Tony DeSantis

Community Living Essex County celebrates collaboration at “Luncheon with the Mayors”



By RTT Staff


Community Living Month in Ontario was celebrated in May with the local organization highlighting its collaboration with local municipalities.

Community Living Essex County (CLEC) held its 11th annual “Luncheon with the Mayors” Friday afternoon with each of the seven county municipalities well represented. Amherstburg was represented by such dignitaries as Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale, police chief Tim Berthiaume, fire chief Al Reaume, Sgt. Mike Cox and Const. Steve Owen of Amherstburg police and Joe and Shirley Meloche of Joe Meloche Ford Sales.

Warden Tom Bain brings greetings on behalf of all mayors at Community Living Essex County's Luncheon with the  Mayors May 27.

Warden Tom Bain brings greetings on behalf of all mayors at Community Living Essex County’s Luncheon with the Mayors May 27.

Tony DeSantis, manager of community relations with CLEC, said they were one of many organizations hosting events like that across Ontario. Many agencies participate in flag raising ceremonies, host events and take part in other activities with a highlight this year being the CN Tower lit up with Community Living’s colours of green and blue.

“We thank all of you for helping us celebrate Community Living Month,” said DeSantis.

CLEC has grown in its 55 years, he added, highlighting such statistics as a $35,000 budget in 1961 as compared to $32.7 million in 2016 and one station wagon in 1961 versus 62 vehicles today.

“We have surpassed 1,000 Facebook ‘Likes’,” he added. “We’re really proud of that.”

Warden Tom Bain brought greetings from the County of Essex and praised the job the not-for-profit agency is doing.

“You are helping everyone there reach their full potential,” said Bain. “That’s what we need to do. When you work as a team, you accomplish so much more.”

The concept of teamwork was also touched on by CLEC executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero. She outlined the opening of the “Community Hub 33” in Leamington that CLEC shares with several other agencies such as the Children’s Aid Society, Windsor’s employment and social services department, Ontario Works, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, among others.

The hub is designed to broaden the reach of the participating agencies and allow people to get services they need in one building.

CLEC’s “Together, One Dream” initiative was discussed by board of directors past president Diane Bourbeau, self advocate Ray Renaud and Kelly Runnalls from the organization Ensemble, the latter being a parent-driven resource for those with children with a disability.

Community Living Essex County board past president Diane Bourbeau (foreground), self-advocate Ray Renaud and Kelly Runnalls from Ensemble discuss CLEC's "Together, One Dream" initiative.

Community Living Essex County board past president Diane Bourbeau (foreground), self-advocate Ray Renaud and Kelly Runnalls from Ensemble discuss CLEC’s “Together, One Dream” initiative.

“We are not just a board of directors and a service provider,” said Bourbeau, who also has a daughter with a disability. “We are actually a group of three organizations that need to work together to carry out what the vision of the organization is.”

The organizations listen to families and the people supported and created a video that has been gaining attention at conferences and seminars CLEC representatives attend.

“Community Living is an organization of families. That’s how it started. That’s how it needs to be,” said Bourbeau. “We know the money (from the province) is not bottomless but the need is bottomless.”

Runnalls has three children with autism and said Ensemble helps parents by listening and supporting them.

“We relate to families and they really appreciate that,” said Runnalls.

Derek Roy pointed out CLEC’s “Career Compass” service, which helps find employment for those with an intellectual disability. He said employment does not have to be full-time, adding that part-time is often preferable particularly in the beginning as some people may not be used to working. Job coaching is available through Career Compass and a summer student program is also being proposed.

The amount of people with disabilities finding employment is growing, he added, with the towns of Amherstburg and LaSalle joining the ranks.

CLEC’s “Real Change” initiative, which is trying to reshape how the service is delivered, was outlined by steering committee member and manager of administration Julie LaSorda.

“We’re not throwing out everything we’ve built,” said LaSorda, who added the agency is now in a competitive marketplace as those receiving support now get funding directly from the province and get to choose who they receive supports from.

“They can shop anywhere, and rightly so,” she said.

The services and needs are changing and LaSorda said the “Real Change” initiative saw consultants hired to guide the agency through the process and how it can better deliver the service and supports.