Ottawa’s first Integrated Living Centre to benefit people with developmental disabilities
By Pauline Colwin
“Tamir saved my life,” explains Barbara Grinfeld.
Grinfeld is a “Tamir mom.” Her son, Danny, a sociable, happy young man, has a “catastrophic epileptic syndrome,” coupled with developmental disabilities. Just over a year ago, Danny, now in his early 20s, moved to a Tamir residence. For the Grinfelds, this was life-saving and life-altering. Not only is Danny thriving in a friendly, active and safe environment, but the immense 24/7 strain of caregiving has been lifted from the family. This is just part of the difference Tamir makes in people’s lives.
Grinfeld shared her family’s story after an emotional press conference on Friday, April 13, at the Soloway JCC where MPP Bob Chiarelli announced a $5.1-million Ontario government grant to build Ottawa’s first Integrated Living Centre (ILC), which will be operated by Tamir and located on the Jewish community campus. An additional $2.5 million for the project was also announced by Myer Bick, Director of The Azrieli Foundation. The Jewish Federation of Ottawa is proudly donating the land, while the Ministry of Community and Social Services will be funding ongoing operating costs.
Tamir is a Jewish community agency dedicated to ensuring that people with developmental disabilities live with dignity and respect, explains Mark Palmer, Tamir’s executive director.
“Individuals with developmental disabilities face many challenges,” Palmer told the more than 50 invited guests in attendance, including MPP Yasir Naqvi, Ottawa Deputy Mayor Mark Taylor, health-care representatives, Tamir and Federation board members, and community members.
“They are among our most vulnerable in society. Many need help with the basic activities of daily living, things you and I take for granted. They often have complex medical needs, but they want to find meaningful ways of engaging in society. Often, they are in desperate need of affordable supportive housing, a place to feel accepted and belong, a place to call home.
“At Tamir, we have made great efforts to plan a model which will offer affordable housing and support services to people in critical need. We want to offer this efficiently and effectively, within a fully inclusive environment.”
Palmer expressed his gratitude to the government and explained that the new centre will “transform what Tamir can do for the community” by creating a “welcoming, and integrated environment with 34 well-equipped and accessible apartment units, 45 beds, and a major day-services area.”
As a major supporter of the project, Bick, of The Azrieli Foundation, explained how his organization is dedicated to funding knowledge and understanding of our past, as well as ways to better our present and future. He expressed how the ILC was perfectly aligned with this philanthropic mission and how he was impressed by the hard work of all those involved.
Chiarelli, who also delivered a moving Yom HaShoah message from Premier Kathleen Wynn, shared his deep respect for the work undertaken by organizations like Tamir. He explained the $5.1-million grant was the part of provincial funding of $1.8 billion, to be made over three years to agencies in the developmental services field, marking “the single largest investment in the developmental services area in the history of the province of Ontario.”
“We want an Ontario where all people with developmental disabilities can live their lives to the best of their abilities. …The Tamir Integrated Living Centre will help us do just that.”
The Jewish community, as a whole, was recognized by both Chiarelli and Naqvi, who congratulated the Federation, its social service beneficiary agencies, as well our community members, for our inclusivity, generosity and support of people with special needs.
Chiarelli explained that being at the SJCC for the announcement helped put the Jewish community’s work “into perspective.” He explained that the new ILC project is clearly the next building block in the vision of the Jewish community of Ottawa that began decades ago.
“I remember very well when this site was acquired,” Chiarelli said in reference to the current Jewish campus. “That initial vision has come to reality because of the tremendous leadership and generosity of the Jewish community of Ottawa. I just want to say how impressive it is … and I am pleased I can be here to be part of another building block that benefits not only the Jewish community but the whole city of Ottawa.”
This sentiment was highlighted by a heart-warming performance by the Tamir Neshama choir, which brought many in the audience to tears as they sang “What a Wonderful World.” After the performance, choir member Debbie Wasserman, speaking on behalf of Tamir participants, stood in front of the crowd and spoke directly to the ministers:
“This is a dream come true; thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”
Certainly, the Tamir participants’ smiles were contagious and impressed upon all those present the real reasons behind the need for the ILC project – to ensure all people may live their lives fully and to the best of their abilities, in happiness and safety as a respected and dignified part of the community. This is the vision of Federation’s Jewish Superhighway with the goal of creating a network of meaning Jewish experiences and journeys where the entire community is interconnected and no one is left behind.
“For me, as a feeling, sensitive person,” Grinfeld sums up, “the best part of this project is that all families will get the help they need, like mine has.
The Integrated Living Centre to be built on the Ottawa Jewish Campus will:
- create 34 apartment units, with 45 beds;
- operate a Supported Independent Living program (SIL) to help individuals live successfully in their own apartments;
- significantly expand respite care places, to help caregiving families;
- create transitional living capacity to assist individuals improperly housed in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or Ottawa Community Housing units, freeing up those beds and spaces;
- create a seniors’ living section for older individuals who can no longer manage meal preparation and other chores on their own.
- centralize and expand day services;
- create a seniors’ program to provide assisted living;
- create several rental units (at market rates) for non-disabled persons;
- benefit from educational, social and sports facilities in the nearby Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our Tamir ILC vision is something vibrant and alive, filled with services and opportunities, great hopes and practical help.
I asked Bob Thompson, Immediate Past President of Tamir and father of a young man with Angelman Syndrome, to describe what the ILC means to him and his family:
‘We are not just building a building for Tamir,’ he said. ‘We are building dreams for people. I am excited because the ILC, as a model for the entire community, will allow and encourage families to chase their dreams for their loved ones. To dream about and actually realize life in a safe, secure and welcoming environment with opportunity to live as full citizens each and every day.’ ”
– Mark Palmer, executive director of Tamir
“Many people have made the ILC vision come together. Many people in the public service, in the public health and social services, as well as people in political service. Note how the word ‘service’ applies to all of these people – we all share in the work of helping others, serving the needs of our community and our province. This project has also benefited greatly from advice and support of Brain Keshen, CEO of Reena, Tamir’s big sister organization in Toronto, and the chair of the Intentional Community Consortium.”
– Richard Zuker, chair of the board of directors for Tamir
“Who are we here today? We are mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends within a community. We are bound by our DNA with infinitesimally small differences between us. We are bound by our community: our Jewish community, the city of Ottawa, province of Ontario, Canada. All true, but I submit what truly binds is here today is our set of values. A set of values which says we will ensure that those sisters, brothers, friends who by force of accident cannot advocate for the same quality of life as the rest of us shall not want for the support they need to enjoy all that we hold dear.
Today, I am proud to be a citizen of Ottawa, of Ontario and Canada. And I am indeed a very proud Jew.”
– Hartley Stern, chair of the board of directors for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa
“This is an exceptionally joyous and historic day and I thank you all for being part of it.”
– Andrea Freedman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa