Senior of the month: Paula Agulnik, Executive Director of Reach

Kitchissippi’s Paula Agulnik, Reach’s Executive Director since 1985, has spent over 40 years promoting community development, social justice, poverty and homelessness issues in Ottawa.
“Reach was launched in 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons. The organization sprung from the experience of policy analyst, Rod Carpenter, who lives with cerebral palsy. A student at the time, he was unable to open his own bank account because he could not sign his name. His bank would not accept his thumbprint on cheques instead of a signature, so he had to rely instead on a bank account in his mother’s name. Ernest Tannis, an Ottawa lawyer who taught a course in which Rod Carpenter was enrolled, agreed that this was unacceptable and helped him take the bank to court. They won, changes were made to The Bank Act and Rod got his bank account. The two men subsequently formed Reach to help other people with disabilities fight injustice and discrimination.”
– Caledon Institute of Social Policy, January 2000, Reach: Equality and Justice for People with Disabilities
Photo by Al Goyette.

Last year, Kitchissippi’s Paula Agulnik, Reach’s Executive Director since 1985, was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her 31 years of work with Reach and over 40 years as a promoter of community development, social justice, poverty and homelessness issues in Ottawa.

“It’s lovely that this award was given to someone involved in an NGO,” Agulnik says and she considered that “the award was given to Reach and not in particular to herself.”

Reach, a non-governmental organization, provides lawyer referral services to people with disabilities.

“Lawyers are asked to donate up to 3 hours of their time for free to people with disabilities,” Agulnik explains.

Over 200 lawyers a year give their time and expertise.

“Reach is staffed by 3 people who “do everything,” she says. They take in over a 1000 calls a year and match the client with a lawyer.

“Each client may take up to 10 calls to find the best match,” says Agulnik. Privacy is meticulously maintained. “We don’t give out the name of the client until they’ve been accepted; clients are then given the lawyer’s name.”

October 24, 2013 marks Reach’s 33rd  Annual Celebrity Auction at St. Elias Centre on Ridgewood Avenue, across from Mooney’s Bay. This year’s event is sold out. The event includes a 3-course dinner, donated by Reach’s long-time sponsor, Victoria Trattoria, entertainment, a celebrity auction, and several silent auctions. Everything is donated, including the food and wine and donors receive tax receipts. Major Watson and Jackie Holtzman will be among the celebrity auctioneers. Items up for auction include art by Leonard Cohen – framed by Wallack’s – an item from Pat Fletcher who has donated for the past 28 years. Other items include a bottle of Shawinigan beer signed by Jean Chretien; a ‘walk on’ role in CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries, and a 7-day African safari or luxury trip to Johannesburg from Go Touch Down Travel & Tours.

Reach works with a tremendous number of volunteers, organizes three major fundraising events a year, and hosts on-going education events on a monthly basis. Every second year, they host a conference. This year’s all-day conference, held on June 7 at Algonquin College, was called “The Diversity of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – Broadening the Conversation.” Their annual Run for Reach will take place on April 13, 2014, and their new event, Cabaret, happens on May 15, 2014 and includes performers with disabilities.

Reach is a “too well kept secret,” Agulnik says. They function as a referral service to other organizations, or to legal clinics, and deal with insurance issues, accomodation issues, personal injury, or an organization’s ‘duty to accommodate’.

“We play well with others,” says Agulnik, supporting smaller organizations such as the Mood Disorders Association – organizations she says “who don’t always know who to call.”

A client with a disability – be it environmental, physical, or psychological – can always turn to Reach for help.

Referral to Reach’s services can be made online at






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