Seeking Meaningful Partnerships to Improve the Life of Those in Need
“While there is great work happening, there is still so much more work to be done. Within the Developmental Services sector of Ontario, there are around 15,000 people receiving services. However, another 20,000 people are waiting for services, so there are more people waiting for service than receiving it. We want to advocate and encourage the government for support, but we also want the public, church communities, employers, and the whole of the community to recognize their responsibly to all people, to work together to create a community of belonging for every Ontarian.”
Janet Nolan, CEO
In 1965, Jim and Adrienne Reese were seeking opportunities for support and enrichment of the life of their son, Steven, who was born with a developmental disability. As they sought a Christian organization that could provide a full spectrum of ministry, they realized that no such organization existed. This moved them to create such service.
Today, with its headquarters in Kitchener, Ont. and six additional offices across the province, Christian Horizons’ team of over 3,000 (full-time, part-time and relief direct support professionals) meets the needs and support nearly 2,000 people with developmental disabilities and their families in Ontario. With more than 200 residences as well as respite care, camping and excursion services, this non-profit faith-based charitable organization offers programs and services that can be tailored to meet the unique needs of the individuals and their families.
There are three focuses to Christian Horizons – partnership with communities and the government of Ontario, supporting Christian Horizons Canada’s vacations and excursion for people with exceptional needs, and the organization’s international work including educational programs, children and disability services, and economic development programs (55,000 direct beneficiaries received support through the organization’s international work in 2012).
“Christian Horizons is motivated by the life and work of Jesus Christ to serve the person with exceptional needs – that’s our objective. We work in partnership with governments and other faith-based and non-faith-based organizations to create communities of belonging for all people. In Canada, our primary focus is people with developmental disabilities, and internationally we work to provide services to people who experience barriers, such as poverty, disability, HIV/AIDS, so they can live a full life in their community,” says Nolan.
Driven by Faith
“Christian Horizons works by the example of Jesus Christ who constantly reached out to those on the margins, those left out of the community, the poor, disabled, or struggling. He spent His time restoring these people into their community and built relationships with them. Similarly, our vision is that all people will belong to communities regardless of ability or challenges. We recognize that everyone has gifts and the ability to contribute to their community,” explains Nolan.
The core values of the organization lie in the belief that each individual has a unique purpose and unique gifts to offer to those around them. That is why Christian Horizons empowers people with exceptional needs, enabling them to realize and embrace their God-given potential, to experience a fulfilling life of opportunity and hope every day.
The goal of Christian Horizons is to help people achieve this in a warm environment of friendship and support.
“In Ontario, about 80 to 85 per cent of our services are residential in nature. Christian Horizons provides people a place to live, in a community with others, in a group home.
These people live independently but may require some support. Most of the people we support participate in the community during the day through employment, center-based services. These are places where people gather, access community or engage in work skills development. Another model of support is our Family Home Support Services, a foster model developed for people with disabilities. Christian Horizons has numerous families who have opened their homes to serve people with developmental disabilities, as a family unit,” explains David Petkau, Director of Operations.
While the core operation of Christian Horizons is in Ontario, the organization also supports some 500 individuals and families across Canada through its vacations and excursions ministry. This service provides people with exceptional needs the opportunity to experience vacations, retreats and camps, and provides them with the opportunities for new friendships, diverse experiences, and a chance to experience fun destinations. Destinations include the organization’s Camp at a conference centre in Paisley, Muskoka Bible Centre in Huntsville, or Fairhavens Camp in Beaverton, or an excursion that could include houseboating, a trip to Disney or relaxing at a cottage.
“We understand that the developmental services system is not perfect. We are part of that system, but we also work to find creative and innovative ways to support people beyond the bounds of government funding. That’s why our partnerships are important. These families are under tremendous strain. We work to join with other organizations to provide respite opportunities, including after school care, respite weekends, camp and excursions, thought the supports of Christian Horizons Canada,” says Petkau.
“The Family Camp is a great example of how we were able to take our experience and create partnerships to provide this retreat concept outside our government funding. Christian Horizons has offered this week long camp to families for the last three years. This initiative is fully funded by churches and families. For some, this is the only week the families get to rest during the year. For those who attend, it is a great week of relaxation, revitalization and friendship, which they look forward to the entire year,” says Nolan.
From its deep roots in Ontario, the organization started to look at opportunities to use its experience in order to enrich the lives of those in need internationally. Since its inception, the international activity grows by leaps and bounds.
“We work in eight countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Haiti. What’s interesting is that we took our knowledge to these communities, and we applied our Canadian approach – partnering with communities, churches and governments to provide the service. But through the years, we have learned new ways of enriching people’s lives from these communities, and we brought what we have learned back to Canada,” says Nolan.
Some of the received learnings Nolan speaks of are the development of more sustainable approaches and becoming community builders. This is a shift from the concepts of “charity” and doing for the people, to the concepts of sustainable development and walking with people in need.
… That’s the name of the strategic plan set for the years to come. This plan outlines three main priorities: first, Support People – provide creative and innovative supports to people with exceptional needs (through employment, income generation, education, etc.); second, Celebrate Employees and Volunteers – celebrate the daily contribution of its 3,000 employees and some 6,000 volunteers to the goals of the organization; and third, Nurture Relationship –continuously build enduring partnerships that will help those in need in Canada and internationally.
“We want to maximize all of our abilities to help those historically on the margins of society. We are very fortunate to receive significant resources, and we are very humbled by that. It is our responsibility to continue to push onward to be good stewards with these resources, and we can do that best in partnership with others,” concluded Nolan.