Nothing About Us Without Us

Andria Spindel and Steven Christianson

Andria Spindel and Steven Christianson, March of Dimes Canada

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

This phrase is not new, but it is imbued with more power now than when I first heard it expressed in the 70s by people with disabilities who were advocating for inclusion.  In fact, by the mid-80s self-help and advocacy groups all over North America were demanding it.  I was there when the disability movement was founded.  I have often repeated that mantra when talking about policy development, services, research and support for people with disabilities (PWDs) by PWDs.  Sometimes I shudder that I’m at the helm of a very large NGO, and our credibility might be challenged because I’m a TAB (temporarily able-bodied) person.

Last week, I saw the political power of what’s become a worldwide movement, supported by the United Nations and States Parties from over 150 countries.  Along with two colleagues, I attended the 7th Session at the UN on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRDP), and the many side events organized by NGOs and various permanent country missions to the UN.  It was well coordinated, very colorful (by people and dress), intriguing and informative (in 7 spoken languages, several signed languages and simultaneous captioning).  It was my first visit to the UN, but not my last as March of Dimes Canada successfully applied for and was granted accreditation, enabling us to participate at future UN meetings on the CRDP.

To read about some of the important conference content, and a description of the process, I refer you to the UN site http://www.un.org/disabilities/index.asp  and to the upcoming issue of the Advocate, MODCs corporate e-zine on social policy and advocacy.  Our National Manager of Government Relations and Advocacy will publish this with photos shortly, so check back at www.marchofdimes.ca/EN/advocacy/Pages/Advocacy.aspx.

Here are some of the highlights from my perspective:

Penny Hartin, President and CEO, World Blind Union and Andria Spindel, CEO, March of Dimes Canada

Penny Hartin, President and CEO, World Blind Union and Andria Spindel, CEO, March of Dimes Canada

The centrepiece of the General Assembly of States Parties includes only those governments that have ratified the CRDP.  Canada is included, but has not ratified all of the subsequent amendments, especially one on substitute decision-making Article 12(4) and Article 33(2) that relates to a federal role that would be hard for our federated country to implement.  On day one of the conference, six more countries were recognized as having recently ratified the Convention, for a total of 147 country ratifications and 158 signatories; on the optional protocol: 82 ratified and 92 signatories.

The primary purpose of the UN meeting was to receive reports and recommendations with regard to the implementation of CRPD, to hold national governments accountable by having them present their progress reports.  While filing of reports is mandatory; Canada was two years late in reporting.  Of course many countries fall short of meeting all aspects of the Convention, many lack the resources to do so.

The side events, all open to registered participants, included panels, key speakers, films and sponsored social events.  There was a feast of activities to choose from, so we three mostly split up to cover as much ground as possible.

Civil society is crucial in not only monitoring implementation, but in strongly advocating within each country, a role March of Dimes has played in Canada for many decades.  Civil society actively identifies problems, and generally also the solutions.  The parallel NGO conference emphasized collaboration among parties at all levels, especially the need to work with Disabled Persons Organizations (DPOs).  The importance of collaboration was brilliantly explained in a session presenting research out of the US on the concept of “Collaboratory” relationships which test and develop models for change i.e. the “living lab”.  I personally loved the concept as I’ve often portrayed MODC as a potential living lab for faculty and students of colleges and universities.  We offer over a dozen unique programs; we develop, refine, redefine, evaluate, recreate services all the time, serving thousands of PWDs.  We can offer access to a test environment, be it as control group or to unique individuals. Researchers might partner with MODC on new initiatives to investigate their benefits.
photo 5Various sessions described the hardship and the horrors experienced by people with disabilities in various societies.  These included, but were not limited to, poor or no education and high unemployment, but also abuse, forced sex or forced marriage, neglect and lack of health services, abandonment and inappropriate institutionalization. Cruelty was described that was sickening.  But even where there is consideration of PWDs, the gap in resource allocation is significant.  The case was made that there must be an equitable allocation of resources to include PWDs even when resources are scarce.

The most marginalized people in the world are those who are most vulnerable, people with disabilities, women and children.  So a disabled woman in Zambia, Afghanistan or India might be forcibly raped, infected with HIV, abandoned by her family, left with a child or two to feed, be unskilled, unemployed and have no civil rights.  Eight percent (80%) of people with disabilities live in the developing countries.  Poverty often equates to disability.

I learned much more, but will digest the information and offer more in another blog.  My head is full of information, but my heart is heavy, and seeking to distill solutions.  Of one thing I’m very sure.  Canada, the USA and much of Europe have come a long way since the 70s and we can celebrate the achievements, but PWDs are still overly unemployed, less well educated, having lower incomes, compete for scarce resources, experience greater health problems, and are often discriminated against.  So I don’t think we’ve hit the finish line yet.

What is a Skate Horse?

Andria on skate horse (1)Ever wondered how an adult would learn to skate, especially a non athletic type? Or how a new immigrant to Canada from a warm climate might feel on skates? Or what of the person who developed a fear of falling after a crash on the ice, or the fear and lack of balance for someone post stroke or with some physical disability?

I imagine that most people assume an individual with a disability is simply not going to skate, and either there are other easier physical pursuits or precautionary positions, ie don’t take a risk because you can hurt yourself! Indeed, falling on the ice is not fun after about age 10 when one is out of a cushy bum warming snowsuit.

Well, should those among us who want to learn to skate, but are afraid, or a young child with mild Cerebral Palsy, give up all thoughts of skating or, should one consider using a device developed specifically to give confidence and balance on the ice? Imagine what it might mean to a small child to hold onto a safe and secure device, and still slide easily on the ice, enjoying a familiar Canadian past time, joining with family and friends, giggling with delight and being assured of no miserable mishaps. I guess if Paralympians can add artificial limbs that look like skis and blind skiers can have personal guides, a young child can fairly use a Skate Horse, and participate fully in the simple recreational activity.

DSC_0213 (1)Developed by DesignAbility Coordinator, Elaine Darling of  March of Dimes Canada, the Skate Horse testing was completed last year and this year over 20 have been acquired by the City of Toronto Recreation Department and on March 10, 2014, MARCH OF DIMES DAY,  it was launched. This simple tubular device, light weight and durable, with adjustable seat and handle bars, acts like a sliding walker, allowing the user to hold fast, sit back and rest when necessary, maintain equalibrium with one’s legs. and to stop on ice easily without hitting ground.  The device is available in two sizes for now, and can be adjusted, and in the photos below you can see the enormous thrill and delight on Lilly Sonnefeld’s face as she heads around the ice rink at Leaside Memorial Arena with two skate companions. Yours truly tested an adult size Skate Horse and found it to be great fun, and possibly  a way to keep skating in my own older years, as I have never been all that good at it.

I donned my trusty but rusty grade 9 skates, and enthusiastically called out every head office employee to celebrate the launch of the Skate Horse, as well as the annual March of Dimes campaign. We headed over to the gorgeous, newly opened accessible arena in our neighborhood. How great our Neighborhood rink has a ramped entrance to the ice, accessible change rooms, washrooms and viewing area, giving us another excuse to party!

While not that many employees ventured onto the ice, those who did experienced a new way to celebrate our annual staff campaign in support of March of a Dimes. All, viewers and skaters, enjoyed hit chocolate and treats supplied by a local business. All, watched with enthusiasm as four youngsters from our Conductive Education program took the adventurous challenge to don skates and ride the Skate Horse. All succeeded, standing tall, gliding easily, comfortable and secure on the newest device to emanate from our creative volunteer DesignAbility program. Congratulations to Lilly, Jack, Keenan and Jaiden. Thanks to staff and volunteers and to parents who out their trust in a March of Dimes. A thrill for all.

 

Winter’s Inaccessible Sidewalks

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“Snow-weary Ontarians woke up to another winter blast Tuesday, which likely pushed Toronto’s total snowfall level beyond what the region saw all last winter.” Toronto Star, February 18, 2014

Shoveling snow—again! Its no longer about shoveling every day, but now several times a day as the  white powder continues to blanket the greater part of Southern and all of Northern Ontario. The city of Toronto, and probably most municipalities, require residents to clean off their sidewalks, and for personal safety, everyone should have clean steps and walkways. If you have a driveway, it can become a very onerous task, but not shoveling may mean the car remains blanketed and boxed in for a few days.

Why do I care to comment on snow and shoveling? Its not about lamenting the long winter, but about my concern for those who can’t physically shovel their own property, about people who mistakenly do and injure themselves, and about people like me who buy a house with steps and driveways they figure they can manage, before considering that it’s a challenge as one ages and one’s body begins to respond poorly to such challenges. I deserve a rousing criticism for purchasing a home with 13 steps to the front door, a retainer wall too high to throw snow over, and a driveway with no side yard into which to toss the fluffy white stuff.  So, my workouts this winter have been frequent and my arms are getting stronger while my back screams stop!!

Here are some solutions I am gathering, some from friends, from radio and from experience:

  1. Ask your young adult son to shovel.  My response: Ever experience overpriced help?
  2. Hire a neighbor’s kid. My response:  What if the closest neighbors have kids under 10?
  3. Lay down a foundation of salt. My response: Have you seen what salt does to the garden and the wooden steps?
  4. Install sidewalk heaters. My response: Before or after you spend money to rebuild the steps and walks?
  5. Hire a snow removal contractor. My response:  What if you need a shovel not a front end loader?
  6. Ask your healthy neighbor or her husband. My response: Do I plead decrepitude this year or next?
  7. Sell the house and move. My response: Am I really ready for the condo market, or can I hold out yet for a few years?

photo 2I think it’s imperative that everyone who can clean their shared sidewalks, do their utmost to keep them snow and ice free, for the safety of all—small kids, frail elderly,  or people with  disabilities, as well as those pushing or pulling carts, strollers, suitcases etc. But it might be a great service to check with your neighbors who are struggling to clean off their own property, and could use a hand..or should I say, a strong back, to move the season’s umpteenth snowfall to create passage from their home.  I can’t thank my neighbors enough for having cleared my walk recently and here is the photo of what I faced when returning home from a business trip. Beautiful but daunting.

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Something Very Special

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Andria Spindel, Hon LLD, giving her convocation speech

Life is full of surprises and when they are good surprises, like birthday parties, new babies, chocolate gifts, kindness in unexpected places, or a bright day after days of rain, one really welcomes them and wants to share them. How do I share the wonderful surprise that awaited me when I returned from a vacation,  when it was a letter from the President of the University of Guelph, advising I had been nominated for an Honorary Doctorate of Law? All I could say was “Wow, really?”  I couldn’t even imagine where the nomination had come from nor why. I was to learn that a board member of Ontario March of Dimes Non Profit Housing Corporation had recommended my nomination, supported by several other people. I was invited to give the Convocation address at the graduation of the Business and Psychology students at Guelph Humber on June 17th and would I accept?

The recognition was exquisite, making me feel very honoured indeed. The task of addressing 500 students was awesome and challenging. How does one add inspiration to an event that is generally inspiring in its ceremony, in the presence of many gowned elite and educated, exceptional individuals and how does one speak to the graduands of 2013? I think the fact I was asked to do this was the honour itself, for it assumed I have something important or significant to share. I wanted this to be very special, for them, as much as for me. I suddenly felt I had been granted a unique opportunity, and hoped I could make a difference in the day, and in the memory of the day for the students who would be in attendance on June 17th at 1:00pm. I knew there would be a week of convocation exercises, and those assigned this time slot were to be my special audience and I there special guest.

I pondered many topics and listened to other speeches by notables like J.K. Rowland who addressed the class of 2013 at Harvard. I reflected on what had impressed me at my BA graduation in 1968 when Maurice Strong addressed U of C grads at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. I had been impressed then, though today I don’t remember his precise words, but I remember sitting in the audience, his name being called and his address, inflection, his very presence causing me pause, and making me think about my future. I went to Africa shortly thereafter, and I wonder how much he moved me to think about serving others.

So, whether my words will be remembered, or whether I am expressing too much ego, I will provide a link here to my written address and a link to the video excerpt of my presenting it at the convocation, when they are available, then you may consider if my message says something of value to you.

I wish everyone a very special day when you too feel appreciated, even made to feel like royalty. It was truly a wonderful experience.  Since I acknowledge my children in my message, let me add another lesson they taught me and it is that  “everyone is special.”

Click here to watch my speech, or read the transcript here: Andria Spindel Convocation Speech Transcript

Time flies when one is having a good time!

Since December, I have not written in my blog but I have been capturing stories and giving a lot of thought to what I would like to share. To start I want to tell everyone about my amazing volunteer experience, taken during my vacation in the month of January, when I packed medical supplies along with 28 other volunteers, aged 17-82, from 6 countries. We know the supplies will be used not only to keep the country’s nationals alive if injured, but will also be used around the world to help people affected by natural disasters and emergency situations. We were given valuable lessons in teamwork and fellowship, as well as culture and military roles and responsibilities, international affairs, and local politics.

In February, I returned to a full schedule of events and activities, including budget preparation, completion of a Five-Year Strategic Plan, planning a March break weekend for kids in Nova Scotia featuring Conductive Education, participating at the Voluntary Sector Reporting Awards Luncheon, and a meeting of the Canada California Business Council. This was followed in March by the Celebrity Golf Tournament in Palm Springs, California, selection of the 2012 Jonas Salk Award recipients, and planning for the 2013 Ability and Beyond Gala, as well as implementing the March Break camp in Nova Scotia, working with students from George  Brown College who conducted a research project on a business concept for March of Dimes, planning and executing the March Board of Directors Meeting, and planning more events for both fundraising and programs. In April, 2013, we launched a new transitions program for young people with disabilities who are seeking support from the adult service sector as they navigate their way to greater independence.

In March, we began a conversation with Holland Bloorview Childrens’ Rehab Centre on a model of supportive housing for long term residents who are youth aged 18-30, needing to move to a community-based setting. The solution was possible through a new partnership that March of Dimes has with Reena, a community agency serving people with intellectual disabilities. Reena has developed a gorgeous new, fully accessible, rent geared to income, apartment building in the town of Richmond Hill. March of Dimes has arranged to serve people with physical disabilities in the building who require attendant care.  Also in March, we hosted a delegation from Gansu Disabled Persons’ Federation, representing the entire province of Gansu in China, who came to us to discuss programs and policies that facilitate independence for people with disabilities. I also put in my six-hour shift at our booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto and spent a day in London, Ontario speaking at a conference we delivered called “Living With a Disability”,  followed that evening by Rock for Dimes London, a signature battle of the bands fundraising event. The latter was a great success.

All to say that a month in my position carries with it great opportunities to work in all aspects of the organization, from coast-to-coast, in fundraising, programs, governance, administration, public relations, and more.

The lessons learned and results achieved over these few first months of 2013 include:

Volunteering at any age is a great way to see the world, and make a difference. My volunteering in the Israel Defence Force confirmed that this army serves many humanitarian causes world wide, and shares its medical knowledge and conviction that human life is sacred.

The Annual budget and Five-Year Strategic Plan rededicates March of Dimes to the “Lifespan of Community Living for People with Physical Disabilities”. The Plan was adopted by the Board and will now be shared across the organization with all staff, and a summary will be produced and posted for all readers and supporters. Budget 2013-14 is the first year of the Plan. Check back  later to read the Five-Year plan.

March of Dimes Canada won the Voluntary Sector Reporting Award for financial transparency for a large Canadian organization, headquartered in Ontario. Read the story.

The Canada California Business Council organized its third annual Celebrity Golf Tournament. March of Dimes Canada, through our American affiliate was one of the designated charity beneficiaries. We were partnered this year with procon.org which is a unique American charity that teaches critical thinking on major issues of the day. This new tri-partnership means we will also benefit from a new tournament to be held in Los Angeles on October 21st, 2013. Read about the 2nd annual CCBC Celebrity Golf Tournament.

March Break Conductive Education Camp was a huge success for the nine kids who attended and a unique photo publication was produced documenting the activities of the kids. Parents and funders are all excited about the program and it is expected to be repeated and perhaps replicated in other communities.

Two award recipients were chosen this year for the Jonas Salk Award for Scientific Excellence, and both will be celebrated at the upcoming Ability and Beyond Gala Dinner, June 13, 2013, at the InterContinental Centre. Tickets are available online and are already 50% sold. The event is sponsored by Bell Canada and features comedian, actor and author, Alan Thicke. For more information go to www.marchofdimes.ca/gala

The business feasibility study completed by George Brown College students will not result in a new business but in an ongoing relationship with the College which expects to place more students with us this fall as we actively pursue other revenue generating ideas. The Centre for Business is interested in our entrepreneurial spirit.

The new transitions program in Toronto, called L.I.F.E. was successfully launched with private funding from TD Bank. It embraces a new formal relationship with Outward Bound and March of Dimes. Follow this link for more information or to register.

A partnership with Reena and Bloorview Kids Rehab, along with support from two Local Health Integration Networks, the Community Care Access Center and West Park Hospital, has resulted in a plan to move at least three long-term severely disabled young people to a new home in the community where we anticipate they will enjoy living outside the hospital environment, using community services, making new friends, and learning new skills. We will continue to work in this collaboration as we consider other models of care for people who have more complex needs. Watch for more stories when we move tenants to this residence.

Our dialogue with Gansu Federation representatives was lively and enlightening. The problems that a very populous country faces which is just beginning to grapple with disability as a social construct, as an area for social policy, as a reason to design new environments and to use new technologies, is awesome. We were thrilled to learn of the eagerness of the local and regional, government supported Federation to address issues, in this otherwise, poorly resourced part of the country. You can see photos of our new Chinese friends on our Gansu Disabled Persons’ Federation Visit Facebook photo album.

Our booth at the annual National Home Show in Toronto was sponsored by our partner, HME Mobility Services and featured many wonderful pieces of equipment that they can provide to make a home accessible. Organized by our Marketing and Communications Department, the 10 day event brings out many head office staff and a few volunteers to speak with a large public gathering interested in home design, appliances, gadgets and home improvement programs. Among others, we feature our Home and Vehicle Modification Program. See images of the show on our MODC National Home Show Facebook photo album.

Living with a Disability Day is now a modular program that we can bring to any community in Canada, and have done so in Peterborough, Calgary, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Fredericton, and Moncton to name a few. There will be many more this calendar year so visit our Events page often for updates. If you or someone you know was recently disabled, consider registering for the event when we come to your city. Learn about resources available, ways to cope, government benefits and entitlements, groups to join and much more. These seminars are sponsored by local companies and feature local “stars”. If you wish to sponsor one, contact Gemma Woticky, Education and Health Promoter, March of Dimes Canada, at gwoticky@marchofdimes.ca.

Last, but not least, we held a very financially successful, and fun Rock for Dimes London, and photos can be seen on our Pennzoil Presents Rock for Dimes London Facebook Photo Album. This event is presented nationally by Pennzoil and co-sponsored by Long and McQuade and AMG Medical. Local sponsors are being sought for upcoming Rock for Dimes events already scheduled, so for the one nearest you, go to www.rockfordimes.ca.

The Rock for Dimes fundraisers, along with Walk ‘n’ Roll, Ability & Beyond Gala, and many more activities help support our vital and innovative programs for people with disabilities. We are always available to speak about new ideas and to partner with established organizations or corporations that want to add value to their events.

The list of initiatives and activities for the next few months is as long as the above, so I will defer writing any more for now, and wish you all a  Happy Spring.

Andria

President’s Remarks to AGM

Once a year I have the distinct pleasure of sharing a story with employees, volunteers, award recipients, and supporters of March of Dimes. You are among the people we consider family. It is because of you that our organization is strong, innovative, and effective.

Like all families, we may have our internal struggles, but we also have our celebrations. You will see that we Homes for Sale Vancouver entitled our Annual Report, Dime And Jubilee, as we were still celebrating our 60th anniversary when we entered this fiscal year, April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012. Many here today share our history and know our traditions, many of you know of past tribulations, and have shared our worries, our hopes and dreams, our failings and our successes. We are together in mutual support because we share a vision, a vision of Canada as a truly inclusive society for all people, regardless of disability; and regardless of ethnicity, race, creed, sexual orientation or other differences. We view Canada as a family too.

This year we saw an expansion in Independent Living Services, programs for stroke survivors in BC and Alberta in partnership with local organizations, new pre-school activity for Conductive Education®, the opening of a new nyc apartment rentals Congregate Care Home in Sudbury for people with Acquired Brain Injuries, successful fundraising events in four provinces outside Ontario, new relationships with several provincial governments, new uses of social media, and a continuing display of our vast capacity for creativity and perseverance.

June 2011, saw the second Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology successfully carried off in Toronto under the auspices of March of Dimes Canada and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. We can celebrate the success of six concurrent conferences that brought together over 1100 participants from over 32 countries, and involved over 150 volunteers. The conference delivered on its promise to touch all aspects of Living Longer, Living Better, with a cross section of many disciplines and a strong consumer presence.

We have many plans in the works for our next Five-Year Strategic Plan which has the working title, Lifespan and Community Living. This theme has been woven into the planning of all departments and programs and a new plan will emerge in March, 2013. Our new plan will touch on increased diversity, national expansion, greater uses of technology for staff and clients, standardized quality measures, national charters for our two major companies, coast to coast government relations, francophone services and communication, and significant expansions in some services and piloting of other services.

Canadian society will continue to increase in diversity and we believe it will also be more inclusive, and March of Dimes will continue to be a leader in ensuring this is so. There are many anticipated deliverables and the great news is that we have developed excellent monitoring and reporting tools that keep us on track and accountable. We can therefore ensure we meet our goals.

I am eagerly looking forward to this year’s activities, to concluding on our priorities and building alignment to achieve them. I thank the members of March of Dimes’ Board of Directors and our various subsidiaries that have been very active this past year, and I thank all the wonderful staff who collaborate every day in so many ways to fulfill our vision, of a society that is truly inclusive.

Andria

What I Learned on Vacation

I’m on vacation with my 18 year old daughter, Mattea, and we came to a
picturesque mountainside mini-golf course in Virginia. Its hardly worth
writing about, except that we played, I did exceptionally well, and Mattea
laughingly said, “Are you going to blog about your talent?” Since I
absolutely never learned any sport, am not athletic, and have only lately
begun to think about being fit, I realized several things about life while
playing miniature golf.

Firstly, I had fun, secondly, I  greatly enjoyed being out of doors, and
thirdly, I chose to play for no other reason than we passed by the course
as we were walking.  How wonderful to be  outside on a beautiful
afternoon, and how wonderful to be relaxed enough to choose a playful, fun
activity requiring no serious effort. It was most amazing to find I had
enough eye-hand coordination to play well.

So, here is what miniature golf with my daughter taught me today.

Take time to have fun. Play with your kids, even if they are already 18.
Take a stroll outside-there may be a pleasant, engaging surprise on your
path. Don’t pass up the opportunity to test your skills, whether at
something simple, new or challenging.  Laugh when you miss the hole, it
makes you feel better and the game goes on.

The last lesson,( as I scored well,) is that we are all good at something.
Mattea figures my sport is mini-golf. Well, it might be, but I realized
(again) today, that walking, playing, moving in any way is  an imperative.
Our bodies are machines with moving parts that need lubrication,
alignment, adjusting, revving up, and cooling down. Being fit isn’t about
mastering a sport, or massive exertion, competition, or perfection. Its
caring for one’s body by using it, tuning it up, and moving!

I wish everyone a healthy, fun-loving season. Get outdoors. Play. Move. Be
well.

Andria

Counting Blessings

While one may not be able to count something one doesn’t recognize or understand,  there are depths of meaning to this phrase, “count your blessings,” so maybe it applies whether one is secular or religious.

In some faiths, one is instructed to literally count or recount the blessings that one receives, and at special services, these might even be itemized, such as a blessing for food, for family, for peace. To one faith, a blessing is bestowed by God, and shows his favour, and in another, it is believed sufficient to be of that faith to receive or to be part of a collective “blessing upon mankind.” One major faith involves gifting to the representative deity or deities and receiving his or her blessing, or the priest may offer a blessing which might be to pass the special power of the specific deity to the individual. A blessing may come as a formal permission that the devotee requested, or it may come as a “wish for” or granted consent for a decision one makes in life.

Blessing in some churches is a term for marriage and in another sphere it is an initiation rite, and getting “blessed” by a security officer might be an unpleasant experience. The latter is the only use which I am not addressing. Some communities have the practice of blessing something new, such as a new structure, new garden, new church or temple.  Some faiths include a parental blessing for children, wishing them a healthy and happy, long life.

This is a very brief snapshot, but I am intrigued by the notion of “blessing” as a form of prayer, an act of faith, a moment of contemplation, an act of gratitude, a recitation of repeated, oft-used phrases that resonate with the user. Being blessed, giving or bestowing blessings, requesting blessings, or simply repeating one to oneself, seems to have a potency that inspires, reinforces, connects the blessed or blessor with something familiar, special, larger than life or, in my case, with life itself. I am learning what prayer is, and what power there is in a blessing.

My thinking is this-if everyone shared a blessing, or acknowledged the blessings we have in life, those things about which we often take little notice but which give us great pleasure, we would all be happier, less likely to be volatile or angry, and perhaps we’d be more attune to one another.  Here is a short list of things I feel gratitude for or “blessed with:”

A loving sister who has been witness to my life and shares my love of family;

Three children who inspire me;

Two cats who curl up in bed with me;

A job which uses and acknowledges my creativity and energy;

Colleagues who value me;

Friends who love me and whom I love;

A small garden in which to grow a few herbs;

My health which is potentially transient;

The sun in the morning and the moon at night;

A special love who enrichs my life;

People who give a sober second thought before speaking;

People who take time to be kind to one another;

An organization to be associated with that values individual and collective contributions;

Friends of many different faiths and secular friends too;

Grandparents who lived a long life and shared their wisdom;

Parents who loved me unconditionally;

Living in a democracy;

Flowers in my garden;

Fresh air when I open a window, more fresh air when I actually walk outside;

A mind that holds memories and an intellect that questions everything;

A sense of humour;

Friends with a sense of humour;

Bubbles in the bath;

Clean water to drink so I don’t need bottled water;

Coffee every morning;

A safe place to sleep;

A passport fromCanada;

Poetry and novels;

People who love poetry and novels;

Flat shoes and high heels;

Spicy food;

Art on the street;

Summer, autumn, winter and spring;

Dew on the grass;

A city with no mosquitoes;

Public transit;

Public galleries;

Public libraries;

Public parks;

Everyone who chooses to read my blog.

May you share the feeling of gratitude I experience every day and count your blessings too. If you are not yet feeling blessed, think kindly of yourself and share this blessing.

Richard Kall Remembered

June was Pride Month in Toronto, a time to celebrate the rights gained by gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual people, to celebrate the achievements of Queer people, and to acknowledge and restate the ongoing struggles they still experience in various aspects of society and in many (too many) countries. The Pride Parade on July 3rd, brought out a million celebrants, either marching or watching, all joyfully celebrating, and I was glad to be among the marchers.

On the May long weekend in 2000, I lost a wonderful friend and colleague who did not feel secure enough to “come out of the closet” to his friends and family. Richard Kall was an outstanding member of the executive team at Ontario March of Dimes. Our Chief Operating Officer, Richard had worked for CNIB for 17 years and had been with our agency for 7, overseeing all our regionally delivered programs, and our infrastructure departments. He was a big man with a big smile, a wonderful quirky sense of humour, a sharp intellect, and a generous huggable spirit. His choices in his closeted life were surprisingly unwise given his overall intelligence. One night, he took home a drug-using ex-con who robbed and killed him. He left so many people bereft. He left me wondering why he never trusted anyone with “his secret”. I promised myself that it should never happen again and that I work with Queers and their allies to end the need for anyone to ever keep one’s gender or sexual preferences a secret. Had Richard been openly and comfortably able to express his preference, I can imagine him in a life commitment to a loving man, maybe even raising children, entertaining his friends in his generous style and travelling widely, which he loved to do. His death was horrible and a big loss for March of Dimes and his family. That sentence is too repetitive.

Since that loss hit me hard, I have striven to recognize and support others who want to express their preference. Some members of the queer community still struggle accepting themselves, or suffer the consequence of informing others. March of Dimes like many organizations and institutions in the country employs many people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, even if they may not even know it. It should not matter in gaining and keeping employment.  At March of Dimes we had a young man a few years ago who was openly gay, and still uncomfortable that people might judge or ridicule him.  This came from his personal experiences. The number of senior people and staff at all levels who are LGBTQ is not known, but they have been significant in every area of our organization including finance, operations, fundraising, and services. We have benefitted from these competent and dedicated employees, and gender or sexual preference has nothing to do with it.

And what of our clients? Richard would have wanted to ensure that everyone was treated equitably and generously, with humanity at all times. He was sensitive and kind, always professional and instilled the same of others. Richard might be pleased that, several years after his death, March of Dimes entered a float in the Pride Parade, helping people with disabilities who are queer to participate and express themselves on our “accessibility” float. Does society acknowledge that people with disabilities might also be queer? I expect not; another frontier to cross. So many people, and most institutions don’t acknowledge people who have a disability or the elderly in their care as being sexual at all!

I write now to suggest we talk about it and recognize inherent discrimination exists in services and supports for older LGBTQ folks. Where are the welcoming seniors housing and nursing homes? Are there group homes for people with disabilities that also accept their being gay, lesbian or transgendered? Do we segregate people at an elderly stage of life who might have lived amicably in the community and now face discrimination in a supportive housing project or nursing home, due to ignorance or bias of workers, managers, and/or funders? Will faith based services show openness?

Walking in Pride is about walking with pride and I was proud to be an ally and join thousands of LGBTQ folks who are free to be in this society. I am greatly saddened by the prejudices that still persist in our society and in dozens of Middle Eastern, African and other countries that have yet to understand that all people–disabled, male, female, gay, lesbian or transgendered, albino, HIV infected, mentally ill, and of all colours—are people. No matter what God one believes in, she or he made us the way we are.

Every Opportunity Has Two Sides

 

Listening to a CBC radio interview one day recently I heard the following quote which struck me as speaking to the philosophy we promote at March of Dimes. Attributed to Winston Churchill, it was “With every opportunity there are difficulties, and with every difficulty, there are opportunities.” At March of Dimes Canada we have excelled at taking advantage of opportunities to do more for people with disabilities, even in challenging times and with limited resources or other difficulties, and with every change in the political landscape.

 

Colleagues are often amazed at the growth in operating budget and services that we provide. How when there have been recessions and economic downturns, government cutbacks, competition in fundraising and a shrinking donor base, has this agency grown? With the exception of two years in the last 30, and last year being one of them, we have exceeded all benchmark comparators. Since 1981, our 30th anniversary to 2011, our 60th year we have had 1950% growth.  Not accounting for inflation and a compounding effect, this is still extraordinary as over 1650 staff deliver services (we were 183 staff in 1981) to an ever increasing number of consumers with a growing range of programs.

 

The answer I believe is that we stay focused on our mission and vision and  practice “Planned Opportunism.” We are values based but not ideologically driven. We always work from both a 5 year Strategic Plan and an annual operating plan that aims to fulfill the 5 year plan. When other needs  or opportunities are presented, we incorporate them into the dynamic 5 year plan after careful consideration of their fit with our key goals and directions. We use every opportunity that is presented to fulfill the plan, such as partnerships, new funding  programs, volunteer initiatives, “adoption” of other programs, and a host of creative, innovative tactics. We do this because the needs of the constituents we serve, people with physical disabilities, are not static either. Demographics are changing and more people are surviving with severe disabilities. More people are living longer and acquiring disabilities at different stages of life. Chronic complex issues are arising. Those receiving our services often need increased service and need to access multiple services in the community. Thus, we are becoming increasingly, One Stop: Solutions forIndependence.

 

Research on quality of life factors generally support the notion of family and community being significant contributors to well being, not withstanding good medical care. We are here to develop family support, peer support, community supports and complement the other home and community supports available.

 

I am hoping to hear from  consumers and others who can tell me how they have benefitted from accessing services in the community from March of Dimes.

 

Best regards,

Andria