By Founding Member and Mother, Hope Thompson
When I think back over forty years, there are so many memories; some good, some bad, some happy, some sad, some amazing, some shocking. The timing was right when we formed an Association, and started our little school. It was truly a community effort. It took three months of planning to find a suitable location and more importantly, to visit homes where children with a disability were not attending any school. We found six children who were “just at home”.
Parents were reluctant to let their child leave home. Their fears included: them being hurt, laughed at, abused, and taken away; in addition, the possibility of extra expense for services, busing etc. These visits proved invaluable because we had “parents talking to parents”. This bonding helped in so many ways. Time and time again, by phone and at meetings, parents solved problems and created new programs, all to benefit disabled children at home and in the community.
The first few years we held monthly meetings at which we had guest speakers and opportunities for parents to share their problems, hopes for the future and the impact on family life. During the beginning years, I thanked God for my teaching experience and for a wonderful husband whose practical gifts filled many needs for our school. The School Authority, with Chairman Ivan Day, did a fantastic job in operating our school, and worked closely with our Association. I have vivid memories of sitting in offices at Queen’s Park, begging for funds to not only start a sheltered workshop, but also to provide a day program for people living in the Homes for Special Care.
Due to the challenges of starting new programs, we realized the importance of working closely with the Newmarket and York Central Associations. Parents needed a break from the continual care required in looking after a mentally challenged child at home. So we started a respite program in Newmarket and Markham for York County. We had equal representation from the three Associations.
Through all of the struggles, there were many acts of generosity, all playing such an important role in getting us to where we are today. I recall one such surprise when we were informed by a lawyer that Irene Sibbald, age 92, had passed away, leaving funds to purchase play equipment for the Elm Grove School and also a swimming pool for my son, Danny. What a thoughtful gift! We offered the pool to the local Association and to the Jann Lynn facility. To see the expression on the face of a blind lad as he was lowered into the water, and the wonderment of a child able to move his legs without braces was all the “thank you” that was needed.
Forty years ago, there was a notable stigma against families with a child who was born with a developmental disability. As parents, we were often discouraged by unkind words spoken, misunderstanding, and the general public’s lack of knowledge. However, thanks to the students at Sutton High School, the Royal Canadian Legion, service clubs, women’s institutes, churches, Scouts and Guides, attitudes gradually changed. On behalf of parents, I extend a sincere and heartfelt thank you to all volunteers and staff members who have helped to make Community Living Georgina, what it is today.
Commemorating 40 Years – September 28, 2006