Community Living Out Loud

Empowering Youth: Summer Program Spotlight

July 07, 2023 Community Living Mississauga Season 1 Episode 3
Empowering Youth: Summer Program Spotlight
Community Living Out Loud
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Community Living Out Loud
Empowering Youth: Summer Program Spotlight
Jul 07, 2023 Season 1 Episode 3
Community Living Mississauga

Join Host Peter Reynolds as he chats with Mary Dillon, Community Recreation Liaison at Community Living Mississauga about their Summer Teen Activity Program. Peter also welcomes Durrell Martin, a parent whose son participated in the program, and whose daughter volunteered there. Durrell shares his personal journey with Community Living Mississauga and the transformative impact the organization has had on his whole family. 

You can also watch this episode on YouTube

If you're enjoying this podcast, please be sure to subscribe. We'd also love to hear any episode suggestions you may have.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Join Host Peter Reynolds as he chats with Mary Dillon, Community Recreation Liaison at Community Living Mississauga about their Summer Teen Activity Program. Peter also welcomes Durrell Martin, a parent whose son participated in the program, and whose daughter volunteered there. Durrell shares his personal journey with Community Living Mississauga and the transformative impact the organization has had on his whole family. 

You can also watch this episode on YouTube

If you're enjoying this podcast, please be sure to subscribe. We'd also love to hear any episode suggestions you may have.

Peter Reynolds:   Welcome to Community Living Out Loud brought to you by Community Living Mississauga. I’m your host Peter Reynolds. On this podcast we celebrate the lives of people who have an intellectual disability and the incredible work being done to advocate for them and their families. Through conversations with experts, advocates and individuals with lived experience, we hope to inspire and educate listeners on the importance of building strong, supportive communities. Let’s get loud. 

                            Summer. As kids it was that magical time in our lives between school and more school. A time for summer camps and summer jobs, for afternoon movies and hanging out with friends in the park. It’s when we learned what poison ivy is and how much we don’t like mosquitoes. It was a time just to be a kid. And everyone deserves that. 

                            On today’s episode we’ll explore the summer programs offered at Community Living Mississauga and speak with one parent whose children have been remarkably influenced by everything these programs have to offer. And joining me to shed some warm summer light on this subject are Mary Dillon, community recreation liaison at Community Living Mississauga; and Durrell Martin, whose son Kevin has participated in Community Living Mississauga’s summer programs for many years. 

                            Mary, Durrell, welcome to Community Living Out Loud. 

Mary Dillon:       Thanks, Peter.

Durrell Martin:    Thank you very much, Peter. It’s exciting to be here today. 

Peter Reynolds:   Mary, perhaps we could start with you. Could you tell us a little bit about what you do at Community Living Mississauga? 

Mary Dillon:       Well, when it comes to our summer programs my main focus is to coordinate the programs that we offer for children and youth as well as to recruit staff who are usually students themselves who would be appropriate and suitable to provide support to the folks who come to our programs.

Peter Reynolds:   And what programs does Community Living Mississauga offer in the summer? 

Mary Dillon:       Well, we really focus on community-based programs. We look at programs that would match the age of the child. So we focus on dividing groups up just as many of our summer camp partners divide children up. So we have our children’s summer support program that focuses on providing support to children between the ages of 4 and 12. And then unfortunately, after that age – that magic age of 12, 13 – the opportunity for community-based summer camps is very small because if you don’t require support you’re typically volunteering or getting a job. 

                            So we provide support in our summer routine activity program for youth and teens between the ages of 13 and 21 who would typically be in school. And a few years ago we introduced our futures program to address the need of those older teens who might be interested in starting to explore the opportunity of working. So we look at the very first introductions of employment readiness and having the opportunities to volunteer to build their resume and to build their work skills and their job skills. 

Peter Reynolds:   When you say community-based, what do you mean?

Mary Dillon:       I think sometimes people sort of think of children going to camp and children who have a disability going to camp as all going together – so that there would be a camp for children who have a disability. And that may have been the way when I first started working many years ago. But now we look at children belong in the communities that they live in. They belong, you know, with their peers; they belong with their siblings. So we encourage families to find a summer camp perhaps in their local community centre. Or if their son or daughter enjoys gymnastics or soccer after school, perhaps their club is offering a summer camp. 

                            So we move our support to focus on where that child wants to spend their summer. So instead of bringing the child to us and having a more sort of sheltered program we really look at where can we bring our support to meet the needs and interests of each child and the needs and interests of those families? 

Peter Reynolds:   So really from – you’re covering sort of the whole range of the childhood experience, from the very young to right up in their 20s.

Mary Dillon:       That’s right. So it replaces time spent in school. So people can come into our summer programs up until their last year of school. So if they’re graduating at 21 that last summer it would be their last summer with us. And then we, you know, we sort of help them focus on what are they going to do now as an adult? But we have people who come to us at four and five and leave us when they’re 21. So I see that progression; I see that growth. 

                            I’m lucky now to be here 17 years so there are children who came the first or second year that I started working in summer programs who will be aging out now this year. So I’ve seen them grow from 6-year-olds to 21-year-olds. So that’s really a nice sort of sidebar to my job. That’s an exciting part of my job. 

Peter Reynolds:   Yeah. And I’d love to talk to you a little bit later about that process of job preparedness and kind of getting ready for when people do age out of the program. Where do they go then? And the fact that you’re thinking about that in advance. So I’d love to talk to you a little bit more about that. But maybe you can give us a sense of what kind of activities. We talked about community-based, in the community. What families can expect their children to experience in your programs. 

Mary Dillon:       Yes. In our children’s summer support program we follow the lead of the camp. So if a child is going to soccer camp then the focus is on soccer or crafts or whatever the family is looking for, whatever the child is looking for. In our teen program we really focus about going into the city, into exploring neighbourhoods and areas of Mississauga and activities that are offered within the confines of the city of Mississauga. So those activities are always growing. We partake in festivals and we enjoy the harbour down in Port Credit. 

                            So we never stay in one place. We don’t have a home base. We have a drop-off point in the morning but we utilize public transit by Mississauga Transit; they’re a great partner with us. And we travel around Mississauga. We go to square one; we go to any outdoor activities or that the city is holding. If there’s any celebrations at Celebration Square. When the Olympics were on we could go down and gather with other people, other parts of – other people from Mississauga and watch and support Team Canada. We go to all the movies; we’ll be seeing summer blockbusters. We utilize every park. 

                            So my favourite is Jack Darling Park with the waterfront and the beach and all of the outdoor activities and the hiking trails. So anything that people can do in the summer to enjoy the good weather, to enjoy the city, we explore. We hopefully offer opportunities for people that they maybe haven’t tried with their families. Because every family has their own little niche activity. Some people are really sporty. Some people are into the arts. So we try and tap into those different things and give people new experiences. And we really enjoy asking our staff who are diverse and eclectic and their interests, you know, are unique. So we always say to staff, let us know where you spend your weekend. Let us know what you do with your family so we can introduce those activities. 

                            And maybe somebody has never, you know, done rock climbing. Maybe someone’s never tried jumping on a trampoline. And they could do that with us.

Peter Reynolds:   I love that idea of integration and these are not separate programs that you’re really trying to integrate these individuals into the community. So they’re having fun and having a summer just like everybody else. 

                            But speaking of integration I think there’s somebody else who can speak to this in the podcast. Durrell, the – love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you could start by talking about how your family got involved with Community Living Mississauga.

Mary Dillon:       1 Thank you, Peter. So we’ve been involved with Community Living Mississauga since Kevin was three years old. So we go right back. As soon as we discovered he had autism it was Community Living to the rescue to guide us along through programs, support, which of course led to summer camp. So what Mary didn’t mention there as sort of the incredible variety of programs they have is the absolute paradise in Kevin’s mind. It’s called Water World. So they have a great program that Kevin looks forward to every single summer and has attended for over a decade in that every day they would get to do something revolving around water. So as Mary mentioned, it’s a community-based program. He loves to travel on MiWay. 

                            So, you know, the trip is as good as the destination and he would have such a great time getting there. And then in the morning they would go to, as Mary mentioned, maybe bowling [00:10:02], maybe a trampoline, maybe something a little outside of his comfort zone, which was great for his development.  But then every afternoon it was off to paradise and it would be a swimming pool; it would be a water park. And he would come home ecstatic and, you know, and in his words it would be slide, waves, splash. And it was so, you know, satisfying as a parent to see your child come home just ecstatic at the end of the day and be asking about when is the bus leaving tomorrow. 

Peter Reynolds:   Can you talk a little bit, Durrell, about the first time he was experiencing summer camp and experiencing this program? Was it a hard transition for him to be getting out into the community with people he doesn’t know and can you talk a little bit about that? 

Durrell Martin:    Certainly, Peter. I think you’ve hit on a very key item. So as a parent of a child with special needs – Kevin is both autistic and has a learning delay – we were extremely nervous and concerned about him heading out into the public. He was an extreme flight risk because he can dash out into oncoming traffic. OK? So, we were absolutely thrilled and impressed with the level of staff at Community Living. They are really passionate individuals that very quickly in a sense comforted us. And Kevin quickly adapted to them. We were very concerned about that. 

                            Over the years we know many of the counsellors by name. One especially that comes to mind is Carlos, who spent over five years with Kevin and really bonded with him, and we were very fortunate that each summer Carlos returned and Kevin had his favourite counsellor again to travel with. 

                            But that was one of the most challenging things is that all of our children are different. I’ll just do one quick and little example. At one point in Kevin’s life he developed a think of it as a concern about backpacks. Backpacks need to be zippered closed. So whenever he saw an open backpack he would dash over and want to close it. Well, you can imagine travelling on a public transit system, some stranger is sitting there with an open nap sack and my son may dash over and suddenly go into their knapsack and close it. You could see the concern. 

                            But again, the Community Living staff with their incredible training they received, you know, have interventions for this. They would position themselves accordingly, look for this in advance, prepare for it. And the summer went flawless and there were no concerns.

Peter Reynolds:   Mary, can you speak to that a little bit? This idea of obviously trepidation for parents – you know, having their children going out in the world – and how  Community Living Mississauga addresses that?

Mary Dillon:       We recognize – I mean, as a support staff I recognize concerns but I think more so as a mom I recognize that there’s always that concern about will your child be safe under the care of someone else? Will your child be accepted by other people they run into? And I think that is magnified when your child has a disability. So if you’re a parent of a child with a disability, those are real fears. Those are day-to-day concerns. And you’re, you know, you’re holding your breath hoping that there isn’t going to be a call saying that, you know, your son or daughter is struggling. 

                            So we address those. We talk about, you know, it’s about communication. We want as much information about someone’s son or daughter that they, you know, choose to share with us. We want to be able to cater our support. And we will address concerns. We’ll have meetings and phone conversations and we’ll have introductions of the person we’re going to be supporting with the staff and the families can be there for that introduction. And it’s open communication so that if we’re not doing something in a way that perhaps is being successful in our support, we change that, and we want to hear back from families; we want to hear if they have some concerns. 

                            And we also talk about our successes. So as much as we hope to alleviate people’s concerns and we talk about safety and training and we describe the training our staff get, we also are really clear about celebrating our successes. So for someone it might be that they were able to take the bus without, you know, being upset or without any concerns, or that they were making a friend and they’ve connected with somebody in the group. So we want to highlight that if, you know, families have their concerns we completely understand that and we acknowledge them and we hope to address them and alleviate the concerns. But we also talk about the benefits of coming to the program. What it can mean for their son or daughter to come for a week and to be around new people and to receive support from new people. 

                            And I really think it’s important sometimes to receive support from somebody who could be your peer. So a lot of – most of our staff our university and college students, so they’re only a few years older than some of our participants. So I think that role of mentor and role model can’t be sort of underestimated. Because I know myself if I have to go out and fill in for a staff I know that some of the teens look for me to think, wow, it’s like being with my mom. Where it’s not the same as when, you know, a great staff like Carlos used to come along and he was, you know, close to their age and he was playing sports with them. Because my days of dribbling the basketball are long gone. 

                            But, you know, our staff can do those sorts of activities with the teens and they love it. They love to see someone close to their age who’s, you know, positive about being with them and offering support and really support in a positive and helpful way. And who can provide opportunities that maybe they aren’t having, you know, when they’re in school, for sure, or even just, you know, it’s not something that every family can spend a lot of time doing, you know, different activities every day, if that’s exhausting for a lot of families. Or they have other caregiving needs that they need to address with either younger children or sometimes we’re sandwiched between, you know, having children and looking after aging parents. 

                            So what we can offer sometimes is a bit different than what families are able to offer.

Peter Reynolds:   And I can imagine, Durrell, you know, having the same counsellor that that, you know, with autism I can assume that change can be challenging. So if they’re going to different places, if they’re experiencing different things, having something consistent can be very comforting. 

Durrell Martin:    Yes, Peter. Very much so. But I also want to stress that they work in teams. So Kevin was a one-to-one support but they would go off in a team. So one counsellor was with Kevin; another counsellor was a three-to-one ratio and as the group headed off they would support each other. So Kevin was also exposed to other counsellors. And of course there’s, you know, people get sick, so things come up and sometimes you would have a change. It is amazing to see the development that Kevin achieved over the years with Community Living. 

                            I mentioned he was a flight risk. That was quickly resolved through attending camp. You know? He couldn’t wait. And he would, you know, if a bus took an hour to come he would happily wait for that bus. Like, they developed so many social skills and broadening his experiences. Again, some things he would have never wanted to do before. Bowling would have been, you know, in a sense, a horrid experience, and now Kevin loves to go out and bowl. 

                            So again, it was that broadening of experience, exposing, as Mary stressed, in the community with siblings, with, you know, other individuals. Kevin is a social butterfly now and as we walk through a store will be waving and say hi and bye to everybody. That never existed before Community Living. 

                            So, again, while there’s trepidation and there’s a little anxiety, there’s also a lot of satisfaction and joy in seeing the growth and development that came from attending a summer camp.

Peter Reynolds:   Mary, so maybe you can expand on that a little bit on for parents that are listening to this. You know, what are some of the benefits, the skills that participants will gain during these summer programs?

Mary Dillon:       I think certainly for what we see a lot with a lot of the people who come to our programs is – for some it’s that first – those first small steps away from the security of family. And nothing can replace the security of being with Mom and Dad and being within a caring family. But we know as people age and as they get older, they also – there’s that balance of being secure within your family but also hopefully being able to step out a little bit and be independent. So this is a nice little bridge between being secure with Mom and Dad but also trying new things and with support, so they’re not on their own.

                            And we – it’s a small steps. In our children’s program it’s within a camp environment. It’s one-on-one support. It’s very much play focused and activity focused with kids the same age in, you know, maybe a larger group than in our teen program, but it’s camp and it’s very much similar to being in school. So being with other children isn’t new. They’re staying maybe indoors or going outdoors for, you know, time to be spent in the outdoors. Sort of like mimicking school that way. 

                            In our team program, for some people it’s the first time they’ve been on a bus. So, you know, we don’t say we’re going to learn the bus today; we just are naturally taking the bus as a way of getting from point A to point B. And, you know, the teens who come, they learn where the bus ticket goes; they learn to get a transfer from the bus driver; they say hello to the driver when they get on; they learn how to request a stop. And, you know, we can prompt them to ask for the stop. 

                            For the teens who are, you know, more independent, they have their cellphones and we help them – we can support them to download the app so they can help plan where the group is going, what bus route to get on. So we just build that into our day because that’s – those are the skills that are going to be developed. When you take the bus three times a day for five days in the week you’re on the bus a lot. But it’s not a forced learning. It’s just we’re just doing it because we want to get to the bowling alley or we want to get to the swimming pool or, you know, we’re going to the movies. So it just becomes a natural extension of the activity that we’re taking the bus to get to and from. 

                            We also encourage the teens to participate in the activity planning. So we do have the bare bones of a schedule. But if a teen says, you know, I really like basketball I want to go can we put basketball in the schedule, we want to hear that from our participants and the teens that come so that we can cater those schedules to what they like.

                            As Durrell was saying, with Kevin, he loves swimming. The only time we didn’t go swimming with him was usually March break because it was too cold. Or if something, you know, if there was something wrong with the swimming pool – if there was, you know, we’ve had a power outage at, you know, one community centre or, you know, we were supposed to go to an outdoor pool and it was a thunderstorm; it was unsafe. But he loved to go swimming. But he was also open to new things. As long as we could kind of find that balance and sometimes, you know, really encourage him to go outside that comfort zone and try a different activity. But we recognized that for Kevin he needed to go swimming. He really enjoyed that. And that made the day for him. 

                            So we made sure that that reflect – his schedule reflected his desires too because part of being independent is being able to have a voice, so we want to hear that voice when people come into our program. So if someone loves to shoot hoops or if they love to hike or they want to run, you know, we have some people who love that, just that physical activity, so we find ways to do that in a way that’s safe, that is, you know, just reflective of how we can do that in a positive way. 

                            Within the city we have staff who, you know, when I recruit I’m like, do you love sports? That’s great. Do you love arts and crafts? That’s great too. Because we’re going to find the right person for you to support because we match based on your, you know, what the person needs but also your skills. 

                            So it’s all about trying new things. It’s about that first steps of having a voice. It’s around, you know, having the ability to say, yes, I want to do something; no, I don’t. And sometimes we talk about how do we negotiate? If there’s four people in the group, how do we negotiate? Just like any four friends who go out together it’s like, I don’t want to see that movie but I really want to hang with you guys. So we’re going to go the movie. It may not be my favourite movie but it’s really important that I spend time with you. So we teach those sort of skills around negotiating. And that’s hard for all of us sometimes but it’s done in a natural way because we sometimes just sit down and go here’s the movies. Let’s look at them and let’s see. Do we vote? How do you guys want to do this? Do you pick today and then next week someone else can pick? 

                            So every group sort of evolved differently based on the personalities that are in the group. 

Peter Reynolds:   I love it. I say this a lot during the podcast about the sort of holistic approach that Community Living takes to its services and working with individuals who have intellectual disabilities. You know, this idea that, yeah, while we’re out there having a good time, the learning is constant. The learning is on-going. But there are these soft skills – as you said, negotiation, and even just patience. Things that are absolutely going to serve them in their day-to-day activities and in their life moving forward. 

                            Durrell, did you see similar things happening with Kevin throughout his experience?

Durrell Martin:    Oh most certainly. And as Mary said, it’s not one size fits all. And one of Community Living’s great strengths of their staff is the ability to adapt and change. 

                            So, again, challenges would come up. Mary mentioned, yeah, what if there’s a thunderstorm and the pool’s closed and we have to suddenly vary? So they were constantly supporting each other. The counsellors, again, involving the children. And in doing so, like you said, building up a variety of skills. 

                            One of the ones that hasn’t been mentioned by either of you is the benefits to parents. Well, some people are thinking, yeah, I just need child support or, no, I want my child to develop. There was also a gathering of parents. We’d have to drop off our children each day and pick them up. There’d be a lot of time. You know, again, the bus is late; I’ve got 20 extra minutes. Well, we would have great conversations back and forth. Parents would share with each other, grow and learn from each other. 

                            Many of these individuals that I met through summer camp, we are still friends with and have connections with. Right? We would then, you know, share with each other. Oh my son couldn’t swim, and this is where we taught him to swim. Right? Where are you going to get dental work done? Things like that. 

                            So there was an incredible side benefit for the parents of interacting with other parents of, you know, of children with special needs also. And I can’t, again, stress how, you know, satisfying that was and how rewarding that was. That has led to – and I’m sure we’ll talk about it shortly – my daughter joining Community Living but, you know, us also participating in all sorts of other Community Living programs, whether it’s something like tech talk, sibling support group, you know, parents’ group and information session. 

                            So again, Community Living: it’s right in their title. It is a community. And it’s not just summer camp; it’s such a wide range of programs. And sometimes this is your avenue to get exposed to them.

Peter Reynolds:   Yeah. I hadn’t even thought of that.

Mary Dillon:       And I think sort of just sort of piggybacking to what Durrell said, we could hold a parent information evening where we bring parents together in a formal way and say, talk amongst yourselves. You know? Find people who are like-minded and share your resources. And it would be crickets. People would be nervous and anxious and, you know, really self-conscious. But when you have this natural gathering of families and or parents, it’s kind of like when anybody’s being dropped off. Any, you know, a group of parents dropping off at a hockey rink or waiting for the kids at the end of a baseball game. 

                            You just have this natural gathering of parents who have a common, you know, thing and that is that they are all parents of a child with a disability. And they understand each other more than I will ever understand them and that other people will understand them. So they are linked. And it’s just a matter of them feeling comfortable with each other. 

                            But when they see each other every day and they see sometimes, you know, other people’s children struggling, they know that that other parent understands their struggle. So when they have that downtime, as Durrell said, they just strike up a conversation. Even if it’s just to sort of say I know your struggle or, you know, we have had, you know, we’ve had rough mornings too but we’ve had great mornings. Or when newcomers come Durrell was always a great person to recognize a new face. And he, you know, would make a point of saying they’re going to have a great time. You know, don’t worry. They’re going to have a great time and you’ll see at the end of the day. And so you’ll see same parents meeting up at the end of the day to see that their son or daughter is happy. 

                            And I think that sense of community amongst the parents, we can bring people together. But you can’t force that sense of community. So I think when it happens naturally in a relaxed way and other parents can see, you know, the relationships that the parents have with their own child and they can see that happening, I think it’s something we can’t create. We can’t try to set up those environments. It’s just a beautiful thing when it happens naturally. And parents are so supportive of each other because they truly get it. They understand what each other is facing at different times. 

                            And what I see parents like Durrell who, you know, Kevin reached the maximum age just only a couple years ago. When he sees younger parents and with younger kids he knows he can put himself back in that time. I’m sure, Durrell, you could speak to that. But you can be a mentor to those. Parents can be mentors to each other as well, not just our staff being a mentor or role model to the teens and children who we support. But parents can be role models and mentors to other parents because they’ve already gone through those teen years or they’ve made that transition from, you know, elementary school to high school and what does that look like. They are such great resources for each other.

Peter Reynolds:   And these relationships, Durrell, for the young people, our relationships that last a lifetime, but as you’ve mentioned, also, the parents: those relationships last a lifetime.

Durrell Martin:    And because, again, it’s community based and they’re generally you’re dropping off at a centre that was close to you, we still see these individuals all the time. As Mary mentioned, Kevin graduated out of the program; last summer was his final summer, you know, at the summer camp. But, you know, we’ll be at here, you know, at our local supermarket or whatever and we’ll run into these families. And they will say hi and chat. And again, it’s an ongoing. And again, we’ve now connected with them at so many other Community Living events which of course are ongoing and continuous, and it’s a learning curve for life. So you never ever finish; you just keep on growing.

Peter Reynolds:   So Mary, both of you have talked a lot about the staff – about these amazing, dedicated staff and volunteers who come and help during the summer programs. Can you talk a little bit about, for those people listening, maybe people who would love to be a part of this program, and how you go about finding these people.

Mary Dillon:       Certainly. At least we – I can say the nuts and bolts as sort of the basic facts is we always recruit through ads and through word of mouth. One of the things I’m most proud of is our number of our returning staff we have. So pre-COVID – we’ve had a little bit of a glitch; COVID has affected us in all sorts of ways. But pre-COVID returning staff was about 25% of our staffing team each year with staff who worked for us at least one year prior. So I think that is so rewarding to know that people value the job so well and had such a connection to the work that they were doing and the support that they were giving that they wanted to come back. 

                            So for the other 75% of our team we advertise. And really what I focus on is I want an eclectic mix. So it’s not just people who’ve provided support before or siblings of someone who requires support. I look at obviously I want somebody with a strong value base. You know, I want a staff team who values people who have a disability and who is in keeping with our values as an organization that people with a disability have a rightful place within their own community. 

                            The other things we can provide training for. We can provide training for, you know, how to provide one-to-one support. We can provide training around language that we prefer you to use. But it’s really hard to change people’s value base. 

                            So, that being said, we focus on such an eclectic group of young people. We look for people who can bring different things to the table. So if somebody has a musical background; if somebody is particularly artistic; if somebody is, you know, a hockey player or a soccer player within their university or through their high school life; or, you know, is particularly outgoing. But I also look for somebody who might be a bit more reserved because there is a need in so many of the teams that we support that we have to find the right personality. We have to find the right mix of people. 

                            So we look for an eclectic mix because when you have all the same sort of boxes ticked on a resume or in an interview, you end up with it just not quite the depths of staffing that you need. But when there’s so many different skills people bring to the table and interests and just the ability to connect with others, then you get the ability to really find the right match. 

                            And it’s sometimes it’s the intangible things. I often joke about it’s almost like dating. It’s this intangible connection. So if you have somebody who, you know, loves, you know, animation and you have a you have a teen who comes and loves that too, they have a natural bond. They’re talking about that. They look at characters. They can, you know, look at comic books. They can – they have that something in common. And I want staff who have something in common with the children and the teens that we support so that they have a way to make a connection. 

                            So it’s really important for us to find that eclectic mix. And we also want to plant seeds. So we don’t just look for somebody who wants to work in this sector or in this field for the rest of their life. We’ve had people go on to medical school. We’ve had people go on to be dentists; to work in banks. Because we want people – we plant those seeds for future so that after working for a summer with us, when they go and they become an accountant or they go and become a bank manager, when somebody we support comes into the bank, we want somebody there who sees them in the most positive way and who understands that maybe you have to adapt your customer service a little bit but at the end of the day this person in front of you is a person and as valuable as your other customers. 

                            And I think after working with us even just for one summer that seed is planted – that we don’t know where it’s going to pop up later but it could be 10 years. And, you know, the ophthalmologists that a parent brings their child to can say I’ve worked with Community Living. So, you know, you take all the time you need. I’m here to do this exam at his speed not mine, and that’s what I hope for.

Peter Reynolds:   Are these positions volunteer or are they paid?

Mary Dillon:       So we hire – I would say every year we hire, outside of COVID, but every year we hire between 60 and 70 students to work within our summer programs within Mississauga every year. 

Peter Reynolds:   And those are paid positions or volunteer positions, Mary? 

Mary Dillon:       Those are all paid positions.

Peter Reynolds:   Paid positions. OK. 

Mary Dillon:       So, yeah. They’re paid. They’re full-time. They’re Monday to Friday 8:30 to 4:30, 40 hours a week. And so for a lot of students it’s a great job – not just for the support and for the work that you’re able to do and the experience you’re able to gain but it’s a great job because you can plan your life. You’re working Monday to Friday, 8:30 to 4:30. For some people that’s all they want to work but for others as they are paying for post-secondary education, they can then do an evening job or a weekend job and it’s predictable, our hours. 

                            We also, we have a strong commitment to our students who work for us. We don’t lay them off during those weeks. We are committed to the full nine weeks of the summer so that they know they can rely on us for a consistency during that summer break.

Peter Reynolds:   Fantastic. I really like what you said about this idea of individuals who go off on a variety of careers bringing that experience with them into those workplaces, into those careers, and really sort of spreading the message of Community Living. 

Mary Dillon:       Yes. I mean, I know for myself several years ago I had an eye exam at LensCrafters at Erin Mills. and I didn’t recognize the young man but he said I worked for you. I’ve worked for you in the summer several years ago. And I thought that was great. I just thought, wow. It’s so – look for you now. Like, you’re an ophthalmologist now. But he says he, you know, he calls back onto those skills. He said it’s not just within our sector. Perhaps if it’s somebody, an older person who might be struggling as well with aging or dementia or sometimes if people just need more time and if they have any other issues that they may need some more time in an appointment. He said his work with us reminds him that, you know, you have to cater what you do to meet the needs of people. And I thought that was just so special.

Peter Reynolds:   Durrell, so we’ve been talking a lot about people going and working for Community Living Mississauga. And you have a connection there as well.

Durrell Martin:    Yes, Peter. So my daughter, Kevin’s older sister, is about two years older than him. So they went to camp together. So as Kevin got dropped off at the Community Living camp my daughter Kayla would be heading off to the same community centre to attend a program with Mississauga parks and rec. So for years she was exposed to waiting with us to pick up Kevin or drop him off and interacting with the other staff there. 

                            So as Mary said, quite often it’s word of mouth is where job development came, and that’s the way it came with Kayla. She saw these very confident staff who were clearly enjoying themselves and having a wonderful time together and she thought to herself, I want to say, as you mentioned, you may be a little selfish; what a perfect job. It’s like Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, I have my weekends and evenings free. I’m going to make some great money to help pay for my university. 

                            So she joined and then she got the surprise of her life in that it was incredible the – she said now – post, having spent over three years there and now moved on into her career as an environmental scientist. But the incredible skills she gained there. 

                            So as Mary mentioned, they get a full training before they sort of hit the road per se. There’s an entire week of detailed training. Everything from conflict resolution, difficult conversations, time management. 

                            So a lot of the – think of it as soft skills, leadership skills, personal development skills, you don’t get in university. You get thrown into the mix sometimes starting your job and you don’t have these. They’re developed through Community Living for these people. Right? They have to deal with sometimes anxious parents, frustrated parents. 

                            Kayla will stress that her customer service skills, you know, were incredibly developed having to work with the public in different situations. So she is incredibly grateful to her own career development for what she learned working at Community Living. 

                            This past year I’ve been in the invite of Community Living speaking at several of their charity events. And it’s one of the things that I stress: no matter what career you’re thinking of going into, as Mary mentioned – you want to be a doctor; you want to be a lawyer – it doesn’t matter. If you’re attending university and you’re looking for that ideal summer job, this builds so many skills, looks so awesome on her resume, and it pays well. So it’s a win-win-win for these individuals. 

                            And again, because they’re close in age to the participants it really helps that bonding. And it’s not like, you know, this old somebody like me with gray hair trying to take care of them; it’s somebody they can really connect with and form those bonds, as Mary stresses, are so critical to the success of the program.

Peter Reynolds:   So Mary, if, after that, if your phone isn’t ringing off the hook, for those that don’t know how to reach out for those who would love to participate in this program, how can they get more information? 

Mary Dillon:       All of our information is posted on our website and in – there’s a drop-down menu on our website for careers specifically. But there’s also a drop-down menu that discusses our programs. And there’s a gallery of pictures to show sort of what we do. So if anybody’s interested in working with Community Living Mississauga, whether it’s in our summer programs or across our agency, I would encourage them to take a look at our website because it’s such a unique experience. It can’t be really gained anywhere else, I don’t think. 

                            I think just as Durrell said, the ability to have such an impact on people’s lives. But also it’s a really an impact on your own. Your ability to learn leadership and problem-solving skills and as Durrell said time management and customer service. At the end of the day we are providing a service and there’s all of those challenges that go with it is of trying to meet the needs of parents and the person that you’re supporting and all those things, but in a really gracious and supportive and sort of forward-thinking way. 

                            I think that if somebody is able to commit to a summer, it’s an experience they’ll never forget. If it’s something they want to do more long term, they can really find a home. And they can be recognized for the skills that they bring to the job. Because it’s not just a philosophical sort of debate about what’s the best way to support. Sometimes you are just there one-to-one connecting with a person. And if you have people skills, then this could be your niche. This could be where you find a home. 

Peter Reynolds:   What about companies out there, Mary, who are listening to this? And we talked about it being community based and want to support, want to reach out, provide facilities. Is that something that you do in terms of partnerships? And what would you say to them? 

Mary Dillon:       There are. It’s not sort of a huge part of my portfolio but we do look at creating partnerships for employment. For example, we want people we support, whether it’s in our futures program, which is just the beginning parts of employment, or in our full-time focus on employment. We want people that we support to be working in environments that are welcoming to them, that are open to the skills that the people we support bring. And just the depth to the environment of a workplace. Having someone we support who is committed, who will come to work every day, who is thrilled to be part of a team, who’s thrilled to have a place to be and a place to grow and a place to learn, I think adds to the fabric of any workplace. 

                            So if there are companies who are struggling with their own recruitment, you know, perhaps somebody we support could fill their need. Whether on a part-time or a full-time basis, within our futures program, it’s – we’re look – we always partner with non-profits who open their doors to us to provide the teams who come through our futures program the opportunity to really learn on the job in a very supportive, non-judgmental way. Because they understand that the people in our futures program are just beginning to understand what, you know what it is to have a job. So it’s the very first steps of coming to work and either signing in or punching a clock as they used to do – not so much anymore. But just, you know, being open to working and they work with us to provide those learning opportunities. 

                            So we’re always looking for new opportunities where people we support can volunteer within the non-profit sector. But I know our career connections and our full-time sort of focus on employment is always looking to partner with any company in Mississauga who’s looking to enhance their workforce. Because we have, you know, as unique as those jobs might be and the skillset they’re looking for, we have unique people too with all sorts of skills that they’re just waiting to contribute.

Peter Reynolds:   It seems like a perfect graduation from the summer program. Durrell, is Kevin participating in the futures program?

Durrell Martin:    No. Unfortunately, Kevin’s sort of path went a little bit of a different direction. He wasn’t quite ready for employment yet. You know? Again it’s an ongoing growth. So Community Living, though, is instrumental in helping us find what is referred to as day programs. So again, he now attends a day program every day that he’s ecstatic to head out from. And it’s very similar to what he attended in summer camp. They’re in a public base. They take transit. They attend some of the attractions in our wonderful city. And again, they help. They are constantly growing. So he goes and volunteers doing maybe recycling and stuff at different companies with anticipation of building the skills to be, as in a sense, ready for what the futures program would have to offer. 

                            But again, Community Living through this whole transition from, you know, graduating out of summer camp into the next stage of his life has been instrumental and we don’t know what we would have done without them.

Peter Reynolds:   Absolutely. Well, again, we sort of ended where we began, talking about this being community based and getting individuals out into the community benefits. The participants it’s benefiting; the parents; it’s benefiting the community itself. I can imagine, you know, if a child is going to a particular movie theatre or a particular bowling alley or and they’re having a great experience there they’re going to be telling their parents I want to go back there outside of the summer program so you’re generating even more business for these restaurants and places in the community. So you’re absolutely giving back and it’s coming full circle.

                            As I mentioned, I think we could talk about this for another hour but I wanted to thank you both so much for joining me today and helping to educate myself and our listeners on these summer programs. Mary, any final thoughts? 

Mary Dillon:       I just want to say I love this time of year. As much as it’s our busiest time of year I love it. This is our first day of summer training so I met our summer team in its totality this morning at 8:30. We have a large rented space at Iceland to do our training for the next four days. And as much as I’ve met them all individually over Zoom for interviews it’s so nice to see them come together. As I was leaving to join you today they were all doing an icebreaker so that they can get to know each other. So by the end of the four days there’ll be a cohesive excited group of staff, which I think is fantastic. 

                            And I just love this time of year to be able to start to see that first day of camp. It’s always who’s grown how much over the summer. You know, two people who remember each other, friends coming together for the first time, that they haven’t been seeing each other since last summer. So those first few weeks of summer are always so exciting. 

Peter Reynolds:   And Durrell, any final thoughts or perhaps words of advice for perhaps nervous parents out there thinking about this program?

Durrell Martin:    That’s exactly I was going to mention, Peter, in that, you know, if you have a child with an intellectual disability and you’re sort of sitting on that fence and you’re nervous, don’t be. I mean, these are an incredible program, an incredible group of people that you can trust and you will – you’d be so – I want to say excited and satisfied if you make that leap and let your child get out there in the public that I know you’re nervous about. And just believe that, you know, they can be part of it. And now years later we have a different child and it’s all because of, you know, 10 years back, making that leap ourselves and trusting Community Living. And again, I encourage you to do the same.

Peter Reynolds:   Thank you again, both, so much for joining me. 

Mary Dillon:       Thanks, Peter. 

Durrell Martin:    Thank you so much, both of you.

Peter Reynolds:   And thank you, of course, to our audience for joining us today. Without you this podcast wouldn’t be anything at all. So we really appreciate your support and your comments. What you tell us, you know, in the comments is what helps generate the content for this podcast, so keep those comments coming. Of course remember to, like, and subscribe and share. If you know families out there who would benefit from this content, please do so. And if you’re listening on Apple podcasts we would not say no to a five-star review. 

                            So for Mary and for Durrell and for everyone at Community Living Mississauga, I’m your host Peter Reynolds. You’ve been listening to Community Living out loud and until next time stay loud.

Community Living Out Loud celebrates the lives of people with intellectual disability
Community Living Mississauga's summer programs
Employment readiness and community-based summer camps
Mississauga teen program offers diverse activities
Community Living Mississauga supports parents of children with disabilities
Different support options for families with autistic children
Community living for families with children with disabilities
Relationships last lifetime for young people with disabilities
Summer jobs prepare students for future careers
LensCrafters ophthalmologist connects with clients' needs
Community living summer job builds skills, bonds
Community-based summer programs benefit participants, businesses