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Jeremy (second from left) and friends at the Fenelon Falls Friday Night Jam at St. James Anglican Church.

ABLE: New group support for local families in Fenelon Falls

in Around Town/Community by
Jeremy (second from left) and friends at the Fenelon Falls Friday Night Jam at St. James Anglican Church.

My son, Jeremy Engelstad, knows just about everyone in Fenelon Falls it seems, and that makes me a little bit famous too. “Oh,” people exclaim with a smile, “You’re Jeremy’s mom!”

My favourite story about Jeremy’s apparent notoriety is a time a couple of years ago when he and a teenage friend took the GO Bus from Cannington, connecting in Whitby with a GO Train to Toronto. Jeremy is a big fan of buses and trains and perhaps this trip was for his birthday., They boarded one of the coaches, which happened to be the accessibility coach, along with a number of other passengers.

“Hello, Jeremy,” said the conductor, catching Jeremy’s friend a little off guard.

“Hello, Russell,” Jeremy replied without batting an eye.

His friend was most impressed.

I think Jeremy has a knack for facilitating a good moment in someone’s day, and also bringing out the best in people. That GO Train trip may have involved Jeremy getting to push the door-opening button at a station, or the conductor announcing at the end of the line, “On behalf of GO Transit, Jeremy and I wish you a pleasant day,” both being scenarios I’ve witnessed.

But I’m also aware of how lucky we are to be living in a particularly inclusive corner of the world. I tell people all the time that our move to Fenelon Falls 10 years ago has been great for Jeremy and our family, because of the way Jeremy is respected for who he is, and included in all Fenelon has to offer him. We’d like to keep it that way, so that Jeremy will never have to leave the community he has come to know so well.

It became important, as Jeremy left high school and joined the adult world, to find others in the area who are also grappling with what full citizenship looks like for their family members with intellectual disabilities. With this in mind, a few of us formed a new local group.  ABLE, which stands for “Access to Better Living Experiences,” brings families and community allies together to consider what needs to be done to assist each person with intellectual disabilities in our area to live their best life.

Most adults would not be happy with a life organized for them strictly around supervision. As adults, we expect to take care of our needs, follow our interests, hone our abilities, participate in community life, and develop friendships on our own terms. I know that’s what Jeremy would like too, but he will need the right support in order to achieve his own level of independence and satisfaction.  There is no cookie-cutter solution or government “program” that can make this happen. Everyone is unique.

It turns out that “Family Support Networks” are springing up elsewhere in the province too for similar reasons, and our group was able to access a little funding to help get us off the ground. (We hope to have a website soon.) ABLE, still a small group, meets once a month in the parish hall of St. James Anglican Church in Fenelon Falls to talk about employment and volunteer opportunities, local resources, and strategies around specific, individual needs. It is exciting to imagine all the potential connections that can be made, and also reassuring to connect with others familiar with the challenges of everyday life.

If you are supporting a family member or friend and would like to join us, we would be delighted. For information about upcoming meetings, please call me at 705-887-7169, or Jim Armstrong at 705-887-9755, or send us an email at .

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