Leaping societal barriers with care, creativity and technology
In Ontario, Community Living Essex County provides relief and support for residents with intellectual disabilities
Being together while staying apart. That’s been the name of the game since March 2020.
But assisting people of all ages with an intellectual disability has been the name of the game for Community Living Essex County (CLEC) since 1961; so the organization did as many others did last year, and embraced the shift to virtual.
“Our supports have always involved employment, family, and in home support, so we had to get creative in carrying out our programs and events,” says Tony DeSantis, Manager, Community Relations and Resource Development at CLEC.
Faced with a COVID-19 pandemic, the organization started its Virtual Supports program, which has helped families stay in touch and continue activity classes through virtual education, painting, bingo, fitness and crafting.
CLEC provides services to support community members across a wide geographic spread. Largely covering the southwestern tip of Ontario, the organization serves the Town of Essex and six other municipalities.
“There’s still some stigma around people with intellectual disabilities, and we really focus on just talking about our organization and raising public awareness in order to help those people out,” says DeSantis.
Support takes form in a number of ways, from accommodation supports to assistance finding employment in their community to temporary respite services for families. While CLEC can fund a lot of its great services through the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services it relies on donations to provide added benefit to individuals.
This year, Enbridge provided $8,000 to Community Living Essex County as part of our commitment to the communities near our operations. The funding supports the Virtual Support program as it connects community members to events and bolsters accessibility by providing computers. Enbridge funds also supported a virtual holiday party at the end of 2020, where CLEC members logged on to display gingerbread houses they had made with their families, and to sing songs and tell stories.
CLEC provides supports and services to over 700 people across Essex County. With more than 740 part-time and full-time staff, the organization is one of the largest employers in the area.
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“Our staff are extremely dedicated, and we have been very fortunate,” says DeSantis, who himself is nearing the 20-year mark with CLEC. “They enjoy the work, they get fulfillment from their job, and they know the community inside and out, so they are best suited to be links to community supports.”
While donations provide an obvious boost, there are many other meaningful ways to help out. Supporters can join in on the fundraising fun put on by CLEC, hire a person with a disability, or volunteer their time at the various events put on each year.
“When people come to us, they tend to stay,” remarks DeSantis.
The same can be said for the individuals that CLEC directly services, but in a slightly different way. DeSantis recalls several people who have been through one or many support programs that he now greets while they are working at local businesses.
“People tell me how happy they are to be active participants in their community and that is just part of that connection that feels so good,” says DeSantis.
“To know a little bit of what we’ve done has potentially helped a family, an employer, or a municipality—it is that fulfillment that everyone is after.”
(TOP PHOTO: CLEC clients Josh and Steph visit Point Pelee National Park in summer 2021.)
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