BY KRISTIN MILANI
It’s a place where children and youths are always accepted and can call a second home. It’s a place where they can reach their full potential and grow. KidsAbility makes it possible for them to feel comfortable while learning how to do things they couldn’t do before.
The organization (which was renamed KidsAbility Centre for Child Development in 2003) has been in existence for over 55 years. It was formerly known as the Rotary Children’s Centre. The organization dates back to 1922 when the Rotary Club of Kitchener-Waterloo opened, with a mandate of helping children and youths.
The Rotary Children’s Centre served children in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, and Guelph through the 1950s and ’60s. The clientele began to expand which lead the centre to open a small clinic in 1972. Eventually they partnered with the Cambridge Family YMCA. The next step was to rename it KidsAbility in 2003.
It hasn’t always gone under the same name but the intent has always been to help young people have a better life. KidsAbility’s mission is to empower children and youth with special needs to realize their full potential. Their vision is for that potential to be realized. The staff works with children and youths from birth until they are 18 years old. Sometimes, staff continue the friendships with their clients for the rest of their lives.
Pat Usher, client service manager at KidsAbility, has formed remarkable bonds with some of her clients. Her very first client changed her life. He was four years old when she first met him.
“He had spunk and I loved it. He taught me everything I know about occupational therapy,” she said.
Usher gained a friend and they kept in touch until recently, when he passed away at the age of 40. His father reached out to her because he wanted her at the funeral to honour his son’s life. Although he wasn’t always warm toward her, he and his wife expressed to Usher that she had made a huge impact on their son’s life and were extremely thankful.
Prior to starting work at KidsAbility over 38 years ago, disabilities were present in her life. Her brother was diagnosed with speech and language disorders when he was around four years old and she also had neighbours and playmates with disabilities.
“It was always a part of my life. It was a part of my life since the day my brother was born,” she said.
Because she understood disabilities and accepted people who had them early on, it was difficult for her to comprehend why people with disabilities weren’t treated like everyone else.
After graduating from college, Usher began working with children right away. She was hired by KidsAbility in 1975 as an occupational therapist. Although she is passionate about her job, she acknowledges that it can be difficult at times because of the amount of work involved. She says the staff at KidsAbility are amazing and highly dedicated to the families of their clients.
“I’m always amazed by the connections between families and clients. I see the connections. I stayed (at KidsAbility) because I believe in the organization,” she said.
Usher said there is nothing more amazing than seeing someone in a power wheelchair for the first time. It gives the clients the ability to do things they couldn’t do before.
“It’s like a child learning to walk.”
One of Usher’s clients had just started using a power wheelchair and when she spoke with the client’s mother, she told Usher that she had to punish her son for the very first time. She said she never punished him before because he didn’t have the ability to move around and do something wrong. The mother told Usher she was happy that she had to punish him because of what it meant.
Some of the clients at KidsAbility also use speech generating devices to help them with their speech and language disabilities.
“It gives them a voice. A child can’t say, ‘I love you, Mom’ and with the device, they can,’” Usher said.
Jayne Matzeg, one of Usher’s co-workers, is also happy to be in a profession where she can help others. Matzeg has been at KidsAbiltiy for about four and a half years, and said the organization does wonderful things for clients and families who are in need.
“I’m in awe of the clinical work I see here,” she said.