People with disabilities have long faced barriers, including inaccessible spaces as well as a lack of community support programs. This is something that Kailey knows all too well.
The mother of two-year-old Jude, has been living with Chronic Progressive External Ophthalmoplegia (CPEO+), a rare mitochondrial disease, since being diagnosed at the age of 20. Despite enduring bouts of chronic fatigue and major muscle weakness, she doesn’t let CPEO+ inhibit her from experiencing the joys of parenthood. Accessibility, however, remains a challenge; insufficient accommodation coupled with an absence of understanding around disability impact Kailey’s ability to participate in activities with Jude. "Sometimes when I go to [child and family] programs (or just to other places in the community) I have problems with accessibility," explains Kailey. "It’s a lot harder to find support as a parent with a disability. It’s like parents with disabilities don’t exist in our society."
But when she first came to the Ajax Ontario Early Years YMCA Centre (OEYC) — a YMCA-run program supporting the development of healthy children and families — two years ago, Kailey soon realized that she had finally found an inclusive space for her and Jude. The efforts made by the Ajax OEYC team to create an accessible environment have meant a lot to her. "They made it so comfortable to be there," said Kailey as she recalls her initial visit to the Toddler Tunes program. "One of the staff went and got me a chair, and they were asking what they could do to support me so we could participate fully in the program."
For Kailey and Jude, the Ajax OEYC has become more than a place for mother and son to bond. The centre provides a network of support where Kailey is able to connect with other parents, and the knowledgeable Y staff can offer guidance on the journey of parenthood with helpful resources and tips. But for Jude, the opportunities that he’s had to interact positively with both children and adults as well as engage in activities that foster his social and physical skills will lay the foundation for healthy development into adulthood.
Our annual Gratitude Report celebrates our generous donors and shares what inspires them to support the YMCA of Greater Toronto. Michelle and her family are members of the Scarborough YMCA:
"We are so grateful, not only for what joining the Y has meant for our family, but for what it means for our community. We were New Canadians at one point in our lives, and when I see how diversity is embraced and championed at the Y, it warms my heart. The GTA can be a cold and lonely place to a newcomer, but not at the Y. So I’m proud to be a Y member, but even more proud to be a Y donor. I made my first donation to the Y because of the impact it’s had on my family. I know I’m not only investing in the ongoing health of my family…but the health of my community too."
Support from donors like Michelle and her family mean that families can access the YMCA programs they need to support physical, social and mental health through financial assistance.
Read more donor stories in our 2017 Gratitude Report.
Norm, a YMCA member for half a century, celebrated his 90th birthday today at the Toronto Central Grosvenor Street YMCA Centre. The former Director of Advertising for the Toronto Star is young at heart, and it shows: he has a sharp mind, no major ailments, and is in excellent physical shape.
What is his secret formula? Norm credits his optimal health to keeping a balanced and disciplined life by dedicating time to himself, his family, friends, and career. Here are a few tips from Norm himself.
Ever since he became a member in 1966, Norm has made a point of going to the YMCA three times a week. Norm believes wellbeing comes from developing a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. His fitness regimen includes riding a stationary bike for 45 minutes, followed by an hour of weight training and stretching. It’s a simple routine that has proven to be all he needs to stay healthy and invigorated.
"If you can work a type of exercise you like into your weekly lifestyle, do it and keep at it," explains Norm. "You don’t have to end up with muscles like Adonis, you just have to feel good and you will be good. I’m living proof of it; I’m still here."
Every Friday, Norm meets with YMCA friends for a workout and lunch. Many of his business contacts from Norm’s illustrious advertising career — which spans six decades in major media outlets such as The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and the Star — were also made at the YMCA.
"The Y is my big social connection; I like the sociability," says Norm. "I know most of the people that come in. I am getting at the Central Y something I wouldn’t get anywhere else: togetherness — all of my buddies are here."
Norm and his wife Bette met in Grade 1
Norm likes to keep busy doing what makes him happy. Always looking for an opportunity to learn, Norm took a writing class. Now, every time he spends quality time with his four children and many grandchildren, they read one of his stories. Norm biked many Canadian trails with friends and travelled to 40 countries with his wife Bette.
Norm has greatly influenced both YMCA staff and members with his infectious joie de vivre, dedication to physical activity, and knack for making friends. Happy Birthday!
Adam’s life-long journey towards healthy living started when he got fed up with the high school bullies who picked on him because of his weight. After losing over 100 pounds, Adam went on to become a provincially qualified bodybuilder and a YMCA personal trainer who helps others gain the confidence he worked so hard to build himself. Here’s his Y Story:
Ever since I was a kid, my weight’s been an issue. I spent a lot of time in front of the TV, and would always eat more food than my mom dished out. I started high school weighing 240 pounds, and would only wear really baggy clothes that covered up my body because other kids had started bullying me. I remember faking a smile a lot, trying not to show how much the name-calling and jokes bothered me, but I always felt like others were pointing, staring, and judging me for my weight. While my confidence plummeted, my weight kept going up.
I finally decided this wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. I started walking to and from school, but I was so out of shape that those walks were the most tiring 25 minutes of my day. I stayed motivated by thinking about how confident active, healthy people appeared to be, and promising myself that I would be that self-assured too one day. Eventually, I was able to walk longer and longer, so I started riding my bike; when that became easy for me, I started running. By the time I graduated from high school, I was down to 135 pounds.
The next chapter in my fitness journey started when running came to feel like a chore. Even though I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do in a gym, I got a membership. I learned the basics by watching other members, and by doing a ton of my own research. I would look around the gym and see people moving huge amounts of weight, and I wanted to be able to do that too. After about a year, I got into bodybuilding: I thought it would be so cool if I could one day get up on stage and show everyone that no matter where you start, anything’s possible.
I didn’t have a coach, like most people who compete; I designed my diet and exercise regime all on my own. After 20 weeks of sticking to a strict diet and challenging workout routine, I found myself on the night before the competition, unable to sleep because I was so excited and nervous. Throughout those weeks and during the show itself, I felt like I was competing more against myself, testing my willpower and commitment to my goals. I’ve never felt so accomplished in my whole life as I did when I finished that first competition.
Today, I’m still training hard and eating healthy so I can compete again in a show in 2017. But more importantly, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of confidence I’ve gained throughout this process, especially compared to how down on myself I was in high school. I’m no longer afraid to be myself, and I know I can do anything if I set my mind to it.
I also put all of these experiences to good use by training others who want to change their lifestyle, just like I did. I think I’m a good role model for people who have had similar struggles with their weight and self-esteem; I know what they’re going through because I’ve gone through it too, and I can share the strategies I used to get where I am today. One of the people I work with started training with me with hardly any confidence at all. When we started, I had to work hard to convince her that she had it in her to finish the routine we’d designed. But just ten weeks later, she didn’t need me there anymore; she started telling me, "I’ve got this!" Nothing’s more satisfying to me than helping others gain that sense of confidence, because I know exactly how good it feels.