CORNWALL, Ontario – 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 set up its so-called “hub” at the former General Vanier Intermediate School on Cumberland Street.
The agency has its own facility, when 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 this day one group of about a half dozen participants have just returned 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.”
Tish Humphries, who helped spearhead the creation of Beyond 21, said in an earlier interview the age limit often blinks on the horizon for parents and family members of disabled children – they know it’s coming and are afraid of what the future holds.
“You feel very alone when you’re searching for programs like these,” said Humphries, whose daughter Emma is part of Beyond 21, or B21 as it’s known. “We wanted a good life for our daughter and others who were searching for a quality of life for their family members.”
Humphries was quick to point out B21 is not a babysitting service.
“Our people are there to facilitate, they’re not caregivers,” she said. B21 provides the links families need to get their adult child or family member actively involved in the community.
Beyond 21 is one of 19 members agencies served by the United Way of SD and G that is in the midst of a $700,001 fundraising campaign.
-with Seaway News files