Meet Me at the Bridge 2015
Entering through the heavy french doors of Bellvue Manor, you are immediately drawn to the back of a large canvas placed conspicuously in the middle of the hall. On the other side, Amir Akbari, the social entrepreneur of Behind the Line and art teacher, is painting.
Guests surround the canvas, watching on in admiration. A few people begin to ask what the title of the painting would be.
“I’m going to call it ‘Resisting Defeat’,” said Amir with a smile as he mixed the blues and reds on his palette. “I think that’s the point of tonight. A lot of our families here are pushed to the edge, but through their own strength and support from others, they resist being defeated.”
The families Amir refers to are the 120 families the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre (SAAAC) serve on an annual basis. The evening’s event, Meet Me at the Bridge, looked to connect these families with community and business leaders.
“Meet Me at the Bridge is always an intimate affair,” stated President of SAAAC, Dr. Lindy Zaretsky. “It encourages the best and brightest of the GTA to listen to the stories of our students and their families in an attempt to understand the complexities of autism.”
Indeed, Meet Me at the Bridge attracted some notable public figures including celebrated Sri-Lankan novelist, Shyam Selvadurai; CBC personality Natasha Fatah, who served as emcee for the evening; and one of Canada’s leading autism advocates, Hon. Mike Lake, MP.
Sponsors of Meet Me at the Bridge
Mr. Lake has a personal connection to autism as his son, Jaden, lives with the developmental disorder. Ever since taking office, Mr. Lake has made it his personal mission to raise autism awareness across the globe and encourage communities, corporations, and governments to better support and integrate individuals with autism into public and professional life.
During his keynote address, Mr. Lake touched on a variety of issues facing individuals with autism including employment. He highlighted a national news story focusing on his son’s volunteering job at a local library, and how such an opportunity has given Jaden purpose and independence. It was a moment that resonated with many SAAAC families in the audience who worry about their child’s transition into adulthood.
Bharathy Vivekanatham, SAAAC’s Employment Coordinator, reinforced Mr. Lake’s point of integrating individuals with autism through employment by highlighting the successes of SAAAC’s employment training program. “Since 2014, SAAAC’s employment program has helped 42 participants receive job training; 25 participants receive job placements in the community; and 11 different employers signing on as employment partners.”
For Geetha Moorthy, Founder and Executive Director of SAAAC, the successes of the employment program has been a great indicator of how far the organization has come. “Eight years ago, we were trying to help parents and our community understand what autism was,” stated Geetha. “Today we are working with local businesses to get our students employed. It has been an incredible few years.”
On this particular evening, Geetha had a special announcement for those in attendance. She unveiled a new model of care at SAAAC entitled the ADE (Assessment, Development, Empowerment) Program. Under the program, families, who have established a severe need for services, receive 48 sessions a year (5 hours/week); children and youth receive 240 hours of programming; and families receive one year access to case management services at SAAAC. The goal of the ADE Program is to help families self-manage autism and become strong advocates for their children.
“I’ve never been so sure of SAAAC’s mission than I am now,” announced Geetha to the crowd. “We support families that feel completely lost; we encourage children and youth that are left behind; and we develop a caring, open community that will be equipped to serve individuals and families living with autism. We hope you all join us on this amazing journey.”
The funds raised from the event will go to supporting SAAAC’s ADE Programming, and ultimately build bridges connecting individuals living with autism and their communities.