Archive for the ‘Be Inspired’ Category

Cool or Not Cool? I Was On the Air

June 29th, 2016


This story about Chris’s awesome experience at CKWR was shared with us by KW Habilitation. Thanks KWHab, and shoutout to Chris for rocking the radio!

“Cool or not cool?” was the constant expression used by Chris MacTavish after his visit to CKWR 98.5 FM on a sunny morning in November 2015. Chris had an equally shiny smile. Everyone who knows Chris understands that he is a man that knows his music and loves radio, so this visit was a dream come true.

Upon arrival, Chris was given a tour Chris at the controlsthrough the installations and received a station’s mug and t-shirt. He also observed how the “magic” happens in the studio. The glow on his face was evident as he exclaimed “Now I’m at the controls, I’m doing radio.” Cool or not cool?

The visit was far away from ending, as there was more fun in the plan for Chris. Next it was time to record his voice to be used for a program and station identification. Only a couple of takes and it was ready to go. Chris was a true professional. He did such a great job; so well, in fact, that his voice will be used regularly for station identification! Again, his smile filled the station, along with his sense of pride as Chris exclaimed, “Cool or not cool?”

Following his station visit, Chris learning the ropesanother surprise was in store for Chris. On November 26, 2015, Chris along with all his friends at ADS were listening to the Morning Show on CKWR 98.5. Chris was introduced on air and his love of music and passion for radio was highlighted, along with an Elton John song – one of his requested favourites. At the end of the song, Chris’ recorded voice gave the station identification. He was so proud, saying to us, “Cool or not cool?” We all responded with a resounding “Definitely cool!!!”

The man who knows his music and loves radio had an extraordinary visit to the studios of Canada’s First Community Radio 98.5 FM, CKWR, a dream come true and a memory he will forever cherish.

chris with the station van

I Choose Dignity’s Count Me In Rally Makes My Heart Sing

June 27th, 2016


This post was shared with us from Extend-a-Family, and was originally posted here. Thank you for these empowering words about love, community, and recognizing the humanity that connects us all.


“I am sitting at my computer, just thinking about Thursday’s event. I am filled with much love for my community – my community of coworkers, my community within the developmental sector, my community here in Kitchener, my community in Waterloo Region, and my community here in the wide world of life! We truly are better together.

So many people came together to share their passion, purpose and power. They came together to declare that they choose dignity. And together they will change the world. Love always does.

We have had a week of truly horrific losses of life.

But instead of staying there, in the terror and grief, we celebrated diversity. We learned one another’s story. We reach out in love instead of hate. We reminded one another that we all matter. We reminded one another that we are part of an ever-expanding ‘we’. There is no they, nor other. Simply we.

a-count-me-in-2016-5408-webOur speakers have touched my heart. To its very core. We had Zainab Ramahi encourage us to take our passion and transform it into action. I smile at the thought of this, because this has been her life’s work, it would seem to me. She lives out this encouragement and our wonderful Region is better for it. I simply have to recall the experience of sitting and watching the production of I Am Rohingya to know that she lives and breathes her values. A command performance is scheduled for later this month, check it out here 

a-count-me-in-2016-5253-webThen there was John Neufeld, who shared about the work of House of Friendship. His reminder that he doesn’t work with “the homeless”, but rather, with individuals who have names – who have stories, strengths and a spirit. These groupings, these ‘others’, have not been afforded dignity when stripped of these three ‘S’s. So when we hear of “the homeless” or “the 49 killed”, we don’t recognize the humanity of each person imprisoned in those labels. His simple call to action? Get to know another! Find out their story. Give them space in your mind to be a whole person.

There were numerous other speakers – Carol Blessing, Matt Martin, Peter Lawryniuk, and Niki Stevenson – as well as remarks from both Kitchener and Waterloo Mayors, MPPs Daiene Vernile and Catherine Fife, Regional Chair Ken Seiling,  and local City Councilor Sarah Marsh. So much support and encouragement from many levels of local and provincial government. At a time when love and dignity are crucial, many people get behind I Choose Dignity’s message of #countmein.

I think my simple take away from the evening is that in choosing dignity, I am also choosing love. And that feels right.”

Planned Lifetime Networks: A Belonging Initiative

June 24th, 2016

This post, written by Roz Vincent-Haven and Lorna Aberdein of Planned Lifetime Networks, was shared with us by New Story Group. Here, they make great insights about the necessity of social support networks to ensure the wellbeing of people facing isolation, and how these networks can evolve into strong communities all on their own. They also describe the work Planned Lifetime Networks does to create those support networks and foster a sense of belonging in others. Thanks for sharing, Roz and Lorna!

“At Planned Lifetime Networks (PLN) our slogan and deep belief is that “We are better together!” Begun in 2000 by families who were concerned about the wellbeing of loved ones living lives of social isolation, PLN is dedicated to the task of developing and maintaining social support networks. We also believe that knowledge is power and so provide workshops to empower the planning of lives rich in care and relationships.

Sadly, today many of us are lacking informal social support networks – persons we count on and confide in; people who help us out. Our relatives, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances may live far away or be unavailable for support. Yet as inter-dependent beings we long to belong. For those among us who are isolated and vulnerable by reason of disability, age, living arrangement, limited opportunities, or society’s perception, this reality is even more poignant. Often dependent on professionalized systems of support and subjected to negative stereotypes, people experiencing isolation need intentional assistance to make connections and maintain relationships. Planned Lifetime Networks help make the connections that foster long term relationships.

Studies have shown that to lead a long and healthy life, relationships that offer care, support, advocacy, monitoring, and companionship are essential. At PLN, we employ “Community Connectors” to lead the way. These wise folks are not professionals in the formal sense, although they may have a professional background. Rather, they are people who have a passion for bringing people together and have a strong social support network of their own. Using asset based community development, interests and contributions of the focus person are identified. People are then introduced to others who share those interests and appreciate the contributions. Relationships deepen as contribution and care are mutually given and received.

But a funny thing happens on the way to developing a social support network. What begins as a circle of support around a focus person becomes an ever growing web of caring, reaching out through and among all the members of the network and beyond. Two members discover they are going to the same place and decide to travel together. Someone knows of a job for a member recently unemployed. The focus person is no longer isolated but has a whole group to celebrate with and have contributions applauded. In a social support network each person belongs and contributes to the good of the whole. There is mutual benefit for everyone, we are indeed better together.

At Planned Lifetime Networks we have PLAN-LOGO-reviseddemonstrated that social support networks create greater belonging for all involved but especially for the one who is no longer alone. As more people are cared for in deep networks of relationship the webs of support grow, interconnect, and together we create a greater community of belonging for everyone.”

Roz Vincent-Haven and Lorna Aberdein

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The Town That Ate Lard

June 23rd, 2016

This story, written by Cameron Dearlove from Bridges to Belonging, demonstrates just how big an impact social connection can have on our physical health and well-being. It was originally published for The Community Edition. Thanks for sharing, Cameron!

“On the surface, the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, was not so different from its neighbouring towns, Bangor and Nazareth. Both Bangor and Roseto were populated largely by Italian immigrants, the townspeople shared similar trades and income levels, they had the same water source, and they even used the same hospital. So why did Rosetons have a heart attack fatality rate less than half that of neighbouring communities?

Traditional views on health would immediately point to lifestyle factors. Yet researchers in the 1950s and 1960s were astonished when they studied the lifestyle factors of Rosetons: many of the men worked in slate quarries that exposed them to long-term health hazards; they smoked unfiltered stogie cigars; rather than milk, wine was drunk with abandon; and instead of a diet of lean meats and vegetables, they fried up meatballs and sausages in lard. The researchers came to a striking conclusion that challenged traditional thinking—the social structure of the townspeople was the key to their health.

While the people of Bangor and Nazareth had shifted to a more Americanized, individualistic culture, the people of Roseto maintained the close family and social bonds that they had brought with them from Italy. Most people lived in intergenerational family homes. Homes were also close together, and people stopped to chat with friends every day, cooked with neighbours, and gathered at church together. The study counted 22 civic organizations in a town of 2,000.

Though there were gaps in wealth, it wasn’t obvious. The wealthy lived a similar lifestyle to others, and there were few applications for social assistance. Even more remarkable, Roseto had a crime rate of zero.

Over a 50-year study, the researchers confirmed their hypothesis. At the end of their 1963 study they predicted that if Roseto became Americanized, the heart failure rate would rise to the country’s average. In 1992, they returned to Roseto and found a community much like any other in America. The family and social ties that were so remarkable in the first study had eroded, and just as predicted, the fatality rate from heart attacks was unremarkably average.

The town of Roseto poignantly demonstrates that the social structure we live within determines our health and well-being to a greater degree than genetics, healthcare, and lifestyle choices. Specifically, it demonstrates why social isolation is a major determinant of health and well-being. When we look at groups of people who are most often marginalized and socially isolated—newcomers to a community, people with disabilities, people experiencing poverty—we see a strong correlation between their position in the community and poorer health outcomes.

The negative impacts of social isolation are being recognized and addressed in new and innovative ways in Waterloo Region. The City of Kitchener and United Way KW are both actively working to strengthen neighbourhoods, since interconnected neighbourhoods drastically improve the health, safety, and well-being of its residents.

The Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation has identified a low sense of belonging in our region, and has tasked any organization seeking community grants to focus on connecting our community and improving belonging. Roseto reminds us that our efforts must aim to be fully inclusive—to move the needle on health and well-being, we must try to interweave everyone: the marginalized with those who are not, the wealthy with those experiencing poverty, and people with disabilities with those who are currently able.

At Bridges to Belonging Waterloo Region (where I work), we primarily serve people with disabilities to reduce isolation and create a good life for these individuals in the community. The key to this work is creating authentic, two-way relationships. Roseto shows us that as we get more people engaged in community life, and reduce social isolation, we can have a real impact on individual health and wellbeing – not just those coming out of social isolation, but for the wider community.

Though the impact of social structures is throwing traditional thinking about health on its head, as a society we are still not at a place where we label building community networks and supports as “healthcare.” However, as the recognition of social inequities as the driver of health issues grows, so too must our definition of healthcare in Canada. We may never be able to recreate Roseto’s social structure in Waterloo Region (and we should probably skip the lard), but with a collective, community-wide recognition of the power of social networks, we definitely can move the needle on health and well-being—and be happier for it, too.”

The Heart of Hospitality

June 22nd, 2016

This post, written by Roz Vincent-Haven, shares important insights about the nature of hospitality and the trust that hospitality can create between members of a community. This post was shared with us by New Story Group. Thanks Roz and NSG!

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

We hear a lot about hospitality today as we attempt to welcome refugees from Syria. But what are we actually being asked to practice and how might our practice reveal angels in our midst?

The notion of hospitality has its roots in antiquity. Many ancient cultures, including those of Greece, India, Judaism, and Pashtun required the practice of welcoming the stranger as a duty to their God or Gods. The genesis of the universal Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you,” began here. To be hospitable calls for profound respect to all visitors, regardless of their difference, and without any expectation of remuneration or favour. Wikipedia describes hospitality as “showing respect to one’s guests, providing for their needs, and treating them as equals.”

Perhaps the notion of treating “the other” as an equal, an honoured guest, is at the heart of hospitality. At a recent information session for those interested in sponsoring refugees, I was reminded that hospitality is not charity. A true welcome acknowledges that the guest has gifts and skills, rights and choices. Acts of service, no matter how well meaning, that flow from our own sense of superiority have no place in radical welcome. Only through offering respect, care, and deep listening can we open our hearts and homes to strangers among us. Only then can strangers become neighbours and neighbours become friends.

Community developer John McKnight suggests that hospitality is one of three major components that define an abundant community. He believes that hospitality both generates trust and produces trust. Through our welcome we gain vitality and learning. We need people from other lands or experiences to enrich us through hearing their stories, listening to their music, eating their food and getting a glimpse of their reality. Without their presence our very culture stagnates and declines.1

My first experience of hospitality came as a child. Near Christmas, my father welcomed a lonely newcomer from India, a chef who was selling vacuums, into our home. The man accepted an invitation to join us for Christmas dinner and later returned to delight us with a feast of taste and smells from his homeland. That chance encounter and radical welcome was the start of a long and lasting friendship for these two men and left a life-long impression on me. Perhaps, without knowing it, we actually entertained an angel.


Roz Vincent-Haven, New Story Group

1 McKnight, J. and Block, P: The Abundant Community, pg.79

Intention, Invitation, and Hospitality: Steps to Belonging

June 21st, 2016

This post, written by Kim Sproul, reflects on how a simple invitation can positively impact a person’s life, and how we need to intentionally look for ways we can connect with others in our community. This story was shared with us by New Story Group. Kim and NSG, thanks for sharing!

“I have been in my position for nearly two years and the learning that has most impacted me, on both a personal and professional level, is the absolutely crucial role that invitation serves when thinking about belonging. There is power in the extending of an invitation.

Take for example, a job opportunity. Someone who has had few opportunities to see/show themselves as gifted and talented may not necessarily read or hear about a job posting and think, “That could be me.” Their experience, up until then, might be as someone defined by their needs, and not their skills and attitude. This same person, with a gift of welcoming, hospitality, and warmth, may realize that they actually have much to offer in this role. A conundrum. A person so perfect for a role, but whose resume will never be submitted. This someone is encouraged to apply. Reminded about the impact they have on others. Praised for the skills they have, and prompted to see that the listed assets are all things they are brilliant at.

This is a real example and an experience I won’t soon forget. In reaching out to this person, I watched as pride, dignity and self-valuing took the forefront for this gentleman. If I think about it, I realize that by individually seeking this person out and extending an invitation, he becomes: known well enough by another to be seen as an exceptional candidate; seen as gifted in the eyes of another; and encouraged to take on this socially valued role. These are the types of experiences that I believe we all seek out, where hospitality and invitation enable us to be part of community.

Of course, invitations come in an assortment of offers. One can be invited to the home of another, or to share a common experience, or to participate in a group or team, or perhaps to give of their time and talents. In any given invitation, there is a great amount of relating required. And, here is the key – hospitality makes the invitation authentic!

Circling neighboursback to my work, invitation is a huge element, of course. However, it also needs to be accompanied by intentionality. Noticing takes time. Seeing around one’s self requires that you look, hear, and notice. I shall never know that my neighbour also loves rock music until I am present enough to see, to ask, to wonder. Families who have a loved one with a disability sometimes live in communities that have simply forgotten how to see. Forgotten that it takes work and hospitality to be in relationships. If left unaddressed, we will continue to have families isolated within their very own neighbourhoods. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to remain that way.

In our very own region, we have amazing people who are all getting VERY intentional. Questions are being asked like, “Who is left out?”, “Whose voice is not presently represented?” or “Who isn’t here, right now, at this table?”

In my small role, I am reaching out to individuals and their families with one more question: “What would it take for you to feel like you belong in your own neighbourhood?”


Kim Sproul

Co-Chair, New Story Group

Attention and Intention: The Art of Belonging

June 20th, 2016

This post, written by Isaiah Ritzmann, discusses how being attentive and intentional in our interactions with others can help build belonging in our community. This story was shared with us by New Story Group. Isaiah and NSG, thank you for sharing!

“It is hard to keep cultural traditions in times of transition. This is especially acute when these cultural traditions are ones that have played a key role in nurturing welcome and belonging. I had the opportunity to reflect on this with a friend of mine who, with some effort, attempted to keep his grandmother’s traditions of hospitality from India. He extended himself, offered lavish welcome to friends, cooked delicious food and attempted to knit together networks of belonging. Yet, for all his effort, my friend ran into barriers. The cultural traditions of hospitality my friend inherited had embedded within them an implied reciprocity and shared understanding that simply was not shared among his Canadian friends – which meant they were not ultimately sustainable. The habits, customs and attitudes that could foster belonging could only do so if there was a good probability that they were shared by those around him. My friend and I had intense conversations on this experience where he expressed both frustration at the lack of reciprocity he received and resignation that to keep these traditions in an urban, multicultural Canadian context is much more complex and challenging than one might hope.

This experience lead me to ask – if the traditions that carried belonging so well in the past, the ones that could do the heavy lifting by maintaining complex webs of expectations, customs, habits, and mores that embedded welcome and hospitality into daily life, could no longer do so, what replaces and substitutes for these traditions in times of transition? I would offer two possible responses to this question that could give us guidance as we seek to foster belonging and welcome in our lives and in the wider community. These two responses, simply put, are attention and intention.

In this era, we must pay careful attention to the people around us, to their multifaceted experiences in general and to their experiences of belonging and inclusion in particular. To hold the space once held by our traditions, the level of attention asked of us now goes beyond what may have been asked for in the past. I am being asked to notice the people around me, to notice their experiences of inclusion, to notice whether or not they feel like they belong, to notice the barriers they may face to belonging, and finally to notice the opportunities I have to welcome and include others. Perhaps in practicing attention we can become better at it – like developing a skill or exercising a muscle.

Attention, however important, is incomplete without intention. listenWe must not only notice, but we must act intentionally on what we notice. If I notice that inviting people over for a homemade meal once a month or dropping by their house once in a while will foster belonging for them I must act with intention to do these things. This may seem obvious but consider that the cultural traditions that formerly held these things did so by making things second nature so that they required little intention in and of themselves. Things are no longer so second nature to us so we are required to be extra intentional.

As finite human beings we cannot give endless attention or be infinitely intentional – this is where the New Story Group with its mission “to nurture inclusion and belonging” comes into the picture. To support the need for higher levels of attention and intention in fostering belonging our work, the New Story Group is providing tools to our wider community so that people can do this work. Although difficult, the work of including others is both joyful and rewarding. Tools like our Community Conversations or Indicators Project can help community members as they seek – with attention and intention – to foster belonging and inclusion in their lives.”

Isaiah Ritzmann is staff at the Working Centre in Kitchener and a member of the New Story Group.

You’re the Expert – Finding Belonging Through Storytelling

June 17th, 2016

This post comes to us from Bridges to Belonging:

It’s easy to look at a negative experience and believe that it reflects on you as a person. “It’s just me” or “It’s because of my own shortcomings” are common thoughts that can entrap us in deeper feelings of loneliness and separation from others. We begin to attribute the obstacles in our life to the flaws we see in ourselves, and believe that we are alone in our struggles.

Feeling that you are the only one who is struggling can make you feel isolated from others, which can be incredibly damaging to your emotional, physical, and mental well-being. That’s why it’s important to recognize those moments when you’re blaming yourself for something that went wrong, and shift your thoughts from “It’s because of me” to “This is something many people face; I’m not alone.”

Stanford psychologist Dr. Gregory Walton developed a technique called Attributional Retraining that helps people make that shift. The key to this technique is in storytelling: when you go through a negative event, try sitting down and writing about your experience (you can also draw it out). Now that you’ve been through it once, think of yourself as an expert on the matter and reflect on what happened; make suggestions for how others can cope in the same situation.

As Walton says, “We often operate from very biased information. We have our own experience and can only see others from the outside. Many of us are having these same difficulties, but no one is showing it, and so we can feel isolated and depressed.

By telling our experiences as a story to another person, we begin to understand that our situation is something that others go through as well. It can be hard for many people to manage intense emotions, work up motivation, or deal with disappointment. If you share your experience in trying to do these things, others might learn how to deal with those problems, too.

Attaching a narrative three-actsframework to your struggles can also help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by them. By organizing your experience into a beginning, middle, and end, “the meaning of the negative experience is constrained, and people understand that when bad things happen, it’s not just them, they are not alone, and that it’s something that passes.” Even if your problem hasn’t ended yet, reflecting on what has already happened can help you plan for what’s to come. You can even try writing a hopeful end, and make that hopeful end the goal you are working towards.

Once you’ve written down your experiences, read it over and keep the suggestions you came up with in mind. The next time you come across someone facing the same troubles, you can tell them your story and give them your advice. That way, both of you will know that it’s not just you, that others go through the same problems, and that we can all move forward and beyond our struggles together.



Amanda Enayati, “The importance of belonging.”

Gregory Walton, “A Brief Social-Belonging Intervention Improves Academic and Health Outcomes of Minority Students.”

Putting Myself Out There

June 16th, 2016

This story was shared with us by Penny Loker, via Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It. Thanks for sharing, Penny!

“My name is Penny Loker. I’m 34 years old and I’m considered ugly…bare with me– just keep reading! I was born with a facial difference made up of 2 conditions; Goldenhar Syndrome and left Hemiofacial Microsonomia. All this means is that the soft tissues and bone on the left hand side of my face didn’t develop correctly; this makes me unique. I’m not the only one born with these conditions however most are born with one or the other not with both. As a result I have poor vision (I cannot obtain a driver’s license), I have lost 99% of the hearing in my left ear.

Growing up with a facial difference was hard. I often times felt (and was) isolated from my peers. For example, I was laughed at, mocked, and ignored. I didn’t have any friends in grade school and was only spoken to by a few peers throughout high school. Growing up not being able to connect with my peers made me feel quite isolated which inevitably took its toll on me. As the theme of this entry is about love, and dating it always comes back to when I was going through grade school and every Valentine’s Day would mean an empty paper bag where Valentine’s Day cards were to be deposited. If I hadn’t had the support of my older sister Crystal I wouldn’t have turned in to the person I am today. Crystal never hesitated to stick up for me when I was being picked on, and when going through various surgeries she would always take care of me when home. As I get older and put myself out there to date, she has become my biggest cheerleader and my sounding board.

Based on my own life experience and the way people react when they see me, I believe most people are very superficial and someone is accepted only if he or she fits in to a certain image. From my vantage, it often feels that since I don’t fit into the expected mold that must mean I am somehow inferior; simply because I look different. For example, I experienced this recently when I attempted to meet someone online via a dating service. As 2016 rang in, I thought that I would subscribe to an online dating app. I had been considering it for awhile but hesitated.  However, for some reason on January 1st, 2016 I decided, why the heck not?! I downloaded 3 apps in total, and all had a very simple sign up process and the questions were all similar and seemed like great questions. As most of these sites require payment to unlock their full potential (no foreshadowing there eh?) I opted for the free portion of each site. My first “connection” on one of the apps led me to a guy asking some seemingly innocent questions initially. However, it soon became clear that his intentions were anything but. When I respectfully told him that his line of questioning made me uncomfortable– that I would no longer be communicating with him but wished him well, he decided to respond not in kind.  Instead, he childishly wrote that I was ugly and that no one would want to be with me.

Given many stranger’s reactions to me throughout my life, I wasn’t 100% surprised that this happened. In many respects, I was quite honestly expecting it. And then it happened again by another man a short time later. He had contacted me and after reading his profile, I allowed myself to have hope and  it thought would be a promising connection.  However, after my “hi” back his response read, “u r blocked, ewww”. I get that by everyday human concept, I’m not attractive, it’s not news to me, I know that I’m “ugly”, and I’ve accepted the way I look. However putting myself out there on dating apps, hoping to make a connection with like-minded individuals and then only to have my difference thrown back at me is somewhat, no it’s extremely frustrating and disheartening.

For me on a typical day, I honestly don’t think about how I look, as I’m sure anyone reading this doesn’t. You get up, get dressed (if you have to because if I don’t have to I stay in my fuzzy PJs all day), and go about your day either going to work or school. I get reminded every time I go out that I look different, the look that lasted a little too long, the child that just won’t stop staring, but that is just one part of my day. I’m also a caregiver, a co-worker, a sister, a friend. Being different has shaped my view on a lot of things and whether through online sources or not, I hope one day I meet the love of my life and I get my happy ending. But for now, no more dating apps!!!  I will continue to use my facial difference to identify people that might be willing to look past an unexpected exterior and appreciate that the most important beauty comes from within.  I also hope to use it as a means to help those who are different as well. By sharing my experiences though dating and navigating life in general I hope my story provides a light to those who are younger going through what I went through and I can be someone they can reach out to for understanding and guidance.

Sure, I still strive to accept my difference, especially on my bad days. But fortunately I also have my good days where it actually shines, I embrace it, and I’m happy.”

You can read more from Penny at her blog, UniquelyPenny.

I Choose Dignity

June 14th, 2016

This post comes from Extend-a-Family and the I Choose Dignity movement. We Belong Waterloo Region is proud to be an active contributor to ICD!

What is in a name? In the case of the I Choose Dignity movement, it is our declaration of intention.

It is our proclamation that we stand strong, united, and choose dignity as the way in which we engage in our world and community. This movement needed a way to simply and purposefully invite others into the fold.

i choose dignity rally
On June 16th, we will be taking to the streets in support of inclusion and dignity. Join us at the Count Me In Rally, an I Choose Dignity event. From 5-8pm, we will be gathering to recognize and celebrate our diversity and differences. This rally encourages Waterloo Region to begin to count in those who may, traditionally, be left out. There is a wealth of gifts, talents and dreams among us all, and our region becomes its best when people are engaged and encouraged to share them.

Begun four years ago, I Choose Dignity maintains its simple purpose: engage the community in an ongoing dialogue about belonging and inclusion. While created within the walls of Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region, this movement rightly belongs to the community of Waterloo Region. Through collaborations with different partners that speak to Waterloo Region’s diverse community, this movement seeks to represent those who live, work, play and explore right here in our amazing Region.

In addition to the Count Me In Rally, the I Choose Dignity movement has grown to include:

The Inclusion Celebration honours businesses and individuals who have made a significant contribution to building inclusion for individuals with disabilities. Past recipients include Dolphin Digital and Fertile Ground Farms. This year’s recipients include City of Kitchener’s Stanley Park Community Centre and youngster Dannica Valent.
I Choose Dignity in the Classroom connects with students in grade 1 during a five-week program that celebrates each child’s unique gifts and talents. Through self-discovery, the program creates a deep and lasting conversation amongst children around the beauty of inclusion.
The children’s book, You’re my friend because…, is an exploration of all the reasons why people are friends. This book reminds children, “You’re my friend because you’re just like me in so many ways”. So often, we focus on difference and are unable to connect to another. This book finds all the beautiful ways in which we are the same.

Extend-a-family EAFWR logoSince 1980, Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region has worked side-by-side with families and the community to promote inclusion and serve individuals with development and physical disabilities. Our vision of serving recognizes the individual’s right to determine what a meaningful life looks like with our role to offer support and resources to ensure a life that is fulfilling, resilient, independent and self-directed. Today, we partner with almost 2,000 families throughout Waterloo Region.