For the past couple of years Shane Ardley has availed of the services of Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador. He’s learned to play and excel at bocce, has taken part in swimming sessions and social nights and attended summer programs.
But for the 26-year-old Corner Brook man and other children and young adults involved with Easter Seals programs in this area that’s all over now.
The Easter Seals office in the city has been closed. Ardley said there is nothing going ahead anymore and he’s not happy about it. He enjoyed the social aspect of the programs offered and getting to meet other people who he described as similar to him.
“I feel like they just gave up,” he said of the decision to close the Corner Brook office, which had been located in the Port of Corner Brook’s R.A. Pollett Building.
Mark Lane is the CEO and executive director of Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador. He operates out of the organization’s headquarters in St. John’s.
He told The Western Star that the decision to shut the office was a hard one and a financial one.
“They’ve been losing approximately $30,000 to $40,000 annually over there since it opened seven years ago.”
Rent on the office was $1,400 a month, but other fixed costs associated with it brought the monthly cost up to around $3,000, said Lane.
Lane said Easter Seals relies on donations and sponsorships and receives no site specific funding. The entire provincial operation runs on about $1 million a year and he said it’s becoming more and more challenging to raise money.
In the case of the Corner Brook office, Lane said the financial support from that area just wasn’t there. He said the decision to close was based on his recommendation to the Easter Seals board.
“It’s very sensitive, obviously you’re dealing with children, youth and families dealing with disabilities in the Corner Brook area.”
The office closed on Dec. 1 and Lane said Easter Seals tried to mitigate the impact of the closure by first having its one paid employee work out of his home for three months. However, he said the situation didn’t work out and the employee has since been laid off.
Lane said the office closure doesn’t mean the programs run by Easter Seals in the area have to end.
“Offices don’t deliver programs,” he said. “You cannot play wheelchair basketball in an office at the port authority. You cannot play bocce, you cannot play sledge hockey.”
He said Easter Seals wants the programs to continue and all the equipment that has been purchased for the Corner Brook office and programs is still in the city.
After meeting with families affected by the closure back in February, he left it to the parents to take on running the programs through a volunteer structure similar to what it uses in other parts of the province.
“That’s the model we have to use,” he said. “I feel confident we can do that as long as we roll up our sleeves and get in and do it.”
According to Lane some local parents have been working on setting up a committee to oversee the programs.
However, at least one of the people Lane said is involved said he wasn’t aware of any effort to keep programs going. Allan Kirby said as far as he knows there is nothing happening here.
He said the office closure was a surprise to all the parents involved in Easter Seals.
“It’s a significant blow to programming and to the structure,” he said.
And he’s disappointed in the way it happened and unfolded.
“We were totally blindsided by that decision,” he said. “It would have been nice to have a warning shot fired over the bows.”
Kirby said there was no chance given to try to turn things around. He said the office also provided participants with a place to gather and help with things like resumé writing.
His 23-year-daughter Hannah is a former program participant. He said she developed “a community of friends” through Easter Seals.
Kirby is also doubtful the programs could be continued by the parents.
“You need a structure to it,” he said. “It’s too big a job for parents to take on. Having a presence of Easter Seals on the west coast did a lot of the children involved.”
Ardley’s mother Louise said her family has heard little since the office closed.
“As far as I know that’s it, everything is gone out of western Newfoundland,” she said.
She described the loss as terrible.
“It was good for Shane,” she said.
Louise said Shane shows traits of Asperger’s and through his involvement with Easter Seals has come a long way and now gets out socializing, volunteering and exercising.
“The last few years he’s really come out of his shell,” she said. “It was an excellent program for him.”
Just this week Louise saw how the loss of the local office has impacted her son. Shane is the Newfoundland and Labrador bocce champion and had been expecting to attend the Canadian championships in St. John’s this month.
Last Thursday Louise saw a television news piece on the championships, which were about to begin in St. John’s.
That same night, she said, Lane contacted them to say there had been an oversight and Shane could attend if he wanted and Easter Seals would arrange a flight for him.
However, Louise said the invitation was too late in coming as her son would need more time to arrange time off work.
“They dropped the ball because I mean I thought Shane would be a good contender for it. He just learned it, but he’s done well with the games that he’s been in.