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Hearts are happy as Community Living campaign enters home stretch

Community Living Central York's largest fundraising campaign has reached 85 per cent of its $5-million goal to build a redeveloped facility —nearly double in size — to open next spring

Community Living Central York’s campaign to build a new home is aptly named Happy Hearts.

After meeting day-program participant Daniel Higgins and touring its temporary headquarters at 195 Harry Walker Parkway North with him in the lead, one’s heart is, indeed, happy.

The community organization each year provides supportive services and programs to about 400 people aged 21 and over with developmental disabilities, for as long as assistance is needed. It serves clients in Newmarket, Aurora, East Gwillimbury, King and Whitchurch-Stouffville.

The three-year Happy Hearts campaign is in the home stretch and, with just more than one month to go, community fundraising efforts have pushed the needle up to 85 per cent of its $5-million fundraising goal.

Funds have flowed in from the Newmarket and Aurora mayors' annual golf tournaments, Tim Horton’s Smile Cookie campaign, the Newmarket Rotary Club, the Aurora Whiskey Society, the Newmarket Road Runners, York Regional Police, and countless others.

And when the doors swing open at its redeveloped former building at 575 Penrose St. in Newmarket, anticipated to be sometime in spring 2019, Community Living clients will enjoy about 20,000-square-feet of space in which to participate in a wide variety of community programming.  

“This campaign brought us out into the community far more than we’ve ever been. We’ve never asked before like this,” Community Living Central York executive director Colleen Zakoor said. “The bottom line is we’re going to triple our capacity, be open on evenings and weekends and, this year, we’ll open on New Year’s Eve because many of our clients no longer have family around.”

Its motto of providing “a friend, a job and a home” to its clients is achieved through day and evening support programs, employment strategies and job placement, supported group and independent living, foster-family care and even respite care.

For example, funds raised through Happy Hearts will help make it possible to reduce by 25 per cent the estimated 2,358 individuals on a wait list for Community Living day programs. That’s about a three to eight year wait for most would-be participants, on average.

“The beauty of what’s happening here is we are working and striving for people who are most vulnerable in our society,” Zakoor added. “You see people overcome challenges and it puts it all in perspective. This is where magic happens and the shift changes.”

It’s clear to see that Higgins, 33, feels a sense of belonging at Community Living. He has participated in the on-site day program since graduating from high school in 2005. In 2011, at 26 years of age, he moved into a Community Living-supported group living home, where he continues to reside.

For about the last decade, he has also worked a part-time job at a York Region movie theatre, where he “rips the tickets”, cleans the theatre in between showings, and handles other general maintenance. (He said he’s appalled at how much food people leave behind.)

The tour with Higgins includes the current affairs and news room, where a Smart TV offers instant access to the internet and YouTube, an arts and crafts room, math room — where Higgins practises making change with money — a space to work out on gym equipment and more.

Perhaps the most exciting space, according to Higgins, is the big communal room where karaoke is held every Wednesday. That’s because Higgins loves to sing, hip hop and country, in particular.

“One of my favourite songs is Justin Bieber’s One Less Lonely Girl, and Baby It’s Cold Outside, I just downloaded that from Glee’s Christmas album,” he said.

With the main space ticked off the list, the tour continues into the lunch room area, where Daniel said hot lunches are offered two days a week. He notes the next day’s offering is spaghetti and meatballs, but healthy food such as sandwiches and salads is always available.

As the tour winds its way to the second-floor executive area, Daniel mentions that the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing really well, and said centre John Tavares is “doing great on the ice”.

As he makes himself comfortable in Zakoor’s office, Daniel said how much he likes visiting the second floor and chatting with the people who work there.

“Some families say they had no idea their son or daughter was capable of achieving a certain thing,” Zakoor said. “We’re offering meaningful activities here, partnering with educational institutions, helping with employment opportunities. It’s a package deal. The goal is helping people live in the community and we’re the catalyst to make that happen.”

To learn more about Community Living Central York and to donate, visit here.

For the holidays, Community Living Central York has partnered with Newmarket's Upper Canada Mall to offer a gift-wrapping booth from Dec. 1 to 24. You can show your support by getting your gifts wrapped and making a donation to the campaign.