Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes
By: Marla Newhook
West Island Citizen Advocacy (WICA) has been lending a helping hand to the most vulnerable members of the community for more than 37 years whether it’s providing practical, emotional or practical support.
The community, non-profit organization has approximately 400 active matches between volunteers and the intellectually or physically challenged, seniors and those people experiencing mental health problems.
“Since our inception in 1976, we’ve made thousands of matches,” said WICA Director Mary Clare Tanguay. “The things we take for granted, the little things like getting our errands done or making appointments, or just having a friendly ear, are things that our protégés need and what our volunteers provide.”
In addition to the matching program, Citizen Advocacy has launched other initiatives to meet a growing need in the community, such as the Seniors’ Advocacy Program. In the wake of increased cases of senior abuse and fraud, the program aims to assist and educate seniors who are facing financial, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, neglect or exploitation on the West Island.
In one case, an elderly woman’s son was helping himself to his mother’s bank account, withdrawing thousands of dollars before it was brought to the attention of bank officials.
“It took a lot of support to convince her and the bank personnel and we accompanied her to the bank,” said Hélène McGregor, who heads up the Seniors’ Advocacy Project. “It’s hard for parents to go against their children even if they are taking advantage of them.”
The situation was resolved when the senior revoked her son’s power of attorney.
Citizen Advocacy also established a low-cost housing program called the Church Apartment Program (CAP) in 1986 to respond to the desperate need on the West Island for long term, loving supportive housing for adults who experience mental health problems. The program is carried out with the active support and participation of seven local churches that provide the apartments and the team of volunteer advocates. Citizen Advocacy staff members recruit, screen, train and support teams of volunteer advocates from these churches.
Without CAP, many of the residents would not have the support they need to lead stable, productive lives in the community.
“The program gives reassurance to the families of the residents that their adult children have a supportive and secure place to live independently,” said Mary Clare Tanguay, Director of Citizen Advocacy.
“Having this type of program means fewer hospital visits for the residents, much-needed support for the families and provides a resource for the mental health community in general,” she added.
More recently, WICA created Rendez-Vous Arts (RVA) a program for people in the West Island living with special challenges including physical, intellectual or mental health.
This program was started 11 years ago by Mimi St-Aubin of Citizen Advocacy with the help of the Fondation Rêve d’Esther. Since that time, the Lachine Lions Club, the Federal government, private donors and, this year, Centraide have contributed significantly to the program. The purpose of the project is to improve the quality of life for persons with special challenges in the West Island through creativity and community integration.
“We’ve seen great growth and an increase in their level of confidence. Their initiative and eagerness has also been enhanced. They are even able to remember the techniques and apply them,” said volunteer art coach, Jacqueline Vaughan. She added that it is “wonderful that WICA provides this therapeutic art system.”
The most recent addition to Citizen Advocacy’s repertoire is the Youth Recruitment Program which aims to enroll young volunteer advocates between the ages of 18 and 35 and match them with young protégés who have an intellectual handicap and who are of the same age group.
Believing that the West Island can promote change and openness, WICA’s new program intends to get young adults more involved with volunteerism and community engagement.
For more information about West Island Citizen Advocacy please call 514-694-5850 or you can visit our website at: