Laura recognizes the progress we’ve made
We are celebrating 75 Years of Belonging by hearing from different people connected to Community Living Toronto (CLTO). One of those people is Laura, whose daughter Emily has Down syndrome. Here is their story of belonging.
Hello, my name is Laura.
I was first introduced to Community Living Toronto in 1983 when my daughter, Emily, was born. She had Down syndrome, and I had NO idea where to turn for help.
At that time, babies like our sweet Emily were devalued – it was common for parents to be asked if they wanted to keep them. Luckily, no one at the hospital asked – but a neighbour did. My answer to her was my first time advocating for Emily.
In the days before the Internet, new parents were pretty much just sent home with the baby with little or no support. CLTO was a life-saver for us. They connected us to other families through Pilot Parents, where I met more experienced parents in similar situations for guidance and support. Those first few families we met were so kind-hearted and welcoming. They shared tips on everything from feeding, occupational therapy, genetics, speech and language development – and so much more. They bolstered our spirits and kept us focused.
For Laura, belonging means feeling welcome and embraced.
As time went on, I became a Pilot Parent myself. I met with many new mothers and fathers and tried to help them feel less isolated and afraid. When you are dealing with such uncertainty, encouragement is vital.
Community Living Toronto hosts a variety of parent support groups throughout the year, giving parents of children with intellectual disabilities a chance to socialize, share stories and connect with others who truly understand. For example, Parent Share is a collaborative group of parents and staff from three agencies providing supports to people with intellectual disabilities. Along with discussing helpful topics such as programs and services, funding sources and developing healthy relationships, mothers (and occasionally dads) share their stories of struggles, joys and triumphs of their children of all ages.
We’ve received support from CLTO in so many ways. In addition to the support that Pilot Parents provided in the early years, Youth 2 Work helped Emily transition to employment, ultimately sourcing a part-time job that she has to this day. The LIGHTS housing program has successfully helped us find another family to work with to build a home for Emily. Our goal has been to provide her with an awesome ordinary life after we are gone. CLTO has been instrumental in helping us achieve what seemed like an insurmountable goal.
Some of my family’s favourite memories involve Community Living Toronto. On her 21st birthday, Emily threw the first pitch at the Toronto Blue Jays game as a representative for Community Living Toronto. She and her dad had practiced – leg up and all! – in the driveway. She still has the ball that “Ace” the mascot signed for her. She could have asked any player for an autograph, but she liked the bird!
“Some of my family’s favourite memories involve Community Living Toronto. ”
I also remember the time Emily had lunch with a “king” on one of her awareness ventures with Community Living Toronto, when the people we support shared lunch with celebrities. We later found out it was Ed Mirvish she had lunch with. She thought he was a king because of his fancy office – complete with a “throne” behind his desk. She didn’t know his name, but he ate all of his lunch!
As a volunteer with Community Living Toronto, I feel valued for my insights as a parent and caregiver. I’ve been privileged to learn from and work with many mentors, and have been inspired by devoted career professionals as well as young, enthusiastic staff who join CLTO because they want to make a difference. I can easily think of at least 75 people I’d want to recognize – one for each of the 75 Years of Belonging that CLTO is celebrating!
Celebrating 75 Years of Belonging also means recognizing how much progress we have made as a community. From legislation that recognized the right of all children to be part of the Ontario education system, to the closure of institutions for people with developmental disabilities, these landmark cases would not have been achieved without the grassroots efforts of families and caregivers and the lobbying of groups like Community Living Toronto.
That’s why it’s easy for me to recommend that people just go to the CLTO website and get started in terms of connecting with them. Not only do they provide invaluable support to families but they are at the forefront of creating a more inclusive society.
For 75 years, Community Living Toronto has been evolving, learning, and growing to support and include people with an intellectual disability. Together, let’s work toward 75 more Years of Belonging. Here is one way you can help today: Add your name below to show your support.
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