LiveWorkPlay hosts the annual Engines of Success recognition banquet every April as a celebration of individuals with intellectual disabilities, volunteers, community partners, and others who help make Ottawa a more inclusive city. The Welcome Back Family Feast and Annual General Meeting is held each September in order to conduct the required business of a non-profit corporation, but also provides an opportunity to reflect on the year that was, marking achievements and making note of developments and trends.
The evening began with a special remembrance of Robert (Rob) More, who died tragically in the Fallowfield bus crash of September 18. There were two visitations and a funeral service for Rob earlier in the week, so it was decided to that a celebration of his life would be most appropriate on this occasion. After a poetry reading by Julie Kingstone and Keenan Wellar, 150 guests took to their feet for a “moment of noise” to clap, whistle, and shout in Rob’s memory while the theme song for his beloved Ottawa Senators played for 30 seconds in the background. The live footage was recorded and uploaded to YouTube and Rob’s online memorial site, and his family members have sent in messages of appreciation.
Vice-Chair Al Mackey explained in some detail the focus of the board for 2012-2013, with two of their most important activities being the establishment of three reserve funds, and an investment in the board itself through Policy Governance training. The eight candidates for 2013-2014 included: Marina Abrosimov, Joshua Amiel, Una Brandreth, Clement Chan, Alexis Dusonchet, each of whom introduced themselves to the membership. Al Mackey spoke on behalf of Cecelia Taylor and Cindy Harrison before discussing his own candidacy. The board has already determined that a priority for 2013-2014 will be to make additional connections with the membership, with a particular emphasis on forward-thinking issues.
Auditor Ross Holmes did not find any significant differences from the previous year, but did make note that expenditures exceeded revenues for the first time in many years. Mr. Holmes pointed out that the organization has a healthy cash balance, and that after a series of years with surplus funds, it was appropriate that LiveWorkPlay ran a small deficit ($38,000).
Co-Leader and Director of Operations Julie Kingstone provided some additional financial analysis, explaining that one of the only surprises of note for the year was a doubling of mileage costs from the previous year (from $10,000 to $20,000). Mileage is carefully tracked, and we know that the increase owes in part to the addition of a staff member, but more significantly, it is a cost that comes with success. That is because as our members move out to homes of their own, obtain jobs, accept volunteer positions, and increase their social, cultural, and recreational activity in the community, there is more work for staff to do and more places for staff to go. There are no easy answers for reducing these vehicle expenses. On the revenue side, LiveWorkPlay needs to look at our funding agreements (including those with individuals/families) to make sure that mileage is taken into consideration.
Co-Leader and Director of Communications Keenan Wellar shared a synopsis of some of the key trends for the year. These are detailed in the Annual Report but some of the highlights include:
- The new office (one year ago) at 1223 Michael Street is working well for staff and visitors
- Access to the ShareVision online management system has been extended to our members, allowing for customized calendars and updates.
- With the hiring of new staff members (all time high of 12 at present) there was an investment in staff training that includes membership in the Open Future Learning online training resource that features Dave Hingsburger, Jack Pearpoint, Kathie Snow, and others.
- LiveWorkPlay is combining technology and face to face communication very effectively. While online registration and record-keeping have improved accuracy and efficiency, we have not lost and have in fact grown our community gatherings, average 1 major event per month. Attendance is up.
- LiveWorkPlay had about 25 appearances in mainstream media for the year.
- Two of our conference presentations were downloaded more than 500 times each.
- We have over 1000 Facebook fans, more than 5000 Twitter followers, uploaded more than 30 videos to YouTube, and our new website (6 months old) is averaging some 3000 unique visitors per month.
- The Living Supports team had a busy year, in particular helping 7 members get settled at the new Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) Beaver Barracks buildings.
- The type of help our members want in their own homes is shifting away from routine tasks and is more focused on social endeavors, such as hosting a dinner party for friends.
- Money management is always an issue of interest, and LiveWorkPlay has helped many members and families adapted their banking arrangements to reduce errors and make it easier to manage bills and personal spending.
- The Employment Supports team has developed new employer relationships, such as Imperial Coffee who will soon be featured in a United Way Ottawa video.
- Ongoing relationships such as those with MBNA/TD Bank and The WORKS Gourmet Burger Bistro continue to be celebrated. WORKS franchise co-owners Dave Demers and Grant Webb received the Community Ambassador Award at Engines of Success 2013.
- Partnerships and memberships with West Ottawa Rotary Club, Rotary at Work, Ontario Disability Employment Network, and the Employment Accessibility Resource Network have offered opportunities for both leadership and learning.
- A grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation has increased the employment supports team by one position (to a total of three) for 2013-2014.
- Our Community Connector team said 2012-2013 was all about “joining” as our members signed up for clubs, courses, classes, sports, and more.
- Many of our members have transition from congregated sports (playing a sport only with other people who have a disability) to teams that are part of the Ottawa Sport & Social Club or other public venues.
- There has been a lot of interest in non-specialized post-secondary education, such as enrolling in mainstream courses at Algonquin College.
- There are challenges with the referral system from Developmental Services Ontario Eastern Region and we are working with their staff to develop a more efficient process.
- One benefit of the new referral system is LiveWorkPlay is now serving a more diverse community of individuals and families, as we are being introduced to people who might not have found us in the past.
- Many of our new referrals involve individuals with a dual diagnosis (intellectual disability and mental health) and one of the complexities of providing support comes from dealing with multiple systems and agencies.
- The type of help members are looking for is shifting. While people will always want help with housing and employment, many have achieved their goals in those areas and are looking to grow the other parts of their life through friendships and active lives in the community.
- The evolution of “Friday nights” from the programmatic structure of the past to the current day “social meetup” format is truly remarkable and worthy of celebration. Incredibly, there were more than 200 social meetups in 2012-2013!
- Staff continue to perform an essential function with planning and support of meetups, but it is volunteers that make it work week in and week out. The staff role has moved to the background and volunteers are taking on leadership roles.
- Our members are also taking on leadership roles, as many volunteers reported they were mostly “along for the ride” since other members of the group had the knowledge and experience needed.
- An important goal in the volunteer realm for the coming year is to offer new volunteer opportunities, including building on our existing community champions and engage them in anything from developing employment contacts to improving our fundraising initiatives.
- One on one matches that start out as mutual support for a shared interest are in some cases growing into full-fledged and significant friendships, such as with Emily and Ellyce above.
It’s been about 5 years since LiveWorkPlay made the shift away from day programs and other congregated activities to support our members to enjoy a full life in the community, with homes, jobs, friends, and interesting things to do and places to go (what most everyone wants in life). We all had our doubts, but we have moved far beyond those early trepidations, to a place where everyone is seeing the community as a place of possibility, not as a place of limitations.
There are serious barriers and struggles, but we do not surrender to them. We take them on. Sometimes we knock them down. Sometimes we go around. And sometimes we learn all that we can and wait for a better day. But we never stop. We are united in our cause for a just, equitable, and welcoming society, and we believe not just in ourselves, but in the power and possibilities of other people (some we haven’t met yet!) to make it happen.