Three Elmira residents opened the doors to their home last weekend along Snowgoose Crescent as part of a dedication to the new Snow Goose Apartments provided by the Elmira Developmental Support Corporation (EDSC) and the Elmira District Community Living (EDCL). Mark Allison, Joel Martin, and Janine Haid welcomed members of the community and allowed visitors to walk through their new apartments to explore the unique complex that utilizes a variety of support mechanisms to ensure a safe independent living experience for the residents.
“We are helping provide housing and support to individuals who have an intellectual disability,” said Greg Bechard, executive director of EDSC and EDCL. “It’s also about the concept of social capital which refers to connections within and between social networks. It’s about helping others, using your resources to go beyond what you were originally incorporated to do.”
The abilities of the resident, coupled with natural community supports, friends and family provides a network of support said Bechard.
The EDSC offers two student scholarships through Renison College’s Faculty of Social Work at the University of Waterloo to provide a live-in social safety net. In exchange for accommodation and an academic scholarship, the students will be good neighbours and available in an emergency situation.
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“We are now helping educated the people who will be working in this service,” said Bechard. “While they are living here they are actually doing the things they are learning about in the school and we have started to give back to the community.”
As the first recipients of the scholarship, Gabrielle Gauthier and Stacey Reinsma, have been living with the residents since September and have had their fair share of bumps on the road.
“It has been such a learning experience and a journey. It has become a real home but at first there were a few missteps and we had a lot of questions,” said Reinsma. ”But every time we would have a question there would be no answer because it had never been done before, so it has been a lot of back and forth; they have been very flexible negotiating what works for both of us and everyone in the house it is a lot more comfortable with each other and feels more like a home now.”
The students include the residents into their lives as much as possible and have developed strong relationships with them.
“They have all met our families and spent time with our boyfriends, who have developed their own unique friendships with the residents, it’s so much more than just our role to be social with them, it has rippled beyond what anyone expected,” said Gauthier. “We don’t keep anything separate from them, we include them in stuff we do and go out with them as much as we can, and it feels very genuine.”
EDSC set a mandate for the students to spend anywhere from 10 to 12 hours a week with the residents, something no one keeps track of anymore as their lives become entwined.
“We don’t feel any pressure to spend time with them, we want to. We all live in the same building and have created real friendships,” said Gauthier.
EDSC has been contacted by organizations from all over Ontario interested in the work they have done in Elmira and are teaching other communities how to replicate it in their community.
The organization has future plans for another property and is looking to expand their current model to include a nieghbourhood support system that involves other people in the community such as seniors or single mothers who can live in the home and be a support for the residents there.