Workshop to help families build circle of support

By Lindsay Advocate

Jeremy Engelstad is a golfer, a swimmer, an extensive traveller, a cord-wood stacker, a guitarist, a gusty singer, a skier, a church member who carries wine and bread to the altar, a brother who likes to make his younger sister laugh, a voter, a cyclist, a biker (strictly on the passenger seat), a pool player, and, in recent weeks, a pall bearer at his beloved grandmother’s funeral.

He is able to do the things he does with just the right support (and he will be forgiven as he smiles innocently at the “purists” while moving the white ball for his next billiards shot). He takes his place in his local community and beyond, and his parents, Alan and Diane Engelstad, couldn’t be prouder of their young man.

But they also know that Jeremy’s life as he knows it could come apart without them as his caregivers. That’s why they are looking forward to March 19 and 20 workshops in Fenelon Falls called “Building a Circle.” The free event features sought-after speaker Rebecca Pauls, Director of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), an acclaimed Vancouver-based organization that helps families mobilize relationships and community assets for their family member.  The two-day workshop is a collaborative effort between Community Living Trent Highlands and ABLE, a Fenelon Falls-based family network.

“Parents of children with disabilities carry on the responsibility of taking care of their children into adulthood.” says Diane Engelstad, ABLE co-founder. “But adults, regardless of disability, deserve to live fully as citizens alongside everyone else, and aging parents should be allowed to take up pursuits they didn’t have time for during their child-raising years.”

There are often too few hours in the day, and too few financial resources, to tackle all the challenges, including long-term financial planning, or creative life-planning beyond  supervision, a minimum requirement. And if tragedy strikes in the meantime, and someone with disabilities loses a parent or both, the gap is filled by a remote crisis placement, often in a new community far from the familiarity of home; often in a nursing home with dementia patients.

“If families come together to help each other out,” says Engelstad, “we can help our loved ones live their best lives, right here in this community.”

“Building a Circle” organizers are hoping the workshop will enable family members, as well as workers in the field, and local friends with big hearts, to get a taste of what life can be like when you build a truly inclusive community.

“My son brings joy every day to the people he knows and meets. I’m really excited to get started on Jeremy’s “circle of support” because I know everyone will gain, not just him.”

“Building a Circle,” takes place at St James Parish Hall, 7 Bond St. E., Fenelon Falls, March 19 and 20, 1-4:30 pm. Although participants may attend both sessions, March 19 is directed towards support workers and agency staff in the Developmental Disabilities field, and March 20 is directed towards family members, friends, and informal community support.

While the event is free, registration should be done as soon as possible, at 705-743-2412 ex. 550, as space is limited. For more information, go to or call Heather at 705-878-2824.

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

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