Jane McLaren can recall with vivid detail every time Beyond 21 makes a difference in the life of a person it serves.
“One of the greatest changes is their smile,” she said of the 18 or so develop-mentally challenged people that take part in Beyond 21 activities. “It’s not just a smile in their face. It goes right into their eyes.”
Beyond 21 is a grassroots organization that provides daily activities and stimulation to develop-mentally challenged adults who have had to leave the school system thanks to their age.
In Ontario, persons 21 and older can no longer attend school.
“It really becomes up to the family to determine what their adult child will do,” said McLaren, the group’s program manager. “You still need adult relationships and peer relationships.”
Beyond 21 has become a model of success. Regionally speaking, officials in both Hawkesbury and Winchester have met with the Cornwall-based agency to see about setting up their own operations.
On a grander scale, others in Toronto have reached out to Beyond 21 for the same reasons.
“We’re on the grow,” said McLaren. “We’ve been here for three years and clearly we have established the fact that we are a much-needed service.”
And beyond the smiles created among the clients, McLaren said relationships are being solidified too.
“One of the big things that keeps coming back is here they come in and make peer relationships that develop outside the program,” she said.
Things have become so successful that parents of adult children who don’t quite fit the Beyond 21 mold are asking about placements.
Beyond 21 has responded by laying the groundwork to create additional programming that meets the needs of new clients.
“We’re modifying some of our programming, because you know what? Those people telling us that are right,” she said.
The agency has its own facility, where participants play games, cook meals and interact with each other – a far cry from sitting at home in front of the television, which is where many of the participants would otherwise be.
“They can become very socially isolated,” said McLaren.
On any particular day a group of about a half dozen participants can be found returning from swimming, while another group is out grocery shopping.
“We try to teach healthy eating habits,” said McLaren, who added participants are also schooled on things like the use of money, and how to calculate change. “The biggest joy is when they start to enjoy other people and blossom into becoming themselves.”
Beyond 21 is becoming a player in the community, through its fundraising efforts. This June a popular house tour, featuring million-dollar properties, will take place. In July Cornwall’s only nighttime run, the Moonriver Run, takes place to benefit Beyond 21.
And things will be capped off with a downtown foodfest in August that will see thousands of foodies descend on Pitt Street.