Karen Bolger

Ruthven Apple Festival raises $48,000 for Community Living Essex County



By Ron Giofu


While the festival may have been hosted in Kingsville, the 39th annual Ruthven Apple Festival will have its benefits reverberate around Essex County.

The most recent festival was Sept. 29-30 at Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens but donors, sponsors, board members of Community Living Essex County (CLEC), CLEC staff, and those the not-for-profit agency supports gathered last Thursday for the official cheque presentation. This year’s festival raised $48,000 for Community Living Essex County.

Robert Tomek, CLEC board president, thanked everyone from vendors to sponsors as well as those who attended. He also praised the steering committee for its work in organizing the festival. Tomek said it has become a Top 100 festival in Ontario.

“This festival has grown each and every year,” he said. “We’re looking very much looking forward to celebrating our 40th anniversary next fall.”

Proceeds from the Ruthven Apple Festival help with such purchases as wheelchair-accessible vans. Stickers are placed on each of the vans purchased with festival proceeds to let people know where their money is going.

“The proceeds from the Ruthven Apple Festival makes a tremendous difference and each and every dollar is appreciated and needed,” said Tomek.

The Ruthven Apple Festival steering committee presented a cheque to Community Living Essex County in the amount of $48,000.

“We’re very proud of the growth and popularity of the Ruthven Apple Festival. With this year’s proceeds, the festival has raised almost $1 million (over its first 39 years),” added CLEC executive director Karen Bolger. “Every dollar makes a difference and has a meaningful impact on the people we support.”

Bolger thanked the volunteers and supporters of the festival, noting that manager of community relations and resource development Tony DeSantis and administrative officer Margaret Patalas were staff members that are also key parts of the committee.

DeSantis said it takes “an army of volunteers” to present the festival and that “it’s a testament to what happens behind the scenes. He said the donation tent alone made $11,000 this year.

DeSantis also paid tribute to Jean Myles, who died earlier this year. Myles was involved in various capacities with CLEC, including as a staff member, board member and in whatever other role she was needed over a 40-year period. DeSantis recalled being warmly welcomed by Myles when he got involved with the Ruthven Apple Festival and referred to her as a mentor.

“She became my biggest supporter,” he said.

Myles’ impact was huge, he indicated.

“We are very privileged and very blessed she was part of our family,” said DeSantis.

Community Living Essex County executive director Karen Bolger speaks at a recent function where the Ruthven Apple Festival presented CLEC with the proceeds from this year’s festival – $48,000.

DeSantis said the Ruthven Apple Festival steering committee was very grateful for the help of the volunteers.

“Thank you doesn’t seem like enough,” he said. “We cherish all of our volunteers.”

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos also brought greetings, noting that “the cause is so great – to help people in our community.”

Community Living Essex County supports roughly 700 people with intellectual disabilities and their families across the area. For more information, visit www.communitylivingessex.org. The agency can be “Liked” on Facebook at www.facebook.com/clessexcounty and “followed” on Twitter at www.twitter.com/clessexcounty.

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 www.communitylivingessex.org or call 519-776-6483. People can also “Like” them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/clessexcounty or “Follow” them on Twitter at twitter.com/clessexcounty.

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 www.mycommunityhub.ca, 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 www.communitylivingessex.org. 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.

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 www.communitylivingessex.org or call 519-776-6483.