Atikokan Progress | October 7, 2019 | M. McKinnon
Community Living Atikokan won a provincial honour at the annual conference of the Community Living Ontario Association in Thunder Bay last month.
“Community Living Atikokan and its leadership team have continued to ‘punch above its weight’, having far more influence in the positive transformation of the developmental sector than its size would suggest. [It] has made a difference in its own community, and through its leadership, mentorship, and advocacy, in the lives of people across the province.”
That’s what one of three nominators had to say about the Atikokan organization which was ultimately deemed worthy of the James Montgomerie Community Award. It goes to an association that demonstrates leadership and innovation in furthering Community Living Ontario’s mission, goals, and vision.
“Community Living Atikokan has been committed to supporting individuals in Atikokan for the past fifty years,” said Chris Beesley, CEO of Community Living Ontario. “They have been dedicated to transforming traditional models of support to innovate person-centered and individualistic support services.”
“In pursuit of this goal, Community Living Atikokan was instrumental in the development and implementation of the From Presence to Citizenship project,” he continued. “This initiative has resulted in the engagement of over eighty agencies sharing in conversation and mentorship with the goal of sustaining person-centered services.”
Executive director Jim Turner and board members Jason Young (vice-chair) and Brian Stimson accepted the award on behalf of Community Living Atikokan. In all, fifteen CLA people were at the conference.
“This award was won by our entire team – the staff, the leadership, the board,” said Turner. “It was nice to have a northern organization win the award; I go every year and it’s always these big southern associations winning all the awards.”
From Presence to Citizenship began almost five years ago as all the Ontario organizations supporting people with developmental disabilities started to take a new approach in how they served their members. The basic effort was to become a member-centred service – instead of managing people, Community Living organizations started helping their members lead fuller lives of their own choosing.
It has been a challenging path, but also a rewarding one.
Turner realized associations needed a more direct way of working together – of sharing resources, best practices, and knowledge.
“As soon as I started talking about the idea, ten other organizations jumped on board,” he said. They went to the province and won special support to create an information sharing network and develop new ideas and methods for helping association members become fully involved in their communities.
In effect, the project became a gigantic professional development exercise for the thousands of Ontarians who work with people who have a developmental disability.
Turner said that at least part of the idea for the project came from the strong sense of community he found in Atikokan when he first came here a decade ago.
“There is a real culture of inclusion here – even when compared to other northern Ontario towns. I noticed that right away,” he said.
Turner was also pleased Community Living Ontario brought the conference and annual general meeting – its sixty-sixth – to Thunder Bay.
“Community Living Thunder Bay executive director Lisa Foster and I have been lobbying for it to come North,” he said. “We wanted everyone to experience our culture and understand what we face travel wise here.”
It also gave this association, and others in the Northwest, the opportunity to take advantage of the many talented people Community Living Ontario brings in for the conference.
Nick Maisey, the Australian founder of befriend.org, was the guest speaker, and also ran a workshop in conjunction with the conference. He was in Atikokan for several days after the conference to hold training sessions with all of the CLA staff; several staffers from the Kenora and Red Lake associations came down for the sessions, too.
Befriend.org isn’t specifically about working with people with disabilities – it’s more about challenging the worldwide epidemic of loneliness.
It started with small neighbourhood gatherings that were open to all, and soon had a team of people with diverse skills and experiences, willing to take on an ambitious purpose: “We exist to spark human connection between people from diverse backgrounds, to grow inclusive communities in which all people are valued and belong.”
“The key to living a long, happy, healthy life is good relationships, and that the strongest human societies are those that value, embrace and unlock the uniqueness of each person,” says befiend.org.
In a few short years in Perth, Australia, it connected 12,000 people, and began training ‘community inclusion ambassadors’ in the fine art of brining people together.
One of the goals of community living organizations is to help members develop social connections, so the the Befriend program ties in perfectly.