New Leaf Link (NeLL) was set up to serve a growing number of developmentally disabled young adults in South Frontenac. After graduating from Sydenham High School, where there was and still is an excellent school to community program, there was nothing in the township for the graduates.
At the time, Dr. Karin Steiner, New Leaf Link’s Executive Director, was looking to continue her work as an autism educator and to find a program to benefit her son Nicolas, who has autism.
In its initial press release, New Leaf Link set out some principles, which make interesting reading after ten years.
“We aim to steward the occupational, cultural, and social contributions of disabled participants by a) creating a model educational centre; b) linking the strengths and interests of participants with employment and volunteer opportunities in local communities; and c) sharing our model with other communities.”
To a great extent those principles have not changed at all, but Dr. Steiner has found that some of the goals are taking longer to achieve than she initially envisioned.
“It has taken a lot more time and effort than I orginally thought it would to grow and become well established,” she said, when contacted early this week, a few days after the NeLL year end celebration and fundraiser at Harrowsmith Free Methodist Church. “My goal is still to create something that is going to continue beyond my time.”
“I feel that NeLL is healthy and growing. Lots of people are coming into the fold at the board level, and we continue to grow. We have fifteen people coming to programs now, and when we started there were four. And I feel we are on the cusp of a bigger change, and perhaps we are ready to partner with another organisation, but none of that is clear just yet.”
What is clear, is the evolution of NeLL programming. There are two days of programs, incorporating the skills of teachers, such as Gabriel Deerman of Salmon River Studios in Tamworth, playwright and theatre producer Christine Harvey, and a new addition is Linda Alford who is providing workshops on Adaptive Technology. Other teachers have come in to teach dance and karate and other skills, including cooking skills. The first NeLL day each week is an arts day, with drama in the morning and visual art in the afternoon, and the second day is a healthy living day, with cooking class, as well as gym and other programming. Last year NeLL received a Community Foundation of Kingston and Area grant for a community gardening project.
At the NeLL event last week, there were many community members, including supporters of the program and people who have befriended the participants around South Frontenac and Central Frontenac. Among the presentations at the event was the presentation of an original play, written about the history of New Leaf Link. Three of the four original NeLL’ers are still coming to the program each week and they were a resource for the play writing and production.
“One other thing has been clear from the beginning is that New Leaf Link is a friendship project. It is its own community but we reach out to other communities and it’s building and maintaining healthy relationships between NeLL participants, their families, and people we all live with and interact with in the larger community. That part of it has only become stronger,” said Steiner.
As NeLL looks to the future, there is continuing concern around funding. NeLL has some project funding from different sources and receives private donations, but has no government support and depends on student fees, which are $35 a day, to pay the bills. It is also supported in a major way by the Harrowsmith Free Methodist Church, which donates the space they use. Finances are a main reason why NeLL has not been able to open up for a third day of programming, which is a goal.
Still, after 10 years NeLL is not about to close up shop and continues to grow and expand its network of friends and supporters, and its services remain as essential as they were at the start.
“There was a gap that we filled and without us, that gap would still be there, in South Frontenac, for this community of people,” said Steiner, “so we continue to grow slowly, gain strength, and carry on.”