Power of One: Mother gives autistic son gift of independence
Born out of love for a son with autism, one woman's fight to give her child a better life has led to bettering thousands of others.
Established in 1976 by Joanne Farley, the West Island Citizen Advocacy creates housing for those with mental illness and difficulties for those on the West Island.
The project came about as Farley's son, Paul, who was diagnosed at an early age with autism, grew up and sought independence.
"She worked very hard from the time he was young to get services started for people with handicaps," said Farley's daughter Mary Claire Tanguay, now the program's director.
Farley also helped meet her son's needs by starting Special Ed classes, workshops and job programs in the West Island.
Originally opened out of Farley's home, the West Island Citizen Advocacy project has expanded to serve thousands in its three decades.
"Now we serve 42 people and, in addition to six apartments with three men in each apartment in the community, we have two buildings which provide housing for another 25 people," said Tanguay.
The two buildings are called Herron House and Farley House – the latter named after her.
Before the program began, those with mental issues were forced to live at home or move downtown.
Now, they thrive in the community, thanks to Farley's help.
Now 89 and suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, Farley is no longer active in the program, but has been awarded the Order of Canada and other accolades for her commitment.
Carrying on her mother's tradition as well as expanding it to others in need, Tanguay looks after anyone who is vulnerable, including a senior advocacy program.
"We serve anybody who has a handicapping condition or people who are disadvantaged and need some defensive rights help," she explained.
Volunteers are crucial in the success of the project, because they are paired with needy seniors.
"We have about 430 active matches across the West Island," she said. "These matches help them with practical things, and we help them with emotional support… they might help do the groceries, the banking," she said.
The pairings help both the needy and the volunteers, said community worker Diane Veuhoff, who said helping with the program has paid off for her.
"I came from an accounting position before, sitting behind a computer where you're a number. I'm not a number now. I'm making a difference in people's lives," she said.