Mom thrilled as entire family joins Community Living Ontario’s family leadership series
Provincial association offers year-long connection and learning for whole families
Thursday September 6, 2012 -- Michelle Strutzenberger
Christine Keith says she was attracted to a Community Living Ontario family leadership series because it encouraged and made it possible for the whole family to participate.
The purpose of the family leadership series is to bring families together to learn from one another and figure out how to create the change they want to see, particularly around the inclusion and rights of their sons and daughters who have a disability.. The intention is that they then go back to their communities and encourage others to enter into the same conversation.
Keith took part in the first of four weekend gatherings scheduled for 2012-13 along with her husband and children earlier this month.
She notes it often happens that she trundles off to support, advocacy and other types of gatherings on her own while her husband must stay home with the children, but she was happy to see it didn’t have to be that way with this series.
“This allowed both parents to see and hear and visit with other families,” says Keith
“Since we’re going through this journey together, for (my husband) to be able to participate in this makes it a lot easier for us as a family.”
Keith notes she and her husband were able to hear the same information and then process their understanding of it together, linking it to the situations they’re dealing with right now.
“It allowed some of the pressure to be taken off me,” she adds, noting her husband’s understanding of what can happen at gatherings like these, as well as what she goes through in her advocacy efforts was heightened. “It assisted our relationship in that sense, too,” she says.
Keith adds her children found a place of belonging as well, in large part because they were with others in a similar situation, either those having a disability or being the sibling of a person who has a disability.
“Having that opportunity to both have a fun weekend away and be where everyone understands, I think was just really nice for them,” says Keith.
Looking ahead, her hope is this series of weekends will yield new friends and acquaintances that the family can keep communicating with.
“As a family this can be a very lonely process because it’s a lot of unknowns, and you have to continually advocate for things for your children and for your family,” says Keith.
“Having the opportunity to meet with other families and share their experiences, share their stories and learn from what they’re sharing with you” can make a major difference, she says, noting she saw this in the friendships last year’s series yielded.
Community Living Ontario director of community development Kimberley Gavan underscores the importance of whole-family engagement in this effort.
“One of the principles for the leadership series is that we believe when you are supporting a family, it’s the whole family, each playing a unique role and bringing unique experiences to complete the picture," says Gavan.
“We need to hear from and support all family members."
This year’s first session, featuring guest speaker Norman Kunc and Emma Van der Klift, delved into the question of what is the story we tell ourselves about disability.
Consultant and advocate Darcy Elks will host Session 2, which is intended to help people think about the vision they hold for their child’s future and look to the roles they will hold in their life that enable rich relationships and opportunities.
The third weekend, facilitated by community advocate and author Janet Klees, assists families to frame their story in a way that highlights their gifts and contributions.
The final weekend features a reunion of all those who have participated in the first and second year, to share how the information, tools and strength gained from each other has helped them to move forward and be stronger.
To learn more about the family leadership series, contact Kimberley Gavan at kgavan(at)communitylivingontario.ca
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