Earlier this month, I was elected as Chair of the Board of Directors of Reena. Reena is a remarkable developmental service agency, and aspires to live its commitment to treat all individuals as equally deserving of dignity and opportunity. I wanted to share why I am so passionate about Reena and its mission – and why values matter.
Reena was established in 1973 by parents of children with developmental disabilities. Reena provides residential support, respite programs, counselling and therapeutic services, policy advocacy and training and education. Reena supports approximately 1000 people throughout Ontario. While its staff and client base includes individuals of all faiths, its values are expressly rooted in Jewish ideals.
I first learned about Reena is 2003 as part of a research project for the Government of Ontario on the Role of Government in the provision of developmental services published under the title “Dilemmas of Evaluation, Accountability and Politics: Contracting out Social Services in Ontario”.
As part of this research, I met Sandy Keshen, whose warmth and tireless advocacy for those living with developmental disabilities has been inextricably linked to the growth and strength of Reena. After the project ended, Sandy invited me to get more involved in Reena initiatives, particularly in the area of Reena’s innovative programs in training and education.
At the same time, as Reena became part of my academic and volunteer commitments, it also became part of our family story, as our daughter Rachel became a client of Reena, particularly its social and summer camp programs. This is when I first had a chance to see the distinct Reena philosophy of recognizing and responding to the unique individual in every client in action.
My wife Julia Hanigsberg joined the Reena Board and we established the Hanigsberg/Sossin Family endowment as our connections to the Reena family deepened. Finally, I joined Reena’s board in 2013 and served as a Vice Chair in 2014.
This period witnessed significant transitions at Reena, including the retirement of Sandy Keshen and hiring of Bryan Keshen as Reena’s new Executive Director. Further, this summer, Reena is embracing a new Strategic Plan premised on 5 value pillars:
- Care – Chesed and Tzedek – Compassion and righteousness
- Providing a supportive, safe and caring environment for people with developmental disabilities
- Fostering compassion and empathy
- Leadership – Tikun Olam – Improve the world – the responsibility to collaborate and reach out to others
- Pursuing excellence in all endeavours through learning, adaptability, innovation, collaboration and creativity
- Being good stewards of our resources and reputation
- Knowledge sharing, transparency and creating opportunities
- Enabling equity through ongoing advocacy
- Advocating and critique for the purpose of improvement of society, the agency and individuals
- Empowerment – V’ahavta leraicha kamocha – Love others as you love yourself Vhetazek – strengthening our individuals
- Fostering an environment that encourages learning, development and self-advocacy
- Promoting self-determination and independence by providing choices and providing greater opportunities for marketable skill development
- Empowering individuals and families within the community
- Accessibility / Inclusion –Lifnei Ivir al tasim michshol– Do not put stumbling blocks before the blind
- Improving access and a sense of belonging for individuals we support
- Continually reducing barriers and discrimination that affect quality of life for children, adults and seniors with developmental disabilities
- Respect – Kvod Habriyut – honour our humanity
- Respecting the cultural diversity, dignity and rights of everyone
- Recognizing and celebrating individual and collective accomplishments
Developmental services in Ontario (as elsewhere) are at a crossroads. As in so many areas, there is far more need than there are resources to meet the need – particularly around housing and employment for people living with disabilities and who have complex needs. Should families be funded to care for their own children? How should a new generation of older adults living with disabilities be cared for? How can vulnerable individuals be protected from exploitation? How can we ensure each client achieves her or his full potential? What role will new technology play in the lives of people living with developmental disabilities? In all these areas, Reena seeks not just to manage challenges and meet obligations, but to provide leadership and hope. And to each of these questions (and many others), the values set out above serves as a signpost for the direction Reena will chart.
For me, Reena is not simply a compelling and necessary organization, but also a shared project on how to approach all people as deserving of real opportunities for a full life. We see the difference this has made in the life of our daughter and in the lives of so many who have passed through Reena’s many doors! In this sense, while I volunteer my time for Reena, I take far more from the experience then I give. And that is the greatest gift of all.