After 32 years, the former Waterloo Regional Down Syndrome Society is expanding their services to Guelph and Wellington County.
On Nov. 2, the newly-named Waterloo Wellington Down Syndrome Society (WDSS) announced it will be securing volunteers to help families in this region access numerous programs and events for people of all ages.
WWDSS co-chair Tara Hart, says they’re excited to finally bring this service to families after the pandemic put their plans on hold earlier this year. She mentions that all of their current programming is being offered online.
““Everything's a little different as we're offering things virtually, but our hope is to be able to really serve that community and hopefully they don’t have to drive so far,” says Hart.
For years, Guelph and Wellington County families with Down syndrome have turned to support through a Facebook group called Down Syndrome Guelph, which was led by group leader Jocelyne Bridle.
Hart says the grassroots organization was a great support network, but couldn’t provide the same resources as the WRDSS.
“They were not a registered charity... and since they were not a registered charity, they weren’t able to fundraise on the same level,” explains Hart.
She adds that any money Down Syndrome Guelph did raise had to be donated to a different registered charity, like the Canadian Down Syndrome Society.
“They weren’t really able to keep those funds local,” she says.
Another issue was that some families weren’t aware of the WRDSS as online searches only connected families with Down Syndrome Guelph.
In 2019, Bridle and WWDSS co-director, Mary Casagrande, began talking about some of the challenges of trying to assist families in this area, and what extended support could look like within the community. It was through brainstorming sessions that the two groups decided to come together to form WWDSS.
“It was about a year of conversations about what that might look like, and if it was something our organization was interested in doing and if our members were willing to support," recalls Hart, "but also, if the families in Guelph and the Down Syndrome Guelph group if they were interested in us also expanding that way."
"In those conversations we found out, 'Yes, they were definitely interested.'"
Since forming, Bridle now sits on the board of directors for WWDSS to help them operate in this area.
“To have Jocelyne is really exciting,” says Hart about the former group leader of Down Syndrome Guelph, “She has already done so much with the families in Guelph, and she knows what families could use, or want, or need.”
“She’s going to be a really incredible resource for us going forward because she’s going to help us branch into an area she knows so well.”
With this new partnership, Guelph and Wellington County physicians can connect families with information, support and resources available from the WWDSS, including the Mother Connections program for mothers with children under the age of six, and an evening speakers series.
Hart says they are looking to bring cooking and singing classes to Guelph and Wellington County, but it all depends on how many volunteers they can get.
“We’re doing all those behind-the-scenes stuff right now, so hopefully we can get some of those programs happening,” says Hart.
For more information about the WWDSS, or to become a member of the society, go to wwdss.ca.