Everyone wants what is best for their children. It is inherent as a parent to want to watch them grow, succeed, be healthy, be happy, be fulfilled.
Imagine for just a moment if your child suddenly, at the conclusion of their school years, faced a world where their recreational activities ceased, they faced loneliness as long-time friends left town, their participation was limited for jobs and even volunteer opportunities, and they had to struggle to even gain community acceptance.
Heartbreaking for a parent to watch. A confusing and difficult world for your child.
Such is the world of families with young adults with intellectual disabilities.
As all things do, grassroots movements start with a need. The need here being young adults with disabilities, in our Caledon community, needing a voice. And they found one with Bolton’s Patricia Franks.
Patricia called together a meeting in 2012 of families she knew that shared her circumstance of being a parent of a young adult with an intellectual disability. She invited other community members and as a Councillor at the time I attended as well. Patricia gave a focused, passionate, eye-opening presentation, and the seed for Caledon Area Families For Inclusion (CAFFI) was planted.
“The need was there” explains Patricia, “and there were enough families able to band together.”
“As you know we started with the Town of Caledon Parks and Recreation department. There were definitely improvements. And, recently, there has been a further change in management at the Wellness Centre; I can say they are very open to discussion and very aware of the “over 21 issue.”
“Then we worked towards a vision of what the future should look like. That vision needed to be one of young adults staying in the community they grew up in, having a life in this community and having the community know who they are and interacting with them.”
Patricia quickly learned that she couldn’t do the work needed and still work full-time herself. So she planned that when she was able to retire she would do so. Leading CAFFI and it’s cause is now her full-time volunteer activity.
The dedicated mom participates in the Region’s “Peel Housing and Homelessness Plan”, which was launched in 2013, to address 3 main issues: Housing Stock, Family Capacity, and Integrated Systems. All 3 of which tie to the work she is doing here in Caledon.
In November 2014, following the Municipal Election, she promptly met with the new Mayor to emphasis the need to deal with housing. In March 2015, CAFFI presented to the Region of Peel, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Town of Caledon and United Way of Peel.
“They got on board” smiles Patricia “with the idea of the Caledon Housing Initiative. The Region of Peel followed through with a $20,000 capacity grant and a consulting agency was hired to help us put all of our visioning into a concrete plan.”
“It has to be a priority to increase supportive housing options, so aging parents can get some reprieve. Anyone would expect their 40-year old child to be doing something with their life. Our expectation is no different, to the extent of their abilities.”
“In Caledon” she continues “there are limited options like apartments and condos. There are really no places for these young adults to “leave to.”
Patricia admits that this type of planning is a long-term thing. “However, if we don’t start now it will not be there when needed, and that would be disastrous for these young people” she emphasizes. “Finances are part of the planning and so is social integration and, as well, ensuring resources such as medical and transportation are in place.”
The 25-year Caledon resident is encouraged that more people are becoming aware of CAFFI, and that the plight of individuals with disabilities has become more front and centre to the world at large. “I think for the Province, the Region, and the Town, it has been a real eye-opener that there are all of these people in the community affected by one or more disabilities.”
To CAFFI’s priority list of housing, transportation and recreational activities, they have also added work on trying to create social opportunities for these young adults.
“Currently we have a partnership with The Exchange” says Patricia. “On the second Friday of the month there is a dance or craft activities for about 2 hours. Families take a turn being the organizers and supervisors of the event; that gives a 2-hour break to the other familIes.”
“Another family leads a lunch social at CoffeeTime about once a month. The owners at CoffeeTime have been wonderful to us. Parents sit on one side of the restaurant and the young adults on the other. This allows an opportunity for them to connect with friends, select and purchase their own meal, etc. Good basic life skill lessons” she smiles. “Another family has started a dinner and movie night out.”
Transportation presents another big challenge here in Caledon. “It makes it difficult for them to get to a social activity, or volunteer or work opportunity. The current system will not take them to a school program for example, or to work. The system needs to become more flexible to accommodate real-world situations.”
Patricia says Caledon Community Services (CCS) now has a new contract with MTO and the Region of Peel and they are looking at more flexible options to help a broader range of people.
Another discussion CAFFI is having with the Town of Caledon is about pricing. “These young adults are on a very limited income” stresses Patricia “with only an Ontario Disability Pension; if they are living at home they receive just $800 a month to cover everything, room and board, food, personal items, transportation, and more. So we have asked that the Town extend them the same discount that they extend to seniors. That would give more of them the opportunity to participate in additional activities.”
Although the road is long and change is slow Patricia feels things have started moving in the right direction. CAFFI works hard to maintain consistent visibility.
“We are always looking for more families” Patricia adds. “It helps us to know the true number of families out there. We do know that there are at least 50 families in Bolton alone where a child with a disability is living in the home. And we know that there are at least 25 with a young adult over age 21. I am certain there are more so I invite them to at least connect with us so we can keep you informed of developments. ”
“We are not a charity, we are not a non-profit, we are not a fund-raising body. We are simply a parent support network that has been recognized in the community as a group of people willing to advocate on behalf of our young adults.”
If you would like to know more about CAFFI or sit in on a monthly meeting, held in Bolton, contact Patricia at firstname.lastname@example.org
Asked about her strong commitment to the issue Patricia simply says “Someone needed to do it. I was gifted with time and opportunity.”
Thank you Patricia, for sharing your gifts with us.