evenings during the fall, winter and spring in Essex as well as the regular Wednesday night basketball program in Amherstburg, an award was given to a person from each town. The Amherstburg award was given to Peter Novelletto while the Essex award went to Spencer Tapping.

The Essex County Heroes held their carnival-themed party Saturday night at the Fort Fun Centre. One of the highlights was the presentations of the Robert Pillon Memorial Award. From left: Heroes co-founder Michelle Jones-Rousseau, Amherstburg award winner Peter Novelletto, Richard Pillon, Ron Pillon, Sean MacKinnon, Essex award winner Spencer Tapping and Debbie Alexander.

Michelle Jones-Rousseau, who founded the Heroes 15 years ago with Sgt. Mike Cox of the Amherstburg Police Service, said the new format appears to have worked.

“It seems to be a big hit so far,” she said. “We didn’t have the numbers we expected at first but we ended up selling out. Everyone is happy.”

A sell-out for the carnival-type party, which was held in the Fort’s outdoor pavilion, is about 200, Jones-Rousseau stated, down from the 300 the dinner usually held but no one was complaining. She said the event is more to generate awareness for the Heroes and not so much as a fundraiser.

“It’s something different. Usually we have it in March,” she said. “If nothing else, we love the opportunity to have a big party. It’s more about us reaching out there and being involved with the community.”

The band Bigg Wiggle performed at the Essex County Heroes’ carnival party at the Fort Fun Centre June 23.

The 15th season for the Essex County Heroes program starts in October with the party seeing the Robert Pillon Memorial Award being presented for the tenth time. The program was formerly known as the Amherstburg Heroes but changed the name when the basketball program expanded to Essex a few years ago.

The basketball program saw over 100 athletes participate overall between Essex District High School and General Amherst High School. The Heroes are sponsored by the Amherstburg Police Service, Essex OPP and Community Living Essex County.

Const. Sean MacKinnon, community safety officer with Essex OPP, said the Essex basketball night has grown substantially from when it first started.

“In Essex, we started with a small group,” he stated. “It’s pretty much tripled in size.”

Jenna Bondy and Rachael Wheeler play one of the carnival games at the Essex County Heroes carnival night June 23.

Debbie Alexander, who also helps run the Essex basketball night, added some people like a smaller group as the Amherstburg basketball night is larger. However, she said there are those who go both nights.

The Heroes have also teamed with Group Hug Apparel to hold hip hop classes in Kingsville. However, a lack of volunteers killed the baseball program at the Libro Centre this year.

“We had a lot of disappointed people who couldn’t play baseball this year,” said Jones-Rousseau.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” added MacKinnon.

The weekly basketball nights resume in October but the Heroes will be asking people to come out and help, as more volunteers means a safer time for all. MacKinnon said everyone from high school students looking for volunteer hours to adults looking to give back are welcome at both locations.

For more information, contact Jones-Rousseau at 519-791-3302 or People can also contact Cox at 519-736-8559 or or Alexander at

Essex County Heroes seeking volunteers, planning June 23 event



By Ron Giofu


The Essex County Heroes is in need of some new volunteers.

The athletic club – which is run in cooperation with the Amherstburg Police Service, Essex OPP and Community Living Essex County for those with intellectual disabilities – needs volunteers to not only help out with its upcoming “Heroes Carnival” but also with the program itself. The basketball season has wrapped up, and the baseball season looks to be cancelled due to a lack of volunteers.

“We’ve had a lot of support, but we’ve also had a lot of people come and go,” explained Michelle Jones-Rousseau, who founded the Heroes with Sgt. Mike Cox of the Amherstburg Police Service.

Jones-Rousseau said they have had volunteers such as T.J. Laframboise and Jarrod Manherz, who started when they were in Grade 9 and still do it now that they have gone through their post-secondary education.

“We only have one volunteer that is still with us from Day 1,” said Jones-Rousseau, with that being Tina LeBlanc. “We need fresh blood and we need more volunteers.”

The Essex County Heroes gather for a group photo at one of their final basketball nights of the 2017-18 season. The Heroes is seeking new volunteers to help support the club.

Cox acknowledged that “we’ve got fantastic people coming out” but they need more.

“The athletes keep coming out and the needs keep getting greater and greater,” he said. “We need more bodies.”

The Essex County Heroes, which runs Tuesday night basketball at Essex District High School and Wednesday night basketball at General Amherst High School, has now expanded further. They have hip hop dance classes in Kingsville thanks to a partnership with Group Hug Apparel and plan to start swimming classes in Leamington.

“We’re always expanding,” said Jones-Rousseau. “We want to keep it growing. I’m excited about how far this has come in 14 years.”

John Cooper takes a shot during a recent basketball night at General Amherst High School. Basketball has wrapped up for the season but returns in October.

Jones-Rousseau said the “Heroes Carnival” will be June 23 at The Fort Fun Centre, specifically in the “Bunker” outdoor pavilion. She said they have taken the Robert Pillon Memorial Dinner and turned it into a carnival format.

The presentation of the annual Robert Pillon Memorial Award will be that evening. There will also be multiple food stations, the band Bigg Wiggle and other activities. Food stations will be open 5-8 p.m.

“We expect to sell over 300 tickets,” she said. “The Fort is very generous to us.”

“It’s going to be a party atmosphere,” added Cox. “It will be a fun night where people can come and enjoy.”

Jones-Rousseau said their members have been saying “loud and clear they want a party.”

Essex County Heroes athlete Jaclyn Hertel (centre) stands with volunteers Sylvain Default, Francois Default, TJ Laframboise and Jarrod Manherz during a recent Wednesday night basketball session at General Amherst High School. The Heroes needs more volunteers as they have a June 23 “Heroes Carnival” coming up as well as more volunteers for next season.

Tickets for the fundraiser are available at Channel Resource Centre (260 Bathurst St.), the Towne Shoppe, the Amherstburg police station, The Fort Fun Centre and Community Living Essex County’s office at 372 Talbot St. North in Essex.

For more information on the “Heroes Carnival” or to volunteer, contact Jones-Rousseau at 519-791-3302 or People can also contact Cox through the police station at 519-736-8559 or

St. Clair students to hold fundraiser for Miracle League of Amherstburg



By Jolene Perron


As part of their business and marketing programs, a group of St. Clair College students have been given the task of planning, organizing and running a charity event and have chosen an Amherstburg organization to be their recipient.

“My hopes for this event is to raise the maximum amount of money possible, have a fun environment and provide the best experience to the families and children involved,” said Patrick Thompson, Amherstburg resident and student in the business and marketing program. “It’s an exciting opportunity for us as soon to be marketing professionals to be able to plan and organize an event as large scale as we hope this evening can be.”

Thompson said the Nov. 22 pasta dinner fundraiser will take place at The Fort Family Fun Centre. They have named the event “Miracle at The Fort” and it costs $20, which will include the dinner as well as an entry to win a brand new smart phone. Participants must be present to win, and there will also be silent auctions and raffle prizes at the event.

Although The Fort Family Fun Centre has only been open since February, co-owner Brad Hearn said they have been helping charities from the start as well as sponsoring various sports teams.

“We like to help organizations in our direct community,” explained Hearn. “The Miracle League is a great organization here in Amherstburg. We have helped them before. We have discounted the food pricing as well as the hall rental to help the fundraising. We do our best to help out in the direct community.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, e-mail or text or call 226-787-8640.

Fort Fun Centre should be fully operational later this year



By Ron Giofu


The Fort Family Fun Centre’s plans should come to fruition by the fall, according to its owners.

The official groundbreaking for the facility was Friday morning with owners Terry Jones and Brad Hearn, their family, business associates and town officials on hand for the event.

“We’re converting something old into something new,” said Hearn, as part of the ceremony outside the facility that once housed the Verdi Club. “We think we’ve got something new for the town of Amherstburg.”

The proposed new look of what the Fort Family Fun Centre is shown above. (Special to the RTT)

The proposed new look of what the Fort Family Fun Centre is shown above. (Special to the RTT)

To symbolize the change in ownership, Hearn covered the Verdi Club logo that was on the lectern with a logo for the Fort Family Fun Centre.

The Fort Family Fun Centre currently has 40 employees and Hearn said they plan to more than double that number.

“It should be close to 100 when we are done,” he said. “We think it’s good for the town.”

The restaurant portion of the building – known as “The Barracks” – is complete as are renovations to the pavilion with other interior work to include a bowling alley, arcade, party room and laser tag arena. Hearn said the bowling alley should see work done in the next four to six weeks or so.

Other exterior work includes a go-kart track, a new façade to the building and about 200 campsites. Hearn said they plan on getting the façade work underway in the coming weeks with the overall timeline for completion of most of the work in roughly three months.

The Fort Fun Centre, formerly the Verdi Club, will have various uses. (Special to the RTT)

The Fort Fun Centre, formerly the Verdi Club, will have various uses. (Special to the RTT)

The campground may have to wait until next year, he added. Sand volleyball courts are now available.

People from Amherstburg have been loyal and are supporting their new venture, said Hearn, but added they want to be a regional attraction.

“We want to pull from all over Essex County,” said Hearn.

Hearn and Jones have long discussed creating a family fun project in Amherstburg and were presented the option of the Verdi Club property when it came up for sale.

“It’s all coming together,” said Hearn. “We just keep adding things. Hopefully we don’t run out of room.”

Jones said they’ve been talking about a bowling alley or some sort of venture for years and everything came to fruition when the Verdi Club came up for sale.

“Brad’s the best partner you could ever have,” said Jones. “He’s good with people. He likes to have fun and we like to have fun together.”

They are trying to create jobs as well as an attraction, he added, also stating they want to bring in people from around Windsor-Essex County. He said they have an “aggressive” construction schedule but that is by design.

“We’ve got to keep moving in order to keep the excitement building,” he said.

Owners Brad Hearn and Terry Jones (left) and their staff held an official groundbreaking ceremony last Friday morning.

Owners Brad Hearn and Terry Jones (left) and their staff held an official groundbreaking ceremony last Friday morning.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said the location is special due to its history.

“This location means a lot to me and many other people in town,” said DiCarlo, calling it an “Italian cultural hub” for Amherstburg.

However, he praised Hearn and Jones for their vision and said it will be not only a boost for Amherstburg, but for Windsor-Essex County as well.

“We are very grateful they are creating another attraction,” the mayor stated.

DiCarlo said Hearn and Jones as well as their businesses have shown a commitment to Amherstburg through their investments and their charitable support of local causes.

“This is another example,” said DiCarlo.

The Fort Family Fun Centre is located at 689 Texas Road. Their website is

Essex County Heroes annual fundraiser coming March 4



By Ron Giofu


The annual fundraiser to benefit the Essex County Heroes Athletic Club is right around the corner.

The Heroes will host the fundraising dinner March 4 at the Fort Fun Centre, formerly known as the Verdi Club. The Heroes was co-founded by Michelle Jones-Rousseau and Mike Cox and is a partnership between Community Living Essex County, the Amherstburg Police Service and the Essex OPP.

“We’ve added Norm Acklund Jr., who is an Elvis tribute artist,” said Jones-Rousseau. “He’s going to be the M.C.”

The band Bigg Wiggle will also be back “by popular demand,” said Jones-Rousseau.

One of the evening’s highlights will be the presentation of the Robert Pillon Memorial Award. That award, first presented in 2009, goes to the athlete that demonstrates outstanding sportsmanship and dedication to the program.

Robert Pillon, who was supported through CLEC, died Sept. 5, 2008 and was known for being active in the community. Last year’s award was won by Kate Chant.

The evening will also have a photo booth and raffle, with the local businesses and individuals encouraged to donate raffle prizes.

Proceeds from the chicken and pasta dinner go directly into the Essex County Heroes program. The program is free to participants.

“It’s a fun evening,” Jones-Rousseau said of the fundraiser. “It’s a party. It’s a fun event.”

Heroes - JPG

The Essex County Heroes has an estimated 100 athletes in total, said Jones-Rousseau. A recently formed Tuesday night group has about 25 athletes that play out of Essex District High School with the original Wednesday night group having about 60-70 athletes playing out of General Amherst High School. Sean MacKinnon, an OPP officer, and Debbie Alexander, a direct support worker with CLEC, run the Tuesday night program while Cox and Jones-Rousseau run the Wednesday night program.
Jones-Rousseau added there is a group of athletes who only play baseball during the summer months.

“This event and this club have been so successful because of the work of so many volunteers,” said Jones-Rousseau. “They put in a lot of time and dedication. The volunteers we have right now are the best. They just want to make this successful.”

Cox said there are now a lot of adult volunteers, as well as youth volunteers.

“We wouldn’t exist if the volunteers weren’t so committed,” said Cox. “Most of them don’t have a connection. They just enjoy giving back. Everyone has fun.”

The Heroes hopes to have even more people with intellectual disabilities and those who support them come out.
“We encourage as many people as we can to come out. The more the merrier,” said Cox.

The Heroes is a non-competitive environment and Cox said they want to keep it open to everyone at no cost.

Tickets for the March 4 fundraiser are $25 and are available at Channel Resource Centre (260 Bathurst St.), Community Living Essex County (372 Talbot. St. North in Essex), The Fort Fun Centre (689 Texas Road) and the Amherstburg police station (532 Sandwich St. S.). There will be 300 tickets available as Jones-Rousseau noted the full banquet hall will be used since renovations have not started on that portion of the building yet. She pointed out the restaurant portion of the facility is now open.

For more information, e-mail or through their Facebook page.