Participation House Celebrates Independence

The Brantford Expositor did a story on Participation House!  Check it out!


Residents of Participation House were celebrating their own Independence Day last week.

The facility for disabled adults is now 35 years old and at a party on Thursday, many of those who have been supported for all those years at Participation House (PH) recalled what life was like before the place existed.

For Vicky Iorio, PH meant the difference between living in a hospital and living in her own apartment.

“When I got the word I was moving to Participation House, I was so excited,” Iorio told a packed room full of residents, staff, supporters and board members.

“It meant I wouldn’t have to live in the hospital any more and share my room with five other people. Also my family lived in Brantford so this way I would be closer to them.”

Iorio is one of the nine original residents at PH and she’s benefited from the agency’s expanded programs through the years where some residents were moved into independent apartments where they were still supported but able to live on their own.

After 13 years at PH, Iorio moved to 11 West St.

“I was nervous and wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle living by myself after living with 27 other people. There were a lot of new things to get used to.”

With staff help, Iorio learned to order her medications, pay bills, go to the bank, book rides, do laundry and buy food.

After another 20 years in that apartment, she moved to PH’s new facility at 255 Colborne St.

“I like it a lot better. The apartment is bigger and better.”

Participation House has changed over the years.

It’s undergone expansion of some of the areas and been adjusted to squeeze in a few more residents.

The porte-cochere that allows loading and unloading of wheelchairs at the front door is no longer big enough to accommodate the largest vans that pick up residents and it’s been hit a few times over the years so funds have been raised to replace it shortly.

A lot of the emphasis has switched to supporting the almost 70 people who don’t live at PH any more.

Like Iorio, more than 30 residents who once would have lived out their days in a hospital or similar facility are now living in supported apartments.

“Our assisted living at home program for high-risk seniors also supports about 30 people,” says Sherry Kerr, PH’s executive director.

Those two programs and a respite program for caregivers have been the biggest changes Kerr has seen since arriving six years ago.

Respite is a transitional program that is used by the hospital or the Community Care Access Centre to help people move from hospital care back home or for families who need some relief from their constant caregiving duties.

“The folks we support and the things they love about being supported by PH make this a great group,” Kerr said. “We have so much fun together.”

Many PH residents have cerebral palsy which has twisted their bodies and often impairs their speaking abilities but leaves their minds sharp and frustrated.

Vernon Hewitt told the anniversary crowd that he arrived at PH as a teenager, happy to get out of his previous facility.

One of his favourite memories of the place is helping to eliminate false ideas about those in wheelchairs.

“I go with Doug (Hunt) to schools and talk about Participation House,” Hewitt said in his speech. “I told the students I have cerebral palsy.”

Hewitt now also lives independently in the PH apartment building on Colborne Street.

Lloyd St. Amand was first introduced to the facility as a politician.

“I toured PH when I was in office and got a nice feel for the place. I thought I wouldn’t mind giving back to the community through PH.”

St. Amand said when “election fortunes” provided him with more time, he looked at the invitations he had to sit on various boards and chose PH. He is now the past-president of the board.

“The residents and those who are supported here are just so genuine and unaffected.

“It’s heartening for those of us who are able to see them focus on their abilities and set aside their disabilities. It’s the triumph of the human spirit to see these people soldiering on, wheelchair-bound for the most part, some unable to speak but still live, still striving forward.”

susan.gamble@sunmedia.ca

@EXPSGamble

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