Nancy Wallace-Gero

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.


Community Living Essex County receives $75,000 from Ruthven Apple Festival



Community Living Essex County (CLEC) received a nice Christmas gift a couple of weeks early.

The Ruthven Apple Festival committee presented the cheque from the Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at Colasanti’s Tropical Garden last Wednesday afternoon. When all was said and done, proceeds amounted to a record $75,000.

“This money couldn’t have come at a more perfect time,” remarked CLEC executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero. “This is absolutely fantastic. It kinds of takes your breath away.”

The Ruthven Apple Festival committee presents the cheque to Community Living Essex County Dec. 13 at Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens. This year’s festival raised a record $75,000.

Wallace-Gero said it is “one of the most exciting days of the year for Community Living Essex County” and that the money stays in Essex County and directly benefits those receiving supports and their families.

“This is used to help people in our community,” said Wallace-Gero. “This will help us ensure the quality of supports we give to people in the community will continue to be the highest.”

The festival has grown tremendously over the years, Wallace-Gero added, with much of the growth stemming from word-of-mouth advertising.

Tony DeSantis, manager of community relations and resource development with CLEC, said “we have a lot to celebrate” and called it a “wonderful event” to help kick off the Christmas season.

“Our organization is involved in so many different things,” said DeSantis. “We look forward to 2018 but we are closing out 2017 with a bang.”

DeSantis thanked the farmers, Colasanti’s Tropical Gardens and volunteers, noting “we work with so many volunteers to make this event happen.” He also thanked long-time committee member Ron Hicks, who passed away earlier this year. Hicks’ wife Laverne and daughter Shannon were on hand to help present the cheque.

Community Living Essex County executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero (left) accepts the $75,000 cheque from the Ruthven Apple Festival steering committee. Making the presentation is Laverne and Shannon Hicks, wife and daughter of long-time committee member Ron Hicks, who passed away earlier this year.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos expressed pride in seeing everyone coming together annually to put on the event. He said the festival has been running 38 years and “that is something worth celebrating.”

Colasanti thanked everyone as well, but also pointed out the work of DeSantis. He said the committee has a list of tasks to do and DeSantis is the one doing a lot of them.

“Tony is on 30-40 per cent of the job list,” said Colasanti. “I think that’s pretty incredible.”

Community Living Essex County is a non-profit, charitable organization that supports over 650 people with intellectual disabilities and their families across Essex County. For more information, visit or call 519-776-6483. People can also “Like” them on Facebook at or “Follow” them on Twitter at

Community Living Essex County celebrates “REAL Change” initiative



Community Living Essex County (CLEC) celebrated its “REAL Change” initiative last week as the agency seeks to modernize the way it delivers services.

REAL Change is described as “a robust undertaking to transform the agency’s business and service delivery models in order to offer modern, relevant supports within a sustainable and innovative infrastructure. REAL Change has the potential to be a demonstration project for other service providers within Ontario’s developmental service sector.”

The project has been undertaken over the last two years, but CLEC executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero indicated that the celebration was not the completion of the project.

Sara Gavrelets, a Community Living Essex County support worker and a “REAL Change” champion, discusses her experiences with CLEC’s modernizations efforts during a celebration last Thursday afternoon.

Sara Gavrelets, a Community Living Essex County support worker and a “REAL Change” champion, discusses her experiences with CLEC’s modernizations efforts during a celebration last Thursday afternoon.

“It’s really not the end of the process or the end of anything,” said Wallace-Gero.

Wallace-Gero said the agency plans on continuing to go down the path of modernization and but noted “this is a very exciting day for all of us.”

Sue Desjarlais, a member of the agency’s board of directors as well as a REAL Change committee member, said the first few months were devoted to “taking things apart” and looking about how services were delivered.

“We’ve done something dynamic over the last couple of years,” said Desjarlais.

CLEC engaged the consulting firm People Minded Business (PMB) to guide it through the process with Janeen Halliwell and Jennifer Keilty-Friesen helping CLEC engage families and stakeholders in an effort to modernize services. Halliwell noted that it was important to develop “a culture of innovation” and that the strategic planning was both dynamic and diverse. She said the process was to not only find out what their goals were but to align them with a strategic direction.

Keilty-Friesen said over 200 stakeholders were part of the process. Direction that came up as part of the process included improving access to services, offering families innovative and affordable supports for those with intellectual disabilities, designing a responsible and sustainable business model and to provide leadership in the developmental services sector.

Janeen Halliwell discusses the REAL Change initiative during a celebration last Thursday. Halliwell and Jennifer Keilty-Friesen from the consulting firm People Minded Business (PMB) helped guide Community Living Essex County through the REAL Change process.

Janeen Halliwell discusses the REAL Change initiative during a celebration last Thursday. Halliwell and Jennifer Keilty-Friesen from the consulting firm People Minded Business (PMB) helped guide Community Living Essex County through the REAL Change process.

Consultation took place with a number of groups, including Ensemble and New Day. The former is a parent-driven group with parent consultant Kelly Runnalls noting their voices were heard throughout the REAL Change process.

Marilyn Goddard, also representing Ensemble, said there was no time when the voices of parents not get heard.

“Change is a good thing,” said Goddard. “It presents us with exciting possibilities.”

Karen Bolger, director of operations with CLEC, outlined the five pilot groups that were part of the REAL Change process. Forward First Marketing helped establish communication and marketing strategies to reach all audiences, while CLEC also joined the Central 33 Leamington Hub in order to foster greater collaboration with multiple organizations in order to improve response to families. Another pilot was “My Support Link” with the purpose of that being to be an innovative web-based application for people with intellectual disabilities and their families to connect with one another and to share resources and access.

“Select A Break” was developed to provide “right fit respite options” that are affordable, flexible and sensitive to individual and family needs. That program is expanding into Amherstburg and Tecumseh.

“The Right Support in My Home” group is to develop a full range of community residential support options which provide the right level of support to promote independence, self-determination, community involvement and contribution. Part of that is the Smart Support options, something CLEC’s director of supports Corey Dalgleish called “a game changer.” Smart Supports involves the ethical use of technology to aid in providing supports including medicine dispensers, cooking assistance, video calls and more. Dalgleish added that technology will be used with full permission of everyone involved.

Keilty-Friesen said CLEC took a “huge stop” by not only developing plans, but actually putting them in motion.

“People have more support options through this initiative,” added Halliwell. “This agency is leading the way in providing supports in a modernized sector.”

For more information on REAL Change, call 519-776-6483 or visit