A chat with Maelle and Karlene: If you smell what the Rock cooking

I was looking forward to my chat with Maelle and Karlene, a somewhat recently established friendship formed through ABLE2’s matching program. We were to meet at a local Subway, a location that I understood held meaning for the pair as it was where they first met some 6 months or so ago.  

As I opened the front door, after being hit with a waft of the all too familiar Subway fresh bread smell, I scanned the room. I was not sure what they looked like, but I made my best guess and mumbled in their direction “Karlene and Maelle?” Seeing their responsive smiles, I knew I found them. 

My first impression: they looked natural and comfortable with each other, just two human beings sitting for a sandwich on an otherwise unremarkable late Sunday afternoon. 

With introductions out of the way, I got right into it. I asked Maelle what compelled her to get involved with ABLE2. With a smile, she described her busy professional life as a high school vice principal but that she had recently taken on revised duties that gave her a bit more time and flexibility in her life. She knew she wanted to make a difference in someone’s life, and ABLE2’s matching program stood out as a chance to have direct, meaningful and personal experience based on a one-on-one connection. 

I asked them both what they liked to do together. Karlene chimed in first: watching movies, going for coffee / tea, and having lunch.  Recognizing that it will be their first summer together as a match, she also added that she is very much looking forward to having a picnic. Maelle clarified that their friendship is very much a two-way situation. They love to laugh and talk things out, about everything and nothing at the same time – all of the small and big things that make up life. In referencing my own match, I mentioned that after a while such relationships can become just like family. Karlene nodded in agreement: “She is like my grand-daughter!”.   

The conversation flowed as I uncovered more about both of them. In addition to her duties as vice principle, Maelle is an avid camper and loves dogs (she has a Rottweiler rescue and a dachshund). Karlene is a retired hairdresser and loves Reggae music and dancing. 

On to the most controversial topic we covered, Karlene mentioned how much she is looking forward to seeing the new Bob Marley biopic, and I responded that I recently took in the Barbie film and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. To my dismay, Karlene did not share my positive review – at all. Perhaps flustered by this friendly disagreement, or perhaps in a vain attempt to justify my opinion, I then started to gush about Ryan Gosling. I did not expect that.

Moving along, we ended up talking about what a great job ABLE2 does in matching people and in this context, Maelle described how quickly they clicked together, referencing the fact that Karleen was dancing the first time she saw her – what a first impression! 

The most surprising part of the conversation was finding out that Karlene likes pro-wrestling. We had a nice laugh as we almost simultaneously quoted the famous tagline of the former wrestler turned movie star, Dwayne “the Rock”: Johnson: “If you smeeellllllll what the Rock is cooking!!!”. While it is true that I never know to expect when I sit for these chats with ABLE2 matches, I can say with absolute certainty that I did not expect to reminisce about the late 1990s pro-wrestling scene. 

As our chat began to wind down, I asked my usual concluding question: what would you say to someone considering getting involved in ABLE2? 

Karlene was quick with her response:  Just go for it – you won’t regret it, especially if you get a match like mine – she is a dream friend! Maelle added that even though people may seem different on the outside there are always opportunities to connect and find common ground (like pro wrestling!). 

This confirmed (again) to me that differences in people are often superficial. All you need is an open heart, and to spend a bit of time shooting the breeze about the mundane, day-to-day things that make up life.   What a boring world it would be if only people that were the same could be friends. 

And with that, our conversation wrapped up.  It my pleasure a to get to know Karlene and Maelle, and I look forward to seeing them at various ABLE2 events. 

Get to know ABLE2’s CAC Members: Stacey Bielaski (CAC Profile)

ABLE2’s Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) was organized in 1991 in an effort to provide client-centered input to the board, that represents the interests of people living with disabilities. The committee also engages in opportunities for its members to be involved in ABLE2’s advocacy work. Currently sitting as Chair is Stacey Bielaski, a long-time program beneficiary and supporter of ABLE2, and an inspiring force to be reckoned with. 

Stacey, who grew up in Barrie, Ontario, was discovered to have a learning disability when she was in grade 1. Her parents enrolled her in a school that offered special education, where she was able to successfully learn how to read and write. However, that was cut short as their family moved to Ottawa Valley, and Stacey was enrolled in a public school where special Education was inclusive. She had mixed experience in the public school system; in high school, Stacey was able to take classes she was interested in and had some freedom to enjoy learning activities. When her family moved again, the new school she was placed in no longer offered the same freedom. She was not able to take classes she was interested in, and her year in grade 9 from the previous year was not credited, so she repeated the grade again when she should have been in grade 10. Stacey says, “I am glad we have a special education system, but I think they need to work better in the school system.” From her experience, she felt that her educators did not see her potential and was disengaged with the kind of treatment she received from her school. “Students in the special education [program should be seen] as people that have [abilities] to learn, and grow into incredible, smart, valuable members of society. We deserve education as much as the other students in the school system,” says Stacey.

Nevertheless, she overcame the challenges, and “…pushed myself knowing that I could do it, [knowing that] people believed in me,” says Stacey. When she moved to Ottawa and changed to a different school once more, Stacey persevered and received her Highschool Diploma. 

“I wanted to prove them wrong; I believe that I can do anything I put my mind to do.”

When asked about the bigger challenges she has faced as someone living with a disability in the community, Stacey says, “People could be more understanding and respectful. Sometimes they don’t understand what I’m going through. I try to understand where they’re coming from as well.” She also encounters obstacles like learning a new bus route for work and trying to get to the right place on time, managing her finances and paying her bills on time, and eating healthier. 

Despite these, Stacey keeps an open mind and continues to overcome the hurdles, armed with a positive attitude and happy disposition. She joined the CAC in 2018 and has been involved with ABLE2’s programs since then. Stacey says that she is grateful for the chance to meet other people with disabilities who also want to make a difference in the community. She says that being involved with ABLE2’s work inspires her, as it is “an organization that makes a difference in people with disabilities, [and] see their value in our society,” says Stacey. She is proud to be part of the ABLE2 community, especially after being invited to the Senate of Canada, with Senator Chantal Petitclerc recognizing ABLE2’s work in her statement for International Day of Persons with Disabilities on November 30, 2023. 

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When asked why more people should get involved with ABLE2, Stacey says, “ABLE2 is a good organization. They want to help people with disabilities live their best lives.” 

Stacey’s dreams and aspirations include becoming a great leader. “[I’ve] always felt [that] I wanted to make a difference in other people with disabilities, showing that their lives are valuable. [I want to] make our voice [be] heard in the community. I am very passionate about [letting] other people with disabilities know that their voices matter, that they are valuable, and worthy of an incredible life,” says Stacey. She also looks forward to being independent, having her own place to call home, and getting a college diploma in Journalism. 

“I am excited for my future; the sky has no limit. I am looking forward to doing some college courses. Education is very important to me. I am realizing [that] I deserve and have a right to make my dreams come true,” says Stacey.

A Fireside Chat with the Walkers

By Rick Burns (as published in the January 2024 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

It was an unseasonably mild, late December afternoon as I was preparing to meet with David and Mary Walker to speak about their experiences with ABLE2. 

As I approached their front door, I was met by Mary’s welcoming, smiling face as she invited me into their warm, cozy home. The fireplace, the Christmas cards strewn about, the lights of their tree – a stark contrast to the otherwise grey, gloomy day outside. 

With quick introductions and formalities aside, David had already begun to pour us all a drink as we sat for our chat.  With such warm introductions, I was quickly at ease, which is not all that surprising considering that they had previously been described to me as “a dynamic duo” and “bright lights in our ABLE2 family”.  

As we took our first sips, Mary and David described their experiences with ABLE2 and what incented them to get involved over ten years go now. Without hesitation, they pointed to their Catholic faith and desire to be a positive, loving force in the world. Wanting to do good for others and the community, they began searching out volunteering opportunities online, eventually coming across ABLE2 and its matching program. Already fully employed, they were seeking something personal and rewarding – not something that would feel like a second job. They were immediately drawn to the idea of a personal, one-on-one experience to help someone in need – helping people just by showing up and being themselves, which is all that it usually takes to let an otherwise isolated member of the community know they are valued and not alone. 

As I came to learn, Mary had several matches and connections over the years.  She described her current match to Barbara, a woman in her 70s with an intellectual disability, who she sees every Sunday for an hour or so at her long-term care home.  Mary connects with Barbara through art; they like to colour together and then hang up their pictures on the wall to decorate and brighten up Barbara’s room. Without much family, Mary acts as Barbara’s lifeline to the outside world and helps get her out of her shell.  Although their conversations are limited sometimes, Mary has found that there is a relaxing, almost meditative aspect to making art side by side with someone without any pressure or expectations to entertain. The only real requirement for her is to be present and to share space and time doing an enjoyable activity.  She has discovered that there is something uniquely rewarding about having someone in your life that is truly and genuinely happy to see you each and every time without fail. 

David has been matched now with Sheldon, a man with a visual impairment, for the last 10 years and sees him on a weekly basis, noting that his Tuesday afternoons would not be the same without him! David helps Sheldon with things like shopping and banking, but mostly is there just to chat, listen and be present – as good friends do.  Over the course of their friendship, David has also become increasingly close with Sheldon’s extended family, who together act as invaluable pillars of support in his life.  Over the years, their relationship has evolved, from a friendship enabled by ABLE2 to a relationship that is more like family. David affectionately refers to Sheldon, who is now in his eighties, as his uncle. He also confirmed that even if ABLE2 ceased to exist tomorrow, they would still be a big part of each other’s lives – which is the ultimate testament to the power of the ABLE2’s matching program.  

As the interview (and my delicious beer) was coming to an end, I asked my standard concluding question: what would they say to someone who is considering getting involved in ABLE2? 

David pointed to the direct “pay off” one can receive in engaging in such a personal experience, getting to know someone else and seeing first-hand the difference one can make in someone’s life.  He underlined that there is no catch – only an opportunity to do a bit of good in the world. And, you may even be surprised that it will do as much good for them as it does for you!

Mary, nodding her head in agreement, was quick to point out how well-supported she felt by ABLE2 every step of the way, during of the matching process itself and afterwards once the relationship began.  While she understands why someone may feel apprehensive about getting involved and engaging in someone else’s life in this way, she referred to the caring and professional team at ABLE2 who are always there to offer support and advice every step of the way, no matter what challenge may come up as the relationship unfolds. 

The Walkers are such friendly, pleasant people and we are all better for having them as active members in the community.  There was no better way to enjoy the strange liminal time between Christmas and New Year’s than connecting with such good people over a drink and good conversation – I look forward to our paths crossing again! 

By Rick Burns

Caring for Joey’s “Zoo Crew” ABLE2 Brings Families Hope Through Its Fetal Alcohol Program

By Frank B. Edwards (as published in the November 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

Joey Desormeaux lovingly calls his three kids “the Zoo Crew.” His Stittsville trio – Aidan, 12, and 7-year-old twins, Hunter and Lily – are well-known free spirits in the neighbourhood and at school.

Until a few years ago, Joey, a congenial 44-year-old nurse, assumed that the kids shared his own attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Certainly, they were loud, unruly, and given to emotional meltdowns. 

Joey recalls, “We knew something was up with their various early childhood milestones. They were slow to start talking and they had low reasoning skills. But they were hyper-accelerated at walking and running. At first it just seemed to be ADHD, but eventually we started thinking it could be a fetal alcohol disorder.”

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is often mistaken for ADHD. So, when the children did not respond to typical treatment, their doctor referred them to the FASD team at Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

By then, Joey and the kids’ stepmother, Jamie, a healthcare worker, were convinced of FASD so they were relieved in early 2022 when CHEO staff made its “suspected FASD diagnosis” for Aidan and Hunter. Almost a year and a half later, in August 2023, the CHEO team confirmed FASD and began testing Lily. (She has exhibited fewer FASD behaviours than her brother and is doing math several grades ahead of her age.)

While alcoholic beverage bottles today carry warning labels about the dangers of drinking when pregnant, few people seem aware of how insidious FASD is – more than 1.5 million Canadians have been identified with the disorder. At 4% of the population, diagnosed FASD is more common than autism, cerebral palsy and Downs syndrome combined. 

Alcohol can disrupt fetal brain development which in turn causes a wide range of serious physical and intellectual disabilities. The syndrome affects everything from intellectual and social function to motor skills and memory. An 18-year-old with FASD might appear physically similar to their peers but have the life skills of an 11-year-old and the social maturity of a six-year-old.

After CHEO’s “suspected” FASD diagnosis in 2022, the Desormeaux family was referred to ABLE2’s Fetal Alcohol Resource Program (FARP) and within a month received support from a social worker to help them bring order to their household.

ABLE2 is an Ottawa non-profit group charitable organization that offers important supports to people with disabilities in the region. It is the only local organization helping families facing the challenges of FASD.

“The ABLE2 program recognized what we had been doing right,” says Joey. He and Jamie had already established the consistent routines important to their youngsters, but they still had a lot to learn. “The program helped us guide our own responses to situations.”

Today, the homes of many ABLE2 FASD clients are decorated with reminder signs and family schedules to help reinforce daily routines that are second nature to other families. Repetition and consistency help impulsive children who lack flexibility and have trouble understanding the intricacies of social norms.

This summer, Joey’s “crew” welcomed a new FASD support worker from ABLE2 — Donna Douglas, a child and youth counsellor with 16 client families in the Ottawa region. Her most recent home visit focused on helping the family establish a consistent morning routine so everyone could start their day on a more positive note. 

She also discussed how Joey and Jamie can deal with the frustration and constant pressure they face — and temper their own interactions with the kids. Listening to a typical exchange between parent and child, she observed an edge of adult sarcasm and reminded both Joey and Jamie to keep their corrective voices neutral. Joey jokes that he and Jamie are being coached on their “bad habits.”

“Yeah, we’re under the microscope now,” Joey laughs. “But the kids are ‘super feelers.’ They detect voice tones that we might not, along with a lot of other things.” 

“I said to Aidan, ‘Dude, what are you doing? You’re 12 years old, you should know better.’ But, of course, he doesn’t because of his neural pathways. We have to constantly remind ourselves about that.”

Even minute changes to routine can cause major problems, such as when a new brand of detergent created a laundry revolt. The kids refused to wear some of their clothes because they smelled and felt different. They were even convinced the clothes no longer fit properly.

In her job at ABLE2, Donna does a lot of educational outreach, with both families and their community, explaining just how sensitive FASD children are. Sights, smells, sounds, touch, and even tastes can trigger unexpected reactions.

“A taste as common as broccoli can be very upsetting. Or a bad smell,” she says. Part of her job is to work with teachers, explaining the nuances of FASD and helping them set reasonable expectations and develop strategies to achieve them.

Teachers, like parents, get upset when students repeatedly “misbehave” but “it’s because they don’t remember what they are supposed to do,” she explains. “They are slow to respond and have poor attention spans. You have to repeat something four times to them… and then say it a fifth time.”

“People have to reframe their perceptions of behaviour and move from a punishment mode to a supportive mode,” she says.

This school year, with the FASD diagnosis in hand, Joey is focussing on social and education impacts. “We’re putting things in place now that we know why they’re doing what they do. It’s a continual learning journey.” He explains the children’s FASD diagnosis is considered a physical disability, essentially a brain injury, that will make them eligible for more support within the classroom.

Working in health care, both Jamie and Joey had a head start on many FASD families because they had heard of the disorder before. And they both knew the children’s biological mother may have consumed alcohol during her pregnancies, something she confirmed with the CHEO team.

“She was absent from the time the twins were one,” says Joey. “But I’m proud of her admitting to drinking.” Such confirmation makes a FASD diagnosis easier, and it supports the children, but is a hard step for mothers to take.

“It carries a lot of stigma for mothers,” says Donna. Medical histories of absent birth mothers are difficult to assemble so the CHEO team must rely on adoption and social agency records to complete a developmental profile that starts at pregnancy. 

In her early client visits, either in person or on a video call, Donna gathers a child’s history before starting a conversation about the family’s goals and how she can help parents achieve them.

“FASD is very complex,” she says. “There are various levels of disability, and each child is different.”

Part of her job is to work with the changing expectations of parents and caregivers, helping them establish realistic goals, especially around emotional regulation at home, in public and in school. In September, she will be visiting Aidan’s and Hunter’s teachers to discuss the boys’ needs and find them supports. 

Part of her educational arsenal is a slide show on her laptop with which she can give a thorough overview of FASD – to parents, caregivers, and teachers – in less than an hour. It is a sobering lesson on the lifelong effects of even small amounts of alcohol on a fetus.

“The alcohol enters the fetus through the blood and dehydrates brain cells. Those cells are the building blocks of development,” she explains. “Alcohol affects different cells in a fetus, disrupting its proper development. 

“If a dehydrated cell dies, it can never do what it was supposed to do.” 

For example, alcohol consumption in the first 19-22 days of gestation — before a mother even knows she is pregnant – can result in the facial features commonly associated with FASD. Yet, the reduced eye openings, flat midface and smaller head characteristics are found in only about 3% of people diagnosed with FASD.

Joey remains upbeat about the challenges that lay ahead for his family.

“Luckily, they are the sweetest kids in the world. They have the biggest hearts. But everything in our day is a situation…”

Remembering how overwhelming life seemed before help arrived, Joey offers three pieces of advice to FASD parents.

“Place yourself first, mentally, emotionally, and physically. You can’t give care if you don’t care for yourself. You’ll become too exhausted and emotional.

“Don’t be afraid of labels. Don’t be ashamed. Shout out loud and proud: My kid is special.

“And build a good family and support network.”

Certainly, ABLE2 is a key part of the Desormeaux strategy. “Without ABLE2, people like us would be lost,” he says.

Adrian and his friend with great tastes in movies (John)

By Rick Burns as published in the September 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter

It was a beautiful August day, sunny and warm, I was chalk full of the “Friday feels” – it was a perfect time for a casual lunch with my soon-to-be new friends, John and Adrian. 

I sat waiting for my two lunch companions in a corner booth, flipping through my phone, checking in on the Blue Jays, bit of the news, getting a handle on the latest celebrity scandal.  

I looked around, I knew who to look for as I had met Adrian and John before. I knew Adrian as a fellow board member of ABLE2, and I had the pleasure of meeting his friend John at last year’s Christmas party.

Then I heard it.  An excited voice sounded out my name “Rick Burrrrrnnnnsssss”.  Turning to my left, there they were.  What a great first impression of John.  It does not matter who, where, when or why – nothing feels better than being greeted by someone with such energy and enthusiasm.  

John and Adrian had barely settled into our booth before we jumped right into a delightful conversation. I had brought my notebook along with a set of pre-selected questions I could ask.  I had these alongside me for my own comfort in case the conversation lagged.…in case my chit-chatting skills would fail me. Alas, my old school pen and paper proved to be mostly unnecessary as the conversation flowed naturally and easy.  The lunch flew by, the real question here is what we didn’t talk about. 

First matched in 1999, I was so impressed with how Adrian was with John. It was nothing specific he did, just a comfortable, caring presence. He was not John’s caretaker, he was his dear friend. I was not surprised to learn later on in our conversation that John shares Christmas time and other holidays at Adrian’s place. With no immediate family in the Ottawa area, Adrian is John’s rock, his family. As the one consistent person in his life, Adian was a pillar of stability in helping John adjust to his move into his current assisted living residence. 

As the conversation flowed, it turns out Adrian and I had a lot in common, perhaps not surprising considering we have established long term friendships through ABLE’s matching program and are both members of the Board of Directors. 

What was surprising, however, is the commonalities I found with John. I learned so many interesting things about him. I heard about how he swam, hiked, and went to Bluesfest this summer. We both love coffee, but each of us has had to make at least a partial transition to decaf in the last few years (too much caffeine make us both spin like a top).  John was also born in Manhattan, arriving in Ottawa via Oshawa many years ago.  I don’t think I have ever met a real New Yorker before! 

I learned that John is a movie buff and I enjoyed hearing about his various tastes.  As he listed some his favorites, I could not believe what I heard: “Titanic”. 

Reader, of course you would not know this, but Titanic is in my tip five list of all time favourite movies and it has been recently been made available on Netflix.  Upon excitedly telling people in my social circles of this great news, I was disappointed to discover that it is not as popular as I once thought. My wife, nieces, friends, relatives – no one seems to be interested.  John – I am so glad I met someone else with such strong movie taste. I could not agree with you more – it is an all-time classic. 

Overall, the lunch was great, I really enjoyed getting to know Adian and John and I look forward to seeing them again. 

By Rick Burns

Rachel and Viji: The Christmas party super dancers

By Rick Burns (as published in the July 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

“They are the Christmas party super dancers!” I enthusiastically pronounced to my wife as we rolled out of the parking lot on an overcast but otherwise pleasant June afternoon.  

I had just finished having a hot beverage with Viji and Rachel, two friends that first met through ABLE2’s matching program. 

I was the first to arrive for our coffee-chat at the Starbucks in College Square, bristling full of young students and afternoon shoppers. The purpose of this informal interview was to profile a successful, long-term match to include in an article in ABLE2’s monthly newsletter.  

As I waited a few moments for Viji and Rachel to arrive, I suddenly wondered how I would know who they were? I instantly recognized them however as they walked through the door – I remembered seeing them at previous events, notably ABLE2’s annual Christmas party. 

How could I forget? Each year, Viji and Rachel tend to be one of the first ones on the dance floor, and to say they move with joy and enthusiasm would be great understatement. I clearly remember my wife (unsuccessfully) trying to get me to bust a move at ABLE’s marquis annual event, nodding towards Viji and Rachel: “But look how much fun they are having!”

It was a great start to the interview because I felt like I already kind of knew them.  

My initial impression as we greeted each other was how natural and comfortable they seemed with each other. They gave off the vibe of two old friends meeting for a coffee to chat and catch-up – a casual, nothing-to-see here type of Saturday afternoon hang out. And my initial instincts proved to be correct. In fact, when asked, like a lot of old friends, they could not quite remember how long exactly it had been since they first met.

“17, 18 years….2004 maybe” Viji responded to my first inquiry about the length of their friendship. 

As I came to uncover, their relationship has grown substantially over the almost two decades since they first met. Going to coffee shops, seeing movies, hanging out, chatting over Facebook……they do all of the things you would think of that are typical of strong, mutually beneficial relationship.

They went on to describe what they meant to each other and that, like any other solid friendship, they can tell each other anything and play a big part in each other’s lives. 

What is your most memorable moment together?” I asked as I perused a list of pre-selected interview questions I had on hand. There was a bit of pause, no one single moment immediately jumped to either of them. 

Rachel then just got to crux of it all with one answer: “Viji is really easy to talk to, we just have fun together, it is great to have a friend that understands you.” 

I asked Viji: “Could you point to one thing you have learned from Rachel?”

“She forces me out of my comfort zone somethings……..like dancing!!” Viji responded with a smile. 

As we spoke, I found out that not only is Rachel one ABLE2’s best Christmas partiers, she has previously taken Jazz dancing lessons and used to be a regular at the Dovercourt dances. She reiterated, while Viji nodded her head, that dancing was a great to release energy and just have fun. 

It was at this point where this interviewer may have made a big mistake. Perhaps out of nervous politeness, I ever so casually mentioned that maybe I would hit the floor at the next Christmas party. Upon telling my wife about this off-hand commitment I made, she smiled and said she could not wait. My goodness what have I done, I (half?) jokingly thought to myself. 

As we finished up our conversation, I posed my last and ultimate question: “What would you say to someone who is interested in becoming involved in ABLE2’s matching program? The response came quick: “Just do it! You can expand your social network, do interesting things and it is a great way to make a new friend!” 

In fact, as we spoke, it was pointed out that there would be no impact on their friendship at all if ABLE2 stopped existing tomorrow, which is the ultimate nod to the effectiveness of the matching program. While ABLE2 brought them together, it is their commonalities and genuine connection that has nurtured their relationship over the years. 

Rachel and Viji’s friendship is something not everyone in the world is lucky to have. In a modern life, tied to our screens, always playing catch up – we could all benefit from having a connection like theirs. And that, dear reader, brings us to the heart of it all: who among us could not use another good friend? 

I look forward to seeing Viji and Rachel at the next ABLE2 event. And I am left wondering if they will hold me to my mention of dancing at the next Christmas party? We shall see…

By Rick Burns

Voices of ABLE2 – Social Housing

Written by Julie Cashman

(as published in the July 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)


My topic for today is social housing from my point of view so people can see the good points and all it has to offer for people like me on ODSP

I am 42 and I waited patiently on the social housing registry for 11 years to get a 1-bedroom apartment.

Every Christmas was my due date to call into the Social Registry and update my file once a year. My mom and I picked Christmas/December because it was an easy time to remember for both of us. I would also ask the Social Registry to send me a list so I could choose more options of housing in Ottawa each year.

After 11 years of waiting and choosing, they finally called me in 2021. I still remember the lady in the office of Social Registry when I first applied who gave me a hint, a huge one, don’t limit yourself to one area of the city, choose more options from the list. 

And so, I did, and that’s what got me in faster to social housing. 

So, I moved into social housing, and got the keys, and signed the lease, and made lots of friends. I now volunteer in our programs for Veggie Friday that happens every Friday, and Breakfast Tuesday and I benefit from these two programs, and also the foot lady from southeast Ottawa comes to take care of my feet every six weeks.

My rent is a lot cheaper, under $200 for a 1 bedroom providing my income does not change for ODSP.

We have to submit our notice of assessment along with our ODSP papers, and a pink slip we get from Ottawa housing to tell Ottawa housing we are doing our income taxes each year. It lets them know we are still at the same income level to keep our houses. If we do not comply with this or fail to send that information we lose our housing and our apartment goes back up to market rent and they kick us out.

Since moving here, I have made more friends. I love volunteering. I am thriving and saving more money. And that is the benefits of social housing. I do not have to worry anymore about paying market rent, or worrying about rising food cost, or having to put clothes on my back, because I can afford all theses things.

Thank you very much for listening to me today and I hope it gives you all a great knowledge of social housing and provides you with better feedback and gives you some more idea that social housing is better life.

Merci and thank you.

Julie Cashman

Chair, Consumer Advisory Committee

Julie’s Story – A Mother’s Love

By Julie Cashman 

May 2023

Hello, I’d like to introduce myself, I am Julie Cashman and I am co-chair of Consumer Action Committee with ABLE2. This is my story about me and my mom Joanne Cashman who died of ovarian cancer in October 2019. 

I first got epilepsy when I was six years old, and my mom was my biggest supporter in life. She’d stay by my side taking me to doctors appointments and rushing me to the ER when I had seizures and even keeping a journal of my seizures and meds.

Over the many years growing up she became my biggest supporter for a disabled person who had epilepsy. She got me involved in ABLE2 formerly Citizen Advocacy because my mother saw how I was struggling in life with my disability to make friends. It’s only because of ABLE2 and the help of my mother I went onto have 2 matches plus my current match.

Without the support of my mom, I would not have known about ABLE2 or other resources such as Build Community or Reach lawyers for people with disabilities, that CRA does incomes for free as long as you are on ODSP, subsidy housing or even having an RDSP account as a disability person for my retirement. I now in turn have become co-chair of the Consumer Action Committee and a board member on the ABLE2 Board of Directors. I also volunteer in my apartment building on Fridays for the veggie Friday program supporting tenants where I live. My goal in life is to be happy and I love volunteering.

Without the support of my mom, I would not have known about ABLE2 or other resources such as Lifetime Networks or Reach lawyers for people with disabilities, that CRA does incomes for free as long as you are on ODSP, subsidy housing or even having an RDSP account as a disability person for my retirement. I now in turn have become co-chair of the Consumer Action Committee and a board member on the ABLE2 Board of Directors. I also volunteer in my apartment building on Fridays for the veggie Friday program supporting tenants where I live. My goal in life is to be happy and I love volunteering.

By Julie Cashman, Co-chair of Consumer Action Committee

Confessions of a Volunteer Fraud

By Rick Burns, ABLE2 Match Ally and Board Member (as published in the May 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

I have a confession to make. People sometimes think I am such a good person for taking part in ABLE2’s Matching program, and that through my “volunteering”, I am making a real difference in my community. I need to get this off my chest though:  I have not considered myself a volunteer for a long time. 

Let me take a step back and explain the situation. 

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was a clear fall day circa 2011. I was surprised to feel a tad nervous as I approached his building, not surprising considering the novelty of the situation.  Really, how many times has anyone been formally matched with another adult for the sole purpose of friendship? 

My first impression – he was a hulk of a man.  As I walked closer to him, alongside the social worker, feigning a slight wave of anxiety, my internal monologue continued to pose the question: “What on earth am I getting myself into?”. 

Before I knew it, with smiles and outstretched hands, I heard ““Hi, I am Andy” and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Meeting Andy that day was the culmination of some inner soul searching.  I had been looking for some time for a meaningful and personal way I could contribute and give back to the community. Volunteering was always something I knew I wanted to do, but the idea of doing more work after coming home from the office was not overly appealing.  It was through this minimalist lens that I began slowly, hesitantly looking into volunteer opportunities around my neighbourhood. Not going to lie, I was skeptical that I could find something meaningful AND easy.  As selfish as it may sound, while my overall focus was on “giving back”, I could not silence the little voice in my head” “what would I get out this”. 

I wanted to volunteer, but kind of in a lazy way, if such a concept can exist, so when I stumbled upon ABLE2’s matching program, I was intrigued. What would be the harm in filling out this little application to start? 

Fast forward a few months, I was somewhat uneasy as I sat down for the first time with the social worker to discuss potential matches. I nervously thought: how do I express to them in a sensitive way that I am not equipped to be a caretaker and that all I have to offer is my (well-honed) ability to simply hang out? So, without shame, I provided an overview of my “social” resume:  I like to chat, sit, watch sports, drink the odd beer, go to the gym, watch movies…….I was putting all of my cards on the table and was considering strongly the chance I would be rejected on the spot. 

Either by happenstance, luck – or more likely due to the incredible matchmaking services at ABLE2 – they found me what turned into a perfect match. 

“Do you like movies? Would you come to my next movie night?  Would you ever go to the pub with me?” I don’t know if these were the exact three questions Andy asked me the evening we first met, but it was definitely within the first few minutes.  My nerves now aside – without thinking – I blurted an enthusiastic: “Of course, sounds fun!”.  

I had no idea then that from that day on I would be seeing Andy for next twelve years and counting. I hang out with him now every week, usually on Thursdays. I go to his place or mine or we go to the Pub to watch the game – we eat chips, pizza, wings (and beer for me!), chat and just chill out, which is pretty much my MO whenever I see any of my other family or friends. I should also mention that Andy is a great cook, and he has made amazing meals for us on many occasions. I have also learned that one of the greatest feelings in the world is spending time with someone who is genuinely happy to see you each and every time. 

I remember the first time the social worker followed up with us about our match sometime after our first meeting. In a nutshell (while being polite of course), I said something to the effect: “I do not think we will really need your services”. 

And this brings me to the crux of this story, I have not considered hanging out with Andy as volunteering for quite some time. Andy is my good friend, he is now like family. 

In the end, I would recommend an ABLE2 Matching program to anyone.  It is a chance to make a real meaningful difference in someone’s life, including your own. And – who among us could not use another friend? What other life experience can be so rewarding with the only effort being “show up” and “enjoy”? 

Anyways, that is my confession. I feel much better and thank you for reading. 


Faces of ABLE2 – Anna Bilsky

(as published in the March 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

In honour of Women’s History Month, we would like to recognize one of our many amazing volunteers. Anna Bilsky has been a volunteer with ABLE2 almost from the beginning. Wanting to set an example of volunteerism for her young children, she felt the Matching Program would be a good fit for her. For the past 40 years Anna has balanced volunteering with raising a family and a very accomplished career.

Her first match Michael was very shy and reserved when she met him. Michael had never had a person in his life who was not a family member or a paid support worker. Together they began a 12-year journey of friendship and learning. Michael’s world opened up and his life was soon full of activities and friendships. “I would like to believe that I played a role in that,” says Anna. “Michael was so busy it was hard to get time with him.” The match had accomplished what was intended and they ended the match after 12 years but not the friendship. Michael passed away but Anna will never forget what a wonderful and kind man he was.

Anna was next matched with Ruth. Ruth loved to shop! They spent a great deal of time at Carlingwood Mall, especially Coles. When it came time for Ruth to move into a home Anna was right there helping Ruth’s sister to find the right place for her until her death. Ruth lovingly referred to her as the “third sister”.

Anna’s third match was Marjorie whose passing was featured in our last newsletter. After Marjorie’s husband George passed away, she felt utterly alone in the world. Her grief was compounded by various health issues. Anna helped bring her out into the world with weekly coffee meetings and scratch cards (they called their moment of hope). Anna provided Marjorie with support and was often the voice of reason in her life. 

Anna has also been matched with a second person, Veronica. She has never really felt like Veronica is a “match” as they have had a close friendship for 30 years after meeting while serving on ABLE2’s Board of Directors. Anna has been a big part of my life and has accompanied me on medical appointments and to family weddings. She has really helped me,” says Veronica.

Anna’s time and friendship for people in her life has been profound. Anna is a true leader. ABLE2 celebrates all she has done for her community.