Submitted by Maria Redpath –
Imagine waiting and hoping for a friend for more than ten years. That’s the reality for numerous people living with a disability in the Kitchissippi area.
People need people! Our friends, personal relationships and networks play an important part in our lives helping to support us, as we navigate personal and professional matters. We use our networks to help others – whether it’s related to getting a job, finding a professional resource or for social and recreational purposes. We rely on these rich personal networks and relationships and know that freely given friendship and support are basic necessities for health and quality of life. Many people with disabilities do not have the benefit of these relationships.
Citizen Advocacy Ottawa’s Everyday Champions program matches people, of any age, living with a disability (Friend) to a volunteer Advocate (aged over 18 years) who lives in the same area. These matches are ongoing relationships that enhance the lives of both Friends and Advocates. There are more than 250 volunteer advocates across Ottawa who are enriching the lives of someone in their community. Volunteer Advocates are people who freely give of their time to enter into intentional friendships with people in their community who live with a disability. They commit to meet with their Friend three to four times a month for an hour or two, for a minimum of 12 months. Very often these relationships last longer than the required minimum as individuals really enjoy being matched and after a short time report that it no longer feels like volunteering. Many wonderful friendships have flourished and developed in the more than 40 years Citizen Advocacy has been in Ottawa.
However, there is a shortage of volunteers coming forward to be advocates from the Kitchissippi area. There are 42 people, including 26 men, living with a disability in the community who have been waiting for an average of two and a half years for a volunteer advocate.
One such person is Janis; she is in her mid-30s and has been waiting for nine years for someone to be her friend. She needs someone who is willing to spend time gaining her trust and who also enjoys cards and numbers games. Investing time in this relationship will be very rewarding for the right person.
Citizen Advocacy’s Program Manager, Thony Jean-Baptiste, would love to see people in Kitchissippi coming forward to learn more about this rewarding way to make a true difference in someone’s life.
“As a friend to someone with a disability you can have a profound effect on their life by reducing loneliness and isolation, helping to achieve hopes and dreams, developing personal networks and relationships, decreasing vulnerability, and increasing self-confidence, mental and physical health,” says Thony.
“Advocates benefit too. They often tell us they gain far more than they give: such as an acceptance of a different pace of life, an appreciation of the simple, small things around them, a new friend whom they’d never have met or befriended in the normal course of their life and a deeper connection to their community.”
An example of a recent match that is making a difference is that of Marc Goulet and Jean Boutin. They have been matched for one year and the impact of their friendship is already evident. In a recent telephone call to his Citizen Advocacy social worker, Marc told him how much he appreciated the time he spends each week with Jean and the impact Jean has had on his life. They have a lot of fun together. They go jogging, use the public library and work on improving Marc’s reading and writing skills. Marc noted that he knew Jean had a busy work and family life so the time he spent with him was treasured all the more.
Citizen Advocacy Ottawa is a small, but powerful, registered charity and is one of the few organizations that support people of all ages across the disability spectrum and their families. We believe in a community that welcomes and values the participation and contribution of all citizens, including those living with disabilities.
To learn more about how you can help, email email@example.com or 613-761-9522 ext. 222 or visit the Citizen Advocacy website at citizenadvocacy.org/volunteer.
Maria Redpath is the Community Engagement Coordinator for Citizen Advocacy Ottawa.
Do you live in the Westboro/McKellar Park area? Would you like to make a difference in someone’s life? Citizen Advocacy of Ottawa is looking for a Lifetime Networks facilitator (part-time contract) to help Joel build some strong community connections. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 613-761-9522 ext. 223. A full job description is available at citizenadvocacy.org/job-opportunities.