A Nanaimo mother helps her community focus on what people can do, not what they can’t.
Debbie Remillard, a retired Teacher’s Aid and grandmother, lives on a hobby farm in Nanaimo, B.C., with her husband, Clem, and 33-year old daughter, Jayme. The dream is that one day her son, Brad, will take over the farm and Jayme will be able to stay living in her own home and in the community she and her family have been part of building for the past six generations.
Debbie has always just assumed her daughter’s place in community. Jayme, who lives with Cerebral Palsy and receives support from CLBC, has a life surrounded by people who know and love her. With the support of her family and support network, Jayme works two part-time jobs; one at the Nanaimo Senior’s Village where she has been employed for close to 10 years and the other at Nanaimo Nissan, washing cars. She helps out on the family farm, has a paper route, does horse back riding, bowls with Special Olympics and on a Friday night can be found with friends at the local hockey game.
“We’ve always taken Jayme wherever we go. Inclusion comes naturally here,” says Debbie.
Debbie became a Teacher’s Aid at the same time Jayme started Kindergarten. She was applying to be a lunch-time supervisor, but when the school found out Jayme was Debbie’s daughter, they offered her a job on the spot as a Teachers’ Aid.
“If you’re a family member of a child with special needs, you see things differently”, says Debbie.
“You see what your child can do, not what they can’t. That’s what I helped other parents, and the school, to focus on.” – Debbie Remillard
Debbie worked for 26 years as a Teacher’s Aid and remembers especially the stress parents experience when their children go through the assessment and diagnosis process. She spent a lot of time sitting next to parents in school individualized education program (IEP) meetings, supporting them to see past the diagnosis and to focus on all the wonderful things their child has to contribute to the world.
“These are just words,” Debbie would say to parents, “Your child is the same person this morning as when they went to bed last night.”
Today Debbie is a member of the CLBC Central Island Community Council, whose role in building inclusive and welcoming communities fits with Debbie’s values as both a mom and proud member of the Nanaimo community. Debbie was connected to the Council three years ago through Jayme’s community inclusion program parent’s group. She describes the Council as a great place to find out what’s going on locally and provincially, and a way to help people connect to their community. In February this year the Central Island Council held a community dance that brought together nearly 300 people. (Click here to see some photos from the event)
“I love being on the Council’, says Debbie, “Seeing people connect and just be together in their community feels good.”
Debbie is excited about other ways she can work with Council to map opportunities for people with disabilities in Nanaimo. “I’ve been here a long time and know a lot of people in the business community”, says Debbie, “I think there are a lot of employers who would be interested in learning about how to hire someone with a disability.”
When it comes to CLBC, Debbie sees it as just another part of the Nanaimo community she can count on for her family. CLBC has helped to connect Debbie and her family to supports she trusts for her daughter, as well as to a group of medical specialists that Debbie says had an essential role in strengthening Jayme’s quality of life.
“I’ve had a very positive experience with CLBC,” says Debbie, “I can go to them when we need a change in support or just to find something out. It can be frustrating for parents, but help is there. I found it, so I know it’s there for others too.”
Debbie’s continued belief in not only her own daughter’s gifts and natural place in community, but that of many others over the years working in the schools and now on CLBC’s Council, has contributed to the diverse and supportive place she describes as her community.
“I’m fourth generation Nanaimo and love my community. But in the end I’m just me, and Jayme’s just Jayme. What’s normal anyway? Nobody’s perfect. You just do the best you can.”
Learn more about CLBC Community Councils
CLBC has 13 community councils across the province. Read about them here.