ABLE: Families Helping Each Other

Submitted by Diane Engelstad

You may not know me but I’m famous in town: I’m Jeremy’s Mom.

Anywhere I go with Jeremy within a surprisingly wide radius of Fenelon Falls, I’m struck by all the people who greet him or ask him how things are going. I think Jeremy has a way of bringing out the best in people, and a knack for facilitating a good moment in their day. But I also know how lucky we are to be residents in a welcoming and inclusive corner of the world. I tell people all the time that our move to Fenelon Falls ten 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.

Which is why 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.

Families tend to bear the lion’s share of support, and 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 ABLE was able to access a little funding to help our group get 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 to talk about employment or volunteer opportunities, resources, and strategies around specific, individual needs. It sure is nice 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 ablefenelon@gmail.com.