My nephew, who is also my godchild, is now a low functioning, non verbal 28-year-old autistic adult and as he was growing up, I saw all the stages of learning and adapting that his family had to go through, and I realized how helpless his parents felt. At the time, there was very little information or resources, and no centres where children could attend (for a day or for the weekend to give his parents a much-needed break). Regular schools were not well-equipped to deal with autism, either. When my nephew was a child, he joined Peter Hall School which is focused on autism. Like any other school, they needed resources and money to help their students. I seized every opportunity that I could to find donations for Peter Hall, especially from the companies I worked for when they were changing their computers or getting rid of their office supplies. One fall, my church had a rummage sale, and it was a huge hit: people enjoyed getting books for a dollar! After the sale, there were books that were left over so I established a small library in my church’s basement with book shelves donated by my old office – and it took off from there! Today I have an inventory of over 2,000 books. Any amount of money I raise, the church doubles it. At first, we made donations to Peter Hall, and then to the Laval Society of Autism (Société de l’autisme et TED de Laval). The objective was to support the school or center my nephew attended.
How does the Laval Society of Autism help families deal with autism?
My nephew lives with his parents, who are totally dedicated to his every need. He goes to one of the centres supported by the Laval Society of Autism five days a week. This has been a godsend to his parents and him! He likes going there, and it’s huge because autistic people are deeply engrained in their routine. The center has one monitor per small group of two or three kids having the same abilities. It gives him the opportunity for a social life outside of his family in a safe, calm and fun environment. A typical day includes table activities (i.e. arts and crafts, puzzles, threading and easy board games), short baking/cooking activities, listening to music, enjoying the sensory room, using a treadmill or stationary bike, taking turns at throwing / catching a ball and going on a neighborhood walk. It is a place where Jonathan is comfortable and where he is treated with respect and compassion, giving his parents peace of mind and a bit of respite. Every living moment that my nephew is at home, his parents are on watch to make sure he doesn’t just walk out the front door, eat something he shouldn’t or hurt himself in some way. Parents get physically and mentally tired from constantly having to be hyper-vigilant and they need support.
Why is community involvement important to you?
I was blessed that my children didn’t have those struggles, so anything I can do to help, I gladly do. This book sale just took a life of its own: people were receptive, and they were happy to be making a difference. They don’t mind giving a dollar for a book, and sometimes they would even give more because they know it’s going to a good cause.
Have you had to overcome a challenge since you’ve started operating the library?
At one point, I received so many donations that it was taking up a good portion of the church hall, and it became a fire safety issue as we were not supposed to have that much paper. I had to do a big clean-up and donated a lot of books to a thrift store, to a retirement home and to schools in my neighborhood. It was fun because it ended up opening more doors and allowing me to connect with more people in the community.
What have you learned from your involvement?
Community involvement creates conversation and brings people together. The kids who come to the library are excited to find new books. People who are cleaning up their house ask if they can bring me boxes of books. It’s a circle of giving and receiving. And it’s amazing how people will open up to you. They are so happy and proud that together we are making lives better. Even though at first you think you are doing it only for one person, you soon come to realize that there are other people within the community who may know an autistic child or have a family member who is autistic. They understand the challenges and the cause, and therefore have that same desire. It’s a good feeling to know that we are contributing to something that affects so many people and that together, we are making a difference!