The flag went up, as did the smiles, recently at the Civic Centre to mark Community Living Month.
On May 8, Community Living Chatham-Kent (CLC-K) staff, members and their families celebrated by hearing success stories and handing out awards.
Merrick and Denise McCall, who run Tilbury Foodland, earned the Joyce M. Carr Champion Award, and perhaps best exemplify how inclusive Chatham-Kent is as a community.
The McCalls, for the past 15 years, have employed Craig Rivard, a CLC-K member, at their store.
They say he’s taught them as much as they’ve educated him.
“Craig, you are as good for Denise and I as we are for you. Every day is a good day with Craig,” Merrick said.
Rivard started with the McCalls as a co-op student and hasn’t looked back. Merrick said it’s rare that he misses a day of work.
“I can probably count on one hand the number of days missed,” he said of Craig’s dedication. “There is nobody happier to come to work.”
Ron Coristine, executive director of CLC-K, said the day marked a time to “celebrate the abilities, gifts and talents of every person in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent.”
He singled out the McCalls for seeing the potential in people.
“You’re hiring practices are based on ability. That is a credit to who you are,” he told the McCalls.
Steve Stokely, who heads up the Jobworx side of CLC-K, agreed.
“They are champions. They don’t see the disability, they see the ability,” he said.
Coristine said Rivard is a role model for other CLC-K clients, as well as other employees at Foodland.
Two CLC-K clients benefitted from $1,000 grants from the Rob McLandress Make a Dream Come True fund. The fund grants wishes each year to two local CLC-K clients.
This year, Chad Caron received a grant to see a music production in Toronto and experience the waterfront festival there.
Renee Cadotte will also head to Toronto, thanks to the McLandress grant. Her dream is to watch a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game at the Air Canada Centre.
A total of six CLC-K clients applied for the grants this year.
Coristine said marking May as Community Living Month is important as it reminds everyone how to treat other people.
“It’s an opportunity to realize a disability is a characteristic. It doesn’t define a person,” he said. “All people have skills and talents. We’re taking the time to celebrate that.”
Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope described the inclusive nature of this community as “fantastic.”
Hope added senior levels of government must, however, come to understand the needs of families with people who rely on Community Living.
“Education is still needed to make sure the Government of Ontario knows what needs and supports are required for families out there,” he said.