TORONTO — The Ontario Liberal government has made a $2-million capital investment in Reena, a non-profit Jewish support agency for people with special needs in York Region.
Madeleine Meilleur received a bouquet of flowers from grateful Reena client, Tamara Benjamin. [Barry Shainbaum photo]
The money – part of a greater $7.6- million province-wide investment that includes similar agencies – will go toward Reena’s planned 60-unit supportive housing complex on the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan.
Madeleine Meilleur, the province’s minister of community and social services, made the announcement last week at Reena’s Toby and Henry Battle Developmental Centre in Vaughan in front of delighted staff and clients of the centre.
“It’s important for people with a developmental disability to live in their own community in a place that meets their needs,” Meilleur said. “This new housing project will provide the right environment… a space tailored to their needs and abilities.”
Meilleur added that the government intends to spend more on people with developmental disabilities in the future.
“We know there’s more to do, and we will continue to… add it in our [future] budgets,” she said.
Among those on hand to share in the congratulations were Richmond Hill city councillor David Cohen; Liberal MPP for Willowdale David Zimmer; UJA Federation of Greater Toronto chair, David Koschitzky; and Reena’s founding chair, Rabbi Joseph Kelman.
“We have naches today,” Rabbi Kelman announced in an impromptu speech after Meilleur stepped away from the podium. “[Reena] is a model for the world. We’ve satisfied our motto… integrating the handicapped into our community.”
For her part, Reena CEO Sandy Keshen told The CJN she believes the new complex, tentatively called the Reena Community Residence, would help encourage her clients to better integrate into society.
Additionally, Keshen said she hopes that the residence’s proximity to schools such as the Anne and Max TannenbaumCHAT Kimel Family Education Centre on the Lebovic campus will encourage students to volunteer at Reena.
“The model for us will be one of shared support and affordable housing,” Keshen said. “We want to use the campus from an inclusion perspective.”
The current Reena building, on Clarke Avenue in Vaughan, will continue to be used for outreach purposes, but the organization has outgrown the building’s capacity, Keshen said.
The new Reena residence is scheduled for completion in 2011, with official groundbreaking ceremonies slated for October this year.
According to the Ministry of Community and Social Services literature, Ontario is home to “approximately 38 per cent of people in Canada with a developmental disability.”
Currently, Reena serves nearly 1,000 adults and children with developmental disabilities via daytime and evening programs and supports more than 350 clients in 132 housing locations throughout the city.
According to Keshen, Reena’s new supportive housing complex will allow her organization to help another 36 special needs individuals with lodgings.
Other Jewish service organizations will also be included in the new space, including Chai Tikvah, Circle of Care and Jewish Family and Child, she said.
“The importance of this model is that there will be one company that will deliver support to all the organizations,” Keshen said. “That might be Reena, but right now I’ve hired a consultant to help us look at this creatively to provide more support with less administration.”