Navigating the human experience Editor’s Note: Over the month of May, The Kemptville Advance will be printing a four-part series on Community Living of North Grenville and the work it does. This week we look at more success stories and how Community Living has helped many, many people with intellectual disabilities find their potential. Nathan Jahn Advance Staff He whistles in her face so she can feel the moving air in addition to hearing and responding to the noise itself. A smile creeps on her face and she laughs again. “She has ... so much personality,” says her mother, Sally. This is 26-year-old Joanna Green. She was born with an extremely rare brain formation disorder called Lissencephaly, which translates to “smooth brain” and means Joanna’s brain never fully developed in the womb. The term Lissencephaly, itself, is used as an umbrella word that covers a number of different brain disorders, but they all have a similar result on the patient. She lives with three others in a group home on Van Buren St. and visits Holy Cross Elementary School on Fridays to help the school expose children to people with intellectual disabilities, where an award called the Joanna Green Inclusion Award is annually handed out. Joanne communicates her wishes using a lot of body language and “verbalizations” that Sally, Joanna’s mother, explained as: “when she’s happy, she smiles, when she’s angry, she roars.” Joanna loves whistling, something her father, Tom, discovered when she was much younger. Her parents discovered something was amiss when Joanna was five-months-old and started having a series of seizures that led them to doctors, who diagnosed her with Lissencephaly. Joanna’s parents cared for her until she was 18 – when she reached the point that CLNG could provide more care. “No question, it was the right decision,” said Sally. “And I cried all the way home.” But Sally credits CLNG with bringing their daughter a long way in her life. “She has more friends in the community than we do.” *** I ring the doorbell at 119 Court St. and am promptly greeted by a warm, open smile and a handshake from Penny Cousineau; another of CLNG’s recognizable faces around the community. Penny lived in Smiths Falls at the Rideau Regional Institute, a provincial care facility. Going into her bedroom, she has pictures of herself around the community and
Starting from the top left and going clockwise we see Tom and Sally Green with their daughter Joanna in her shared home on Van Buren St.; Linda and Alben smile at the camera from their apartment on Rideau St.; Mary Ellen focuses on her job at the Resource Centre, where she’s the top shredder; and Penny smiles for the camera from her living room on Court St. a small workbench where she does her bead work; items that she uses as gifts. She proudly shows off the birds in the living room who have been busy procreating, allowing CLNG to ship off the extras to other homes. Penny goes out every week to visit her friends Sarah and Liz for dinner, attends bingo at the Legion and every Monday she hosts a reading club from her living room on Court Street. She has spent the last 15 years with CLNG, where they’ve helped her grow as a person and attend her needs to the point where “Penny is up for anything,” said Marion Fawcett, a worker with CLNG. *** Just down the street from Penny, at 301 Maley St., lives Mary Ellen Koktan; shredder extraordinaire at the Resource Centre and “like a fish in water” when she participates in Aqua-Fit. Mary Ellen is exhuberant, full of life and it’s contagious. She has a smile that lights up the room and a genuine love for life. She, too, has an intellectual disability and has CLNG giving her a helping hand. Mary Ellen loves to dance with her boyfriend Bruce Morgan - who only likes to slow dance, she said - and her friends at any dance she can get to. “He’s a nice guy and handsome,” she said of her man, who lives just around the corner from Mary Ellen. Catherine Coleman is one of CLNG’s support workers and spends much of time at the home on Maley St., where three others live in addition to Mary Ellen. It is evident that Coleman - like every other employee at CLNG - cares deeply for the well-being of those under her charge and she said she’s seen Mary Ellen’s personality grow and change over the years. “Mary Ellen has really grown as a person,” said Coleman. “(She) goes to work, enjoys spending time with family and friends, participating
in recreational activites in the community, and more. She has hopes and dreams like we all have.” *** Residents of Kemptville will likely be familiar with the sight of a gentleman pushing carts around the Independent Grocer’s parking lot, or busily bagging customers’ groceries. If so, then you already know Albin Antoniak. Albin has spent the last decade as an employee at Jonsson’s Independent, bagging groceries and racking carts. His wife of seven years, Linda, works at the Kemptville Bowling Alley, where Albin’s high score is a remarkable 284. And they both have an intellectual disability. They met years ago at a dance in Winchester, where Linda said she met Albin and knew he was “the guy” right away; they were married at the Kemptville Legion. Albin loves his job at Independent and says owners Steve and Sylvie Jonsson are excellent employers. “Everybody’s nice over there,” he said. The couple is very excited for their trip to Disneyland next March and to all the community events they participate in. Linda and Albin’s love for each other is evident to anyone who spends a few minutes with them, but like any married couple they’ll poke fun at each other. She scoots closer to Albin on the couch and drapes her arm over his shoulders, with a slight smile and a twinkle in her eye, Linda explains her feelings for Albin. “I’m happy with my husband,” she said as the cheeky grin spread across her face. “But sometimes, he’s a pain in the butt.” Join us next week as we take a closer look at Community Living of North Grenville itself; how it operates and what the future of care is for those with intellectual disabilities.
All photos N. Jahn / Advance Staff