APEALING FOR FUNDS: Leaders look for help

Co-op for developmentally disabled youth in jeopardy
By Cathy Dobson The Observer
Posted Mar 4, 2012

The local school board wants to provide it. Those who work with the developmentally disabled believe in it.

There’s even the political will at city hall.

So, why is it so difficult to find $50,000 to $100,000 a year to pay for co-operative education program for students with developmental disabilities?

“It’s a complicated scenario,” John Hagens explains.

As executive director at Community Living Sarnia-Living, Hagens made sure the cash was there from 2008 to 2010 to pay educational assistants to accompany developmentally disabled students on placements in the workplace.

It cost Community Living $4,800 the first year. But costs went up with the program’s success and soon it required $41,000 or more.

“That’s a lot for us,” Hagens said. “We had to let it go and put our resources into our summer employment program because numbers there were escalating so much.”

Some Sarnia high schools continue to find enough educational assistance to keep the program rolling for now.

But it’s a losing battle without more funds.

That’s why Hagens sat down Friday with Mayor Mike Bradley and Jim Costello, education director at the Lambton Kent District School Board.

They brainstormed on ways to find the money and made a commitment to “think outside the box,” Costello said.

They’re appealing to the public and corporate sectors, as well as sharpening their own pencils, he said.

Programs that provide co-op work experience to developmentally disabled students in Ontario are rare.

And the experience for the students is invaluable, said Costello.

Between 12 and 20 high school students benefit every year in Sarnia-Lambton by gaining work experience and social skills.

“It’s a terrific program and has had great results,” he said. “We know it works and it’s great for the kids.”

Costello was the board’s superintendent of special education when the program was initiated at North Lambton Secondary School in Forest.

But the school cancelled it when dollars dried up.

“We’re very concerned,” said Bradley who spends considerable time championing the rights of the disabled.

“Both (the school board and Community Living) are being squeezed financially.”

When government funding shrinks, the first victims are usually the poor and disabled, he said.


Article ID# 3490668

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