As a single mother living with a disability I anticipated some challenges moving to a new city to begin my job as National Director of Independent Living (IL) Canada. That was 16 years ago!
The transition was made more challenging by my disability – “Still’s Disease.” In plain language my immune system is overactive and confused. Instead of fighting outside invaders, it thinks that I am the enemy and is in a never-ending battle with my body. The implications are obvious, chronic pain making way for chronic fatigue, opening the gate wide for chronic depression. This is my reality. But, on the bright side, my disability has given me insight into a whole range of experiences with which many members of the IL movement deal with on a constant basis.
With my furniture, kids, dog, cat and goldfish in tow, I began my new life as the National Director.
Independent Living is as much a process as it is a goal. The IL journey encourages thousands of Canadians to feel a sense of disability pride, take more control of their lives, connect with peers, take risks, and learn through experience.
The rewards have been great. Watching friends and strangers alike, through their involvement with IL, go through a metamorphosis; newly empowered souls transforming into confident and active members of their communities.
It only makes sense that when strengthening the capacity of each individual that our communities become richer – socially, economically and culturally. This “new perspective on disability” is facilitated every day through the IL Centres and IL Canada.
During my tenure as National Director, I have seen Independent Living Centres evolve in both urban and rural communities. I have met countless passionate, dedicated and hardworking staff and volunteers supporting over 300,000 people annually through core programs, internships, volunteer opportunities, employment, educational workshops, peer support, skills development and countless other innovative initiatives. To top it off, the same staff and volunteers delivering these programs are also providing education and advice to businesses, government departments, and community stakeholders. In addition, they are constantly fundraising to ensure that the organization survives and thrives. I raise my hat to all of these dedicated contributors.
At times, it has felt like a roller coaster ride, full of unexpected twists, turns and sudden drops – swerving through good and not-so-good political and economic times. However, the unexpected, sudden and drastic drops were also part of the ride – i.e., change in the political agenda, sometimes no agenda at all, economic downturns, watching the financial plug being pulled on successful and meaningful initiatives, all a part of the ride.
There are moments where you can simply glide, and enjoy the ride – bask in successes, maybe witness a slight change or movement in a restrictive policy, but most importantly experience the strong unwavering support and sense of family in the IL Network.
Eventually, I had to accept that the “ride” itself was taking its toll on my health. I was seeing a pattern – my downward spirals were becoming more frequent and harder to get out of. Over a period of time I realized that I could no longer do this job. This was an excruciating decision because I love my work.
But, the time is right, and I have come to the conclusion that I can better serve the IL movement from the side rather than leading in the front. I will continue my involvement in those areas about which I feel the greatest passion – government relations, IL promotion, fund development and strategic partnerships. We are ushering in a new era for the right person, with the right energy and passion, to take the helm.
With that I am closing the door on a fantastic chapter of my life and moving on to the next chapter – but watch out – I am still part of the IL Movement, and always will be! And I’ll be keeping my eye open for new challenges in my new role as this next leg of the ride kicks in.
To that end, I want to thank all Independent Living Canada and IL Centre staff, volunteers, board members and volunteers who have supported me over the years. We are a phenomenal team working towards one goal – a better Canada for all! Independent Living changed my life, changed the way I view myself and view the world and for that I am forever grateful.
For those interested in applying for a rewarding and challenging position, please visit our website at www.ilcanada.ca or www.vaCanada.ca.