TORONTO — With the official opening of the Reena Community Residence at the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus on Sept. 14, Reena has come light years from its origins, says CEO Sandy Keshen.
“When Reena started up almost 40 years ago, we [operated from basements}. This building is an example of our journey. We’ve come a long way,” said Keshen, who has been with Reena since 1967.
The new residence, the first of its kind in North America, provides housing for up to 84 people with varying needs, including physical, mental health and developmental disabilities, women and children in crisis and the elderly. Reena’s major partners in the venture are Kehilla Residential Programme, Circle of Care and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto
Support staff are available around the clock, a feature that’s built into the cost of the rent, and families contribute to the support system, she said.
The residence, which offers one-, two- or three-bedroom apartments, includes a greenhouse, a literacy centre and a multi-purpose room for residents and their families. A dedicated space that simulates a real-life apartment where residents can learn to care for themselves in a safe and nurturing environment has also been created.
Another unique feature is the Maxwell and Ruth Leroy Holocaust Remembrance Garden, which will convey how hundreds of thousands of people with physical, mental or developmental disabilities were victims of the Holocaust.
Government funding for the project includes $4.2 million from the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program. Federal and provincial funding was complemented by more than $1.1 million in municipal financial incentives, and $2.6 million was provided by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
Keshen said Reena Foundation also raised about $6.8 million for the building, and is still raising endowment funds.
The idea for the project, she said, “came from my head. I started with the idea of creating an integrated apartment building, but [I knew] we would have to start from scratch, because we can’t evict current residents of a building.”
When the land was bought for the Lebovic campus, she said, she approached UJA Federation to see if it would be possible to build on the site, and “that was that.”
New residents, many of whom attended the opening along with representatives from all levels of government, “are so proud to have a building of their own. They have the right to quality of life, and they will not be stigmatized there. They will also have the whole community right at their fingertips. Integration is pivotal. They have to be part of society,” Keshen said.
“They also have to learn how to live in a community and be respectful of others. The campus provides part of that learning, because they can volunteer at [the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toront] or attend programs at the Schwartz-Reisman Centre. This building offers them visibility in the community. It’s a continuation of what Reena has been doing for 40 years.”
She said she’s “just overjoyed to see the first residents slowly moving in,” and there are still some vacancies.