Community Living celebrates 50 years here

Heather Latter

The banquet hall at La Place Rendez-Vous was packed last Wednesday evening as people of all ages and walks of life came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Community Living Fort Frances and District.
Although the group has been incorporated for a half-century, it really has been providing services here for 56 years, noted executive director Alanna Barr.
“Our organization has been in transition since 1959—since that very first meeting,” Barr said, referring to those who met in the home of Beulah Carlson to gather information and discuss what their common goals were for their children.
“In 1963, they got together and they did fundraising, and their dream at that time was Fort Kinhaven,” added Barr, noting the school became a reality in 1965.
“The next big dream of the group was a group residence,” she continued.
“In 1973, the funding came through and a residence was built.
“And only a few years later, we had the auxiliary residence program, a life skills program, changes to the employment program, [an] increasing boat repair business,” Barr recalled.
“We had the core plug plant,” she added. “We realized that Sybil Russell Hall needed to be down-sized and we needed to go to smaller apartments.
“It took us 11 years to do that,” Barr said. “But in 1993, we had the four-plex.
“Four years later, we had changes to the employment program, Good Impressions Printing,” she noted.
“We have the Treasure Chest. We bought the RCMP building. We renovated it and shortly after that, we were able to acquire the Sixth Street School property.
“The new dream for the property is a multi-use building,” Barr concluded.
“We’ve outgrown everything we’ve had,” she stressed. “We just need more space.
“We have more people that need more space. So we’ve been in transformation a long time.”
Jill Pernsky, president of Community Living Fort Frances and District, echoed those sentiments.
“We have changed many times over the years, depending upon the needs of the individuals we are working for,” she remarked.
“And we will continue to change and adapt as we face new challenges.”
Pernsky introduced the guests for the evening, including Ron Laroche, director of communications, marketing, and fun development for Community Living Ontario, as well as other board members and committee members over the years.
“During the early years, these volunteers and many others helped to set the direction of our organization,” Pernsky said.
“Community Living Fort Frances and District grew from a small grassroots organization, with just a few volunteers, to an organization with approximately 100 staff, proving the supports people want in order to reach their dreams,” she added.
“Yes, we have grown and we will continue to grow as we have what it takes to go so much further.”
Laroche said Community Living Ontario is very proud to have Community Living Fort Frances and District as a member.
“Both organizations share a common vision of society, where all people belong, have equal rights, have respect, acceptance, a sense of self-worth, and are provided opportunities to grow,” he noted.
“We have worked hard to change societal attitudes and practices so people can live good lives, have valued roles, and be included in all aspects of community life.
“Together, we have made great strides towards building more inclusive societies,” added Laroche.
Over the years, we have helped to close residential institutions, we have included our children in neighbourhood schools, we have developed resources and partnerships in our communities, he cited.
“Although there have been many accomplishments, there is still much to do,” Laroche stressed.
“Far too many people have barriers in accessing their community, far too many people remain in isolation and in poverty, and they are in desperate need of further supports and services.
“So we need to continue to advocate for individuals and their families so that everyone can have a good life.
“As an organization, Community Living Fort Frances and District has shown tremendous leadership throughout its 56 years, demonstrating what can be accomplished in the community,” Laroche lauded.
“Has been busy opening its new resource centre and funding efforts are underway for its multi-use centre.
“These are wonderful examples of how you are bringing Community Living’s vision to life for countless people and their families,” Laroche noted.
He then addressed the many dedicated volunteers, management and staff, and partners.
“Your creativity, diligence, and tireless efforts over the past 56 years has made a real difference in people’s lives,” Laroche said.
“I know through your ongoing work, we will continue to make further strides in removing barriers and inspiring possibilities.”
Laroche presented a certificate to Pernsky in recognition of the group’s 50th anniversary of service to the community.
In addition to the dinner, the evening also consisted of a 50th-anniversary display, a photo booth, a video presentation, a flash mob dance, and the presentation of service and recognition awards.
Guest speakers Joe Dale and Mark Wafer spoke about customized employment.
History booklets, prepared by the 50th-anniversary planning committee, also were distributed.
The committee included Barr, June Smith, Joyce Zub, Alice Ivall, the late Helen Matheson, Joanne Sekulich, Faith Moen, Jim Keddie, and Jack Steinke.
“Faith and Joanne spent a lot of time in the file room over the past six months going through books, picture albums, old minutes, magazines,” Barr noted.
“But I’m sure you’re going to really appreciate that history.”
“Look at what we’ve accomplished in the last 50 years,” marvelled Pernsky.
“Our mission statement to ensure that all people live in a state of dignity, sharing and participating in all elements of living in the community, remains our focus.”