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Centre Offers Services for People with Disabilities

Service providers. Doug Stephenson (right), his wife, Sandra, and son, Thomas (in picture), helped start Beyond Abilities Centre, which provides services to people with disabilities and their families in York Region. Thomas was born with cerebral palsy and is currently at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. STAFF PHOTO/MIKE BARRETT

By Chris Traber

June 17, 2011

   To suggest Sandra Stephenson is busy would be an understatement.  Her Beyond Abilities Centre phone rings incessantly, often with calls waiting. Her personal line, too. She apologizes with a calm, good natured giggle.

   As one of the fledgling organization’s five directors, the East Gwillimbury resident is hectically organizing the centre’s second annual fundraising golf tournament, taking place June 23 at Emerald Hills Golf Club in Stouffville. Money raised at the event will go to three families in East Gwillimbury and Newmarket who need assistance with home modifications to ease the burden of family members with physical challenges.

   In addition to helping manage and grow the centre and providing client services, Ms Stephenson, along with husband, Doug, and other volunteers, are focused on the organization’s monumental mission to build a new facility.  That, in tandem with co-chairperson duties with York Region Easter Seals and Special Services at Home, has the former Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital family advisory committee chairperson hopping.

   However, her son, Thomas, 16, currently a patient at Hospital for Sick Children and soon to be in a long rehabilitation at Holland Bloorview, dominates her time and thoughts.  Nicknamed Chance, the Stephensons’ son was born with cerebral palsy. The Grade 10 Sacred Heart Catholic High School student was recently admitted for leg surgery and doctors diagnosed superior mesenteric artery syndrome, a very rare, life-threatening gastro-vascular disorder.

   Informed the teenager may be transferred to palliative care, the Stephensons were buoyed when he began eating this week.  Managing to ingest a taco is a major victory, she said. She’s hoping for more.  One victory, aside from her son’s recovery, would be making one of his dreams a reality. As a founding member of the centre, which received registered charity status in 2010, Thomas shares his parents’ vision to build and maintain a multi-functional centre in York Region. It would offer therapeutic and recreational services, funding programs, respite and a leisure and family resource centre, primarily for families and individuals with special needs.

   The centre would greatly augment current services, including referrals to off-site therapeutic specialists. It would facilitate opportunities for people of all ages, with various abilities, close to home in the region, she said. It would be a stimulating environment for clients and family to feel welcomed and respected, a facility with a safe environment, free of barriers.

   Once built, the centre would help clients build self-esteem and confidence, unveil employment opportunities, promote health and longevity and provide funding assistance. Future plans are to provide wheelchair accessible homes for physically challenged people, residential care and group homes.

   “York Region has been so under serviced for families with special needs,” Ms Stephenson said. Approximately 3,800 York residents received special needs services last year, she said. She conservatively estimates 9,000 others are on waiting lists.

   Thornhill’s Faye Leask is in the queue. Her nine-year-old daughter, born with cerebral palsy, has outgrown her wheelchair. She also needs a home computer writing aid program to help the child. Ms Leask has been working with the centre to get financial help.
“The people I’ve been dealing with there are so understanding,” she said. “There’s a real connection. They know what I need and there’s a wealth of information.”

   Ms Leask, who has another child with special needs, endorses the centre’s drive to build a regional facility. In the past, her daughter travelled to Holland Bloorview for classes and therapy by bus. The trek wasn’t too far, but traffic made it time consuming.  “Travel was often a chore, especially if the bus wasn’t air conditioned,” she said. “Now, I take my daughter to various places for different services in York Region. It’s all over the place. It’s hard to keep all the specialists straight. Information gets lost.

   “A centralized facility with all the specialists and services in one place in the community, with one point of contact for those with special needs, would be wonderful.”  It all takes time and money, Ms Stephenson said. The centre has been working with realtors, drafting grant applications and fundraising.  Ideally, the centre would like someone to donate five to 10 acres of land. Waterfront would be a bonus for water therapy and sports.

   As a budding charitable organization, the centre’s challenges are beyond financial. Creating awareness and profile among decision makers and the public is paramount. The centre is taking small, pragmatic steps. The golf fundraiser is one.  The day begins at 7:30 a.m. with professionals Danny King and Gordie Burns giving instruction and demonstrating shots. There are prizes, draws and an auction and the event has openings for players, volunteers and donations. Golf and lunch is $225 per person and lunch only is $60.  Her son was to attend and bring greetings. It’s doubtful that will happen due to his condition, she said.  “Thomas is a great kid with hopes and dreams,” Ms Stephenson said. “He has to try harder to catch up and keep up with his peers, but he is doing it. I believe my son can do anything he puts his mind to.  “One day, when the centre is built, I truly believe he will be the CEO.”

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