Friday, January 12, 2018

My Life, My Path: A Conference for Youth With Special Needs

By Special Guest Blogger Ann Taylor


On November 17, 2017, a pedagogical day at Champlain College during which the halls would normally have been quiet, the building was filled with excitement and activity as approximately 75 youth with special needs from five Montreal-area school boards came together to learn, exchange ideas, meet new friends and take a small step towards an exciting future.

My Life, My Path, My PACE – a conference for youth with special needs and the first of its kind in Montreal, started as an idea of students attending the Adam’s PACE program. It was originally
Youth gathering  at Champlain College for the "My Life, My
Path, My Pace" conference on November 17, 2017.
to be a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Adam’s PACE, a joint Riverside School Board/Champlain College inclusive college program. The students wanted an opportunity to learn more about issues that are or will become important in their lives over the coming years; issues such as employment and independent living. They also wanted to meet other youth with similar interests and concerns. With the help of a few students, as well as a committee made up of Adam’s PACE, McGill, CRISPESH and some members of the community, after two years of planning, the dream became a reality. The program was set up, the venue organized and the conference was set to take place. The commitment of five Montreal area school boards (including Riverside School Board, Lester B. Pearson, New Frontiers, English Montreal and Sir Wilfred Laurier) to send their students to participate in the event made it official and the last details fell into place. 

One of the most important components of the day was the leadership and logistical help provided by twenty students from Champlain College who volunteered their time to manage the day and provide support to participants. They showed a welcoming spirit, resourcefulness and enthusiasm and created a feeling of camaraderie amongst all present. As was stated by a Champlain student who attended, “the learning went all ways today – everyone benefitted…everyone learned.”
 
It was all smiles among those present.

Benoit Huot, a gold medalist paralympian, kicked off the day with an inspirational keynote message. He spoke of his love of sports, overcoming disability and fully living his experiences, both good and bad. His story was full of examples of hard work, perseverance, and learning from tough times and celebrating success.  

The keynote address wrapped up by 10 am and the group moved to the college gym to participate in some interactive icebreakers designed to help the attendees open up, share something about themselves and get to know each other. Participants then moved into one of five workshops led by experts in the field. 

The workshops included an employment session led by CRISPESH and joined by a representative from Ready, Willing and Able. Spectrum Productions shared their expertise in the responsible use
Practicing yoga and mindfulness.
of photos and video in social media; Cindy Durack, an experienced yoga instructor, lead a session on mindfulness and techniques to manage stress; LOVE shared strategies to manage bullying and the feelings that come from it, and Avatil talked about how to prepare for independent living.

Lunch provided a time for youth to meet, mingle and share. After pizza, fruit and deserts in the college cafeteria, the participants headed for their second workshop, the same as were offered in the morning and an opportunity for participants to attend their second choice. The day ended with a Karaoke celebration and more time to exchange email addresses and chat with teachers or a new friend. 




The day was an incredible success! We have been collecting evaluations and looking for ways to grow and improve the next event in the hopes of bringing more Montreal area youth together to learn and meet new people. For more information please contact Ann Taylor at abectay@hotmail.com.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Oka National Park Race for Special Needs: Running for Community Resources and Support!

By Randy Pinsky


Gusting winds, rainy forecasts, and an early start failed to dampen the excitement and determination exhibited at the 9th annual Oka National Park Run for the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped (WIAIH)! The dreary November morning was counterbalanced by the contagious energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers in fluorescent vests and the hundreds of pumped-up runners.
Energy was high as walkers and runners took part in the annual event.
As described on their website, WIAIH “strives to enhance the lives of people with an intellectual disability or autism, provide support to their families, and maintain and develop innovative services and sensitize the community”. Celebrating almost 60 years of involvement, the organization provides early intervention for those with developmental delays, in addition to coordinating parent support groups, social activities, and respite care.

Through their work, WIAIH “promotes independence and socialization for [their clients] through a variety of dynamic and fun activities that can be enjoyed with their peers”.


The Run’s coordination team deserves special mention for their innovativeness, dispatching volunteers to their designated stations using moving vans, out of which volunteers leaped like members of a SWAT team. Swiftly pitching tents, keeping runners hydrated with water and electrolytes, they enthusiastically cheered runners on, reinforcing the importance of their involvement. Cheering, “you’re all heroes” and “do it for the families”, runners pushed beyond their limits, motivated by the transformative work WIAIH does.

Volunteers on the ready to leap out at their designated stations.

Over 2,500 runners and walkers were in attendance, taking part in the 5K, 10K, 21K and the extremely popular 1K Kids Fun Run. Montrealer Louis-Philippe Garnier led the half-marathon with an impressive timing of 1h17min53sec with Marie-Claude Le Sauteur not far behind at 1h28min20sec. In the Kids Fun Run, Collin Ocean easily overtook the others, covering the distance in 4min5sec, with Nellie Pilon Pointe-Calumet leading the girls at a respectable 4min29sec.

All decked in blue WIAIH tuques and fluorescent security vests, the volunteers helped make this event possible.

The focus and commitment of the participants - especially the young runners - was impressive, as they battled drizzling weather with positivity and drive. It was heartwarming for all to see the community get together for a cause which has impacted so many, both personally and indirectly. Sprinting by the usually packed sandy beach and seeing the chilly waves, spurred runners onwards!

One of the most courageous participants was Sonia Guarascio, single mom of a little boy with Down Syndrome, athlete extraordinaire- and breast cancer survivor. Not only did she persevere through her challenges, she inspired and led the pack in her fundraising efforts.
At press time, over $4,100 had been raised and, as noted by Tracy Wrench, Recreation Coordinator, they’re still counting!


Don’t miss the 10th edition of the WIAIH Oka National Park Run- start training today!