It's a beautiful November afternoon in Essex, a town of just over 20,000 people located in south western Ontario, a perfect day for Craig Demers to shoot some hoops or throw a baseball around. "It's nice out today," Craig says, as he takes a break from riding his bike, another favourite activity.
Craig, a former resident of the Southwestern Regional Centre for people with a developmental disability, now lives independently in an apartment that is attached to a 24-hour support home operated by Community Living Essex. In the two years that Craig has been living in the community, he has been able to build upon some of the experiences he had at the centre. For example, Craig enjoys bowling and up until last year participated in speed skating, both activities he learned at the facility. Craig has also kept in touch with some friends who are also former residents of the Centre.
While his home is only an hour's drive from the Centre, it seems as if Craig is now a world away from the vast 300-acre grounds that saw its last residents in October 2008. He's living a new life filled with new opportunities and experiences. Melissa Yakubu, who works at his home, has noticed changes in Craig since his move from the Centre "[he's] much more social, I think. He asks a lot more questions and he likes to try new things."
Craig's willingness to try new things has led him to many successes - one only has to step inside his room to see a glimpse of that! A wall cabinet proudly displays the medals and awards he has won at various sporting events. In addition to his passion for sports, Craig also enjoys working in his community and has not one, but two jobs, working at a local pizza place and the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
His strong work ethic is evident both at work and at home. "Nobody cleans the dishes better and nobody mops the floors better. When he does the job, he does a very good job," says Mike Siblani who manages the Little Caesar's where Craig works. Mike makes it clear that Craig may be the first person with a disability he has hired, but he won't be the last.
Craig's story is a great example of what the ministry is working to achieve with the closure of the remaining facilities for adults with a developmental disability. His willingness and desire to participate in the community is clear.
"Since coming back to his community, he just wants to take full advantage of anything that comes his way in terms of any kind of opportunity or trip or commitment," says Melissa.