| Mar 05, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - March 5, 2009 Filling the gap with a new leaf linkBy Jeff Green People with developmental disabilities living in South Frontenac find that once they graduate from the School to Community class at Sydenham High School, they are left with no social supports and limited opportunities. This is hard on them, and their families.

Julie Hunt, the mother of a young man with an acquired brain injury said that “our son has been at home with no program since leaving Sydenham High School last year.

Services are available for Kingston residents through Community Living – Kingston, and in Sharbot Lake through Community Living – North Frontenac, but neither agency has the funds to extend their services to South Frontenac on a consistent basis, leaving a yawning gap for families in the rural communities north of Kingston.

Last month, that gap started to be filled.

New Leaf Link, a not for profit charitable organization was founded in Hartington. Its mission is to offer educational, employment, and social supports to young adults with autism, Down Syndrome, intellectual disability, or acquired brain injury.

“For the first time, those individuals will be able to capitalize upon school learning and maintain relationships and volunteer opportunities in their home communities” said Doctor Karin Steiner, Executive Director of New Leaf Link.

Dr. Steiner is an educational researcher, teacher educator, who has an adult son with autism who has developed a web based course on autism for teachers. New Leaf Link is something she has been thinking about ever since her son entered High School.

She told the news that New Leaf Link “has chosen South Frontenac as a starting point. We are building a model, with a limited number of participants, perhaps 10, and we will analyse and document how it is working.

“The idea is to bring out the best in people. We certainly believe that all people have abilities; everyone has a contribution to make. Our task is to bring out the best in these participants.”

Steiner references the Larche movement, under Jean Vanier, as one of the alternative models for the adult intellectually disabled community. She pointed out, however that “LARCHE is religious based, which we are not, but we share the philosophical base of the belief in human potential.”

As early as this coming April, New Leaf Link is planning to start some preliminary programming, with participants engaging in therapeutic riding at Honey Suckle Ridge in Glenburnie.

New Leaf Link has three initial goals, as outlined in their initial press release: “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.”

At this point New Leaf Link has not received funding, and a fundraising campaign will be one of the things its nine member Board of Directors will be looking at.

The founding board includes faculty members from Queen's University, parents, Doctor Laurel Dempsey, and members of the local business community, including John Trousdale and realtor Julia Vandenbelt.

New Leaf Link will be filling a service gap, but it has been meeting with Community Living agencies in both Kingston and Sharbot Lake and does not see its programs as an alternative to Community Living Services.

“There is a lot of good will. We've had transition meetings with Don Neilsen [Executive Director of Community Living - North Frontenac] and if ever Community Living would like to establish a group home in the region we would welcome that,” said Karin Steiner. “We are more about putting skills to use, and they are a bit more about providing care.”

Public outreach is also a New Leaf Link priority. Look for its first spring fling in early May.

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