ALAS Dufferin – the art of inclusive giving

April 3, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Students with developmental disabilities can go to school in Ontario, along with everyone else, but only until they are 21 years old. Then, they are out with, ostensibly, nothing to do.

Community Living Dufferin (CLD) provides a great deal to fill the lives of adults of all ages, some with employment and/or wonderful options, hobbies, as it were, in the arts and theatre arts and much more. Naturally, the needs outweigh CLD’s capacity and there is waiting list of people wanting to be involved on some level.

As an alternative to being on that list, a group of parents whose developmentally disabled children were at the end of their high school careers, came together in 2014 to create Active Lives After School (ALAS) and provide their youngsters with social and physical activities under an organized umbrella.

By giving structure and, thus, coherence to the idea, it was more straightforward to plan programs and work with community partners. In addition, ALAS is a registered charity, which gives it the freedom of status, an established organization rather than a loose group of people with no real definition on the world’s stage. This status allows them to make applications for grants and assistance from government bodies and other benefactors, both personal and corporate.

It allows involvement with much of the community too, which is, indeed, a part of Kim Van Ryan’s job as ALAS’ program manager.

We had the chance to meet and talk with Ms. Van Ryan over coffee, to learn more about ALAS and Ms. Van Ryan herself in this relatively new venture. She grew up in Simcoe, ON, where, for several years, she was a child youth worker. When she came to Orangeville nine years ago, she got a job in retail – “It was a transition in my life,” she remarked.

Once the store she worked for closed, she began to cast about for something else. An ad  that ALAS was running, looking for a person to fill a maternity leave, caught her eye. With her background working with people, her natural affinity and enthusiasm to function in the world of helping others, she was the perfect fit to join ALAS. When the new mother opted to stay with her baby and not come back, the job became full-time and permanent for Ms. Van Ryan.

The funds raised pay for the activities and whatever materials are needed. There are all sorts of instructive programs – Karate (“Johannes does a kind rate for them,” she said), yoga, creative movement. They go swimming and do Zumba.

They go horseback riding and this has made a profound impression on Ms. Van Ryan. “The horses just know and they are so kind and careful. We get a person from a wheelchair on to the horse and the horse seems understand everything that’s needed form it. They are just amazing.

“And when one of the group goes, that’s all he can talk about afterwards and can hardly wait for the next time.”

There is a daily fee for each member of the young adults involved in AlAS, which pays the basics of their rent at the Lord Dufferin Centre and staff of four, including Ms. Van Ryan. The space they have there accommodates not a large group but workable, given their overall numbers. When the demand increases, they will look for other options. In the meantime, because they do fund raising, they do not charge more for the various activities.

One of the most thrilling new ventures for the group is their helping projects of other groups with their additional anagram: Active Lives Active Giving (ALAG).

They make soup for  the Good Friends Fellowship church at the old cinema on Broadway at the Lighthouse, the kitchen and dining room in the building next door.

“We buy the ingredients at the shops, to put the soup together at our place at the Lord Dufferin,” Ms. Van Ryan explained. “This helps the church and gives our gang life skills to shop and cook. There are no bars about who helps. This is really important: everyone contributes, even in a wheelchair – if we have to assist that person to cut vegetables, we do. It makes them feel so good to be helping.”

Now, with ALAG, they are able to engage by volunteering for Meals on Wheels. There they help organizing the food and deliver to people’s homes. Once in a while, they start to have new relationships. They volunteer at the Re-Store, the Orangeville Public Library, doing whatever they are asked to assist.

For the first time, this year, ALAS received a grant from the County of Dufferin. Besides the actual funds the grant brought them, came, too, recognition of the organization and a firm standing in the community, remembering, as Ms. Van Ryan observed, “We’re a fairly new agency.”

Naturally, they make every effort to support themselves as well, with funds raisers to please and entertain; make people aware of them and their activities; bring in money to make it all happen.

The Board of Directors arranges the fundraisers but everyone digs in to help: in May is the gigantic garage sale, one of those spreading cornucopia of goodies, other people’s throw – aways = someone else’s treasure.

In October, they stage a car rally with a dinner and dance and a silent auction.

“It’s a lot fun,” Ms. Van Ryan assured us. “Lots of people come.”

She reflected for a moment on the whole of her situation with this group. “I’m making a real difference,” she began to say, “you see product from it – and it’s fantastic.  You really get that from working with people who overcome and who work in spite of their problems and challenges. I don’t what it would be like; so, I’m helping them but what they’re giving me has changed my life.”

Of the wish for the help from the community at large, she commented, “If the community can support us in accommodating the extension of our numbers, then, we can continue to be an inclusive community because we’d be doing this together.”

For more details and to inquire about ALAS, check them out at

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