Autism Speaks Canada has granted $13,500 to Reach for the Rainbow towards the Etobicoke-based charity’s upcoming conference on inclusive recreational opportunities for children and youth with disabilities.
David Neal, Reach for the Rainbow’s new executive director, said the funding is all the more meaningful because of his organization’s “kindred vision” with Autism Speaks – namely the goal of “mobilizing community resources to shine a light on urgent needs and realize community dreams of equity and inclusion.”
“Autism Speaks is a great organization to work with. They’ve come out to the conference and they get what we’re doing,” he said of Reach for the Rainbow’s annual conference, which will take place this year at Humber College’s Lakeshore Campus on June 13.
“This will be our 24th annual conference...the amazing part is that a conference that has always been focused on inclusion and disabilities has been so popular, and I think that’s largely because agencies recognize that what is being taught is applicable across all teaching situations,” he added, noting that more than 300 delegates are expected to attend this year.
During the day-long event, participants will be able to choose from a variety of 23 hands-on workshops on a wide variety of disability related topics for counsellors, camp and agency staff, ranging from sessions on autism, epilepsy, communicating beyond words, inclusion, mental health, and adaptive programming, among many others – an experience past delegate Kristin Rodgerson, education co-ordinator of Theatre Direct, lauded as a very rewarding one.
“I learned practical strategies to support individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and I gained a fantastic kit to create a rewarding day for a camper with ASD,” she said in a statement. “I participated in other workshops focused on inclusion, working with youth and adult volunteers at camp, and adapting arts to suit the individual. I am excited about what all our campers will gain from an integrated environment as well.”
This year’s keynote speaker is Alyson Beytien, a popular international speaker, consultant and trainer for school systems throughout the United States on educating individuals with autism. She is the parent of three sons with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The $13,500 granted to Reach for the Rainbow came out of Autism Speaks Canada’s third annual Family Services Community Grants Program. This year, the program awarded more than $530,000 to 30 Canadian charitable organizations that provide key programs and support services to enrich the lives of individuals with ASD.
Since 1987, Reach for the Rainbow has provided integrated recreation, respite and outreach opportunities for children of all different abilities by working in partnership with organized children’s camps and recreational programs across Ontario – including more than 250 with ASD.
“Reach for the Rainbow is an organization that works with an umbrella of disabilities – it’s a one-stop shop for families that way,” Neal said. “With the model of inclusion, we have all kinds of siblings who go to camp together regardless of ability, and that’s a major feature for families, and that supports healthy families. Some of partners are brand-name, recognizable names: Harbourfront Centre, ROM, University of Toronto, the YMCA of Greater Toronto and many of the other major YMCAs across Ontario.”
For parents like Carol Pope, Reach for the Rainbow has been a godsend.
“Integrating my son with autism into programs can be very trying at times, so when we are fortunate enough to be a part of something that works so well, you better believe that we would do anything in our power to continue to receive this much needed and loved program,” she said in a statement. “I would deeply like to thank everyone who works so hard at public education and awareness; this I believe is a major component to bringing levels of acceptance to all of our communities.”
For more information about Reach for the Rainbow’s 24th annual conference, go to www.reachfortherainbow.ca
The fee is $30 per delegate and all are welcome.