G.R.E.A.T. Stories

At Community Living Hamilton we measure our success by the impact we make on the people we support.

The stories below, each aligned with one of our G.R.E.A.T. values, are like lighthouses that dot the coast along our voyage. They are not the destination, but the points along the way that shine out to us and confirm we are on course.

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G – Growth that Exceeds Expectations

Newest Resident Settles in to New Home


Following a short period of adjustment, Vjosa has responded extremely well to her new surroundings since she moved into Community Living Hamilton’s Delancey Group Living Residence in late 2018.

Moving into a new home is a big change and it’s not uncommon for there to be challenges as residents get familiar with their new environment and roommates. In Vjosa’s case, however, the transition was relatively seamless. For the 20-year-old, the hardest part was being away from her family.

“I miss my mom and my dad and my brother and my sister,” says Vjosa. “I talk with them on the phone a lot.”

Vjosa, who happens to be the most recent individual to move into one of our group homes, has an extensive history with Community Living Hamilton.

“I first met Vjosa when I was working at our Charlton Children’s Respite program and she used to tag along when her parent’s would drop off her younger sister for the weekend,” says Debbie Sullivan, Senior Manager of Client Services. “She wanted to stay too and loved meeting the other kids so much that her parents got a referral and we took her on as a client as well.”

In addition using the Charlton children’s overnight respite program and now living as a resident at Delancey, Vjosa has also used the Children’s Respite day program at Leeming, the Adult Respite program at Templemead, Dragonfly Lodge as well as attending the Rosedale Community Participation program on days when she is not attending school.

“She’s a very positive, outgoing and social person, and seems to enjoy every new opportunity that is brought forward to her,” says Debbie.

Staff attribute Vjosa’s smooth integration to life at Delancey to her easygoing demeanour and the agency’s intake process.

“One of most important considerations is fit, so when preparing to welcome a new resident we schedule a number of visits to see the space and meet the group already living in the home,” says Debbie. “We have a very social group here at Delancey, including a few younger residents of similar age as Vjosa, which was one of the big reasons we felt this would be an ideal spot for her.

Moving to Delancey has been a very positive development for Vjosa. Over the past year, she has developed close relationships with her roommates and has settled in far quicker than even the staff had expected.

“I’m happy here with my friends,” she says.

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R – Respect for All

Walking on the Edge

Last summer, Frank made the bold decision to take on a challenge unlike anything he had experienced before – Toronto’s CN Tower Edge Walk. Inspired by the videos he had seen online, the Community Living Hamilton client reached out to his Supported Independent Living (SIL) worker Mary Lanosky to seek her assistance in making his dream a reality.

“At first, I was iffy about the whole thing, but watching people on YouTube do it, I thought to myself, if they can do it why can’t I?” says Frank.

Frank is one of 73 SIL clients who live independently in the community with varying levels of assistance. The program provides services and supports that enhance independent living skills such as menu planning, medication and health management and money management.

“When Frank told me what he had in mind, I was really proud and excited for him,” says Mary, who has worked with Frank for 10 years.

Mary has coordinated other activities and experiences for Frank in the past, like attending hockey games or wrestling matches, but this was definitely taking things to a whole other level.

“Support comes in a number of different forms,” she says. “In this case that meant respecting his wishes and helping him set a plan to achieve his goal.”

Mary tasked Frank with researching the trip, determining the costs involved and most importantly, finding a CLH volunteer daring enough to accompany him on his epic adventure and walk the edge with him. Luckily, he knew just who to ask.

Frank had a budding friendship with CLH volunteer Rebecca, who he first met through her involvement with the agency’s all-inclusive Drum Corps. They both share a love of all things sports and quickly hit it off.

“When Frank asked me if I would do the Edge Walk with him, I was so honoured,” says Rebecca. “I agreed on the spot, but in the back of my head I’m panicking thinking about walking around the top of the CN Tower!”

Once Frank gathered all the needed information and chose a date, Mary helped him purchase attraction and bus tickets using his Passport funding.

The day of the trip, Frank and Rebecca met up at the Hamilton GO Station and rode the bus into Toronto together. From the time they could see the CN tower off in the distance to their time on the edge, they made sure to post updates to social media so friends could follow along.

It was an experience neither of them will soon forget.

“The coolest part was just being up there and getting to lean back out over the edge,” he says. “Looking out and seeing the whole scenery of Toronto from a different perspective, it was amazing.”

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E – Excellence and Safety in Everything We Do

Commitment to Excellence in Special Needs Resourcing


At Community Living Hamilton, we believe that all children deserve the opportunity to learn, play and build friendships within a fully inclusive learning environment.

As the lead agency providing Special Needs Resourcing in the City of Hamilton, we play a vital role in supporting children with disabilities through our work with educators. Our highly skilled staff of Inclusion Facilitators and Resource Consultants work directly with licensed childcare centers to provide expertise and support in assessing the needs of each child and implementing plans and classroom adaptations.

“We strive to deliver services of the highest professional standard, everyday,” says Karen Pavao, Senior Manager, Children’s Services. “Ongoing professional development is a big part of that because our field is rapidly evolving and new developments and research are being published all the time.”

To stay on top of emerging trends and best practices and ensure children with disabilities have access to the best possible supports, our Special Needs Resourcing team participates in a variety of professional development activities throughout the year.

In Fall 2019, five Special Needs Resourcing staff travelled to Niagara Falls to attend the annual Early Childhood Resource Teacher Network of Ontario (ECRTNO) Conference. The 3-day event, which included a focus on Children’s Mental Health, provided a valuable opportunity to connect with peers from across the province and experience trend setting professional development.

“Afterwards the information and concepts presented were shared with our team in a variety of ways and incorporated into our day-to-day practice,” says Najia Bashizadah, Resource Consultant, who was among those who attended the conference. “For example, I apply and reference those learnings with the early childhood educators I support during individual program planning meetings.”

In addition to the ECRTNO conference, Special Needs Resourcing team members also participated in a variety of training sessions, seminars and workshops including, the Equity in the Early Years Conference in Toronto, a full-day Tools for Life training session, and a 2-day workshop on Building Interactions to Grow Relationships provided by Early Words Community Support Team at Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre.

During the August Civic holiday staff also took part in our own annual professional development day, which included our first ever Inclusion EdCamp. Following a participant-driven format, staff came prepared with questions and topics they wanted to discuss during group sessions. Using one another as a resource, staff were able to reflect on and crowdsource solutions to common inclusion challenges.

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A – Abilities First

Master Chef Program Builds Confidence and Pride

When the new Master Chef cooking program was being launched at York, the Day Program staff knew it was something that Tomasine needed to get involved with.

The long-time Community Living Hamilton client, who attends the York program and lives at the Queenston group living residence, had a well-known passion for cooking that the team hoped to help her develop.

Cooking groups have been a staple of the York day program for years, but with access to a full commercial kitchen on site, the program staff saw an opportunity to develop a more substantial offering that was geared to the clients’ abilities and interests.

“As a group, we set out to develop a program that would provide education and practical experience in basic meal preparation and help teach new skills and gave participants a sense of pride and accomplishment,” says Direct Support Facilitator, Steve Mesaglio, who asked to spearhead the project.

The result was Master Chef, a hands-on, 10-week program that revolves around a weekly planned meal that participants go out shopping to buy ingredients for, cook as a group and then enjoy together. The program also touches on fundamentals like recipe planning, knife skills, measurements, kitchen cleanliness and sanitation, and even healthy eating and portion control.

Developing skills in the kitchen is important for clients like Tomasine because it helps them to be more self-sufficient by enabling them to be more involved in making the food they eat or even prepare simple meals themselves.

“I’ve seen a real progression in Tomasine’s abilities in the kitchen to the point where she is able to help with more challenging tasks,” says Lisa Moody, Direct Support Facilitator, who also runs a baking group at Queenston that Tomasine enjoys. “She loves being able to cook things for herself and takes pride in to sharing her creations with her roommates.”

The program received glowing reviews from both participants and staff and plans are underway to offer additional sessions.

“I’m way more confident in the kitchen now,” says Tomasine. “I’ll do Master Chef again for sure.”

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T – Trust and Integrity

Inking a Long-Term Partnership

With a smile on his face, CJ states he loves his job 100%. The 28-year old Hamilton resident works as a part-time cleaner at John Street Tattoo, where owners Richard and Jacklyn say he has grown to become both a respected and well-liked member of the team.

“Honestly, working here has been an unbelievable experience for me,” says CJ. “Everyone has been super nice and friendly and gone out of their way to make me feel welcome.”

CJ began working at the shop in the spring of 2019 thanks to a partnership between John Street Tattoo and Community Living Hamilton’s Employment Access Program, which helps people with disabilities prepare for, find and maintain competitive employment.

“Diversity is something that we strongly believe in, because we feel like it’s important for the shop to reflect the community that we do business in” says Richard. “We’ve always been active in the community, supporting initiatives, doing fundraisers and whatnot and kind of put it out there that we were interested in doing something greater.”

Through some networking, Kathy Matthews, CJ’s Community Placement Specialist, learned about the potential opportunity at John Street Tattoo.

“I heard that they were an inclusive employer and through some outreach and initial conversations with Richard and Jacklyn, I learned that they would be interested in hiring someone with a disability,” says Kathy. “I let them know that I had a candidate in mind and working together we put together a job description.”

CJ interviewed for the position and was subsequently hired. As of the end of this past year, he had been working at the shop for 9 months and recently celebrated his one-year anniversary.

“Working with Community Living Hamilton has been really wonderful,” says Jacklyn. “In the beginning Kathy was really hands on, meeting with us regularly to establish tasks and schedules, and has continued to serve as a liaison even now that CJ is so comfortable in the role.”

CJ is in the shop 3 days per week and his duties include sweeping and mopping, garbage disposal, disinfecting surfaces and runs errands for the tattoo artists. While he has now settled in, it was not always easy.

The job requires focus, attention to detail and good time-management, skills that CJ has always struggled with. Fortunately, with a few job accommodations, minor modifications and some coaching in the early stages, CJ was able to learn the job and meet the strict cleanliness and safety standards required for the shop to operate.

“For a job to evolve into long-term employment, like what we’ve seen with CJ, is a huge accomplishment,” adds Kathy.

A good fit between employee and employer is key, but just as important is developing and maintaining a flexible and collaborative partnership that is based on deep respect and mutual benefit.

“When I first started I was kind of intimidated, but now I just feel like part of the family,” says CJ. “I’m grateful for the confidence they’ve shown in me.”