Over the past half century Community Living South Muskoka (CLSM) has enhanced the lives of thousands of people living with developmental disabilities and simultaneously helped enhance the community at large.
This year, CLSM is marking their 50 year anniversary with a number of special events throughout 2017, while also taking a moment to look back at their past.
“Right now we provide service for roughly 400 people of all ages,” says Gord Haugh, who has served as president since 2011. “Previously, a high percentage of those people would have been institutionalized. Eventually, it was determined that institutionalization wasn’t the best way to integrate these people into the community.”
Haugh points to the Huronia Centre institution for developmentally disabled people in Orillia as a case in point. The facility – which was originally known as the Orillia Asylum for Idiots – closed its door permanently in 2009 after the government was forced to apologize for decades of neglectful abuse of the facility’s residents and pay a settlement to surviving victims.
The centre’s final resident eventually became a client of CLSM after leaving the institution.
“She had a very difficult time at first adjusting to living outside an institution,” says Haugh. “We made special accommodations for her and now she’s a fully functioning member of her house.”
Haugh says it’s now been determined that shutting people out from the rest of society does little for their betterment or that of the broader community.
“A lot of people who are developmentally disabled are fully aware of what’s going on. They just sometimes have trouble relating to those around them,” he says. “With some assistance they can become productive members of the community. You’ll see them around town pushing shopping carts and doing other things like that.”
Haugh has a personal connection with the developmentally disabled, having an aunt who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. She lived until the age of 60, a long lifespan for someone with down syndrome, and lived at home her entire life.
CLSM was actually formed in its original incarnation in 1960 by a group of concerned parents and was then incorporated in 1967. In October of 1968, they opened a new school in Bracebridge known as Victoria Street School, which was operated by the Board of Education.
The Association the focused its attention on creating an adult workshop, which became A.R.C. Industries – providing work-related programs until 1992, when it was replaced by the Community Skills Development programs.
“These people contribute,” Haugh says. “But beyond that it helps the families. It gives their sons and daughters the programs that help them feel more fulfilled.”
CLSM operates 10 group homes, with between six and eight people in each home.They also have a staff of 168 people, making them one of the largest employers in Muskoka.
“Our goal is to support independent living,” says Haugh. “These people can now live on their own but they need some support.”
Haugh says another vital role CLSM plays is the ability to offer respite to caregivers, giving them a break from the often stressful and exhausting role of caring for a developmentally disabled person.
They also operate Morrison Meadows on Fraserburg Road in Bracebridge. The area is open to the public with trails, special events throughout the year and a fully accessible playground.
CLSM has plenty in store to mark their big birthday, with several different events planned for this month.
Things kick off May 11 from 7 am to 9 am with a pancake breakfast at CLSM’s main headquarters located on Depot Drive in Bracebridge. On May 26 from 11 am to 4 pm the 50th anniversary party will take place on Depot Drive, with face painting, live music and food. On May 28 there will be a tree planting at Morrison Meadows and on Aug. 11 CLSM will host a 50th anniversary cruise about the RMS Segwun in Gravenhurst.
For more information on the events, go to the CLSM website at www.clsm.on.ca