By BERNIE BELLAN On Wednesday, September 14, past and present participants, family members of participants, and support workers (both past and present) who have been involved with the G.R.O.W. program gathered at 91 Willow (which is one of two homes donated by the Lazareck family for the program, the other being the home next door at 93 Willow) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the G.R.O.W. in Gimli program.
According to information provided by G.R.O.W. executive director Sandy Sheegl, G.R.O.W. in Gimli has hosted 120 individual participants in its 20 years of existence. Individuals are allowed to come back to the program up to three years in a row
The Gimli program was closed one summer during Covid, and instead a day program was hosted at Balmoral Hall. The Gimli program runs for six weeks in July and August. The age range for participants is 18-21.
The Winnipeg G.R.O.W. program currently has 18 participants, according to Sandy, age 21 and up.
During the course of the evening two of the original founders of the program, Barb Ivans and Pam Wener, were honoured for their contributions to the program. Karyn Lazareck, who has played such a pivotal role in G.R.O.W., was unable to attend, but was well represented by three members of her family: husband Mel and sons Jordan (a participant in the G.R.O.W. program from the very beginning, who is now living on his own with support), and son Sam (who is a psychiatrist and a hockey player who was profiled in our April 27 issue along with with Michael Stoller prior to their heading to Israel to participate in the Maccabiah Games there in July).
Ivans and Pam Wener, were honoured for their contributions to the program. Karyn Lazareck, who has played such a pivotal role in G.R.O.W., was unable to attend, but was well represented by three members of her family: husband Mel and sons Jordan (a participant in the G.R.O.W. program from the very beginning, who is now living on his own with support), and son Sam (who is a psychiatrist and a hockey player who was profiled in our April 27 issue along with with Michael Stoller prior to their heading to Israel to participate in the Maccabiah Games there in July).
Attendees were treated to food from a food truck parked in the back lane prior to remarks given by G.R.O.W. executive director Sandy Sheegl.
Tanis Morwick is the mother of two twin sons, Ryan and Riley, who have been participants in the G.R.O.W. program from the very beginning. As well, Tanis serves as the committee chair for G.R.O.W. Gimli.
Fern Swedlove noted in her 2010 article that “For Riley Morwick attending the G.R.O.W. Winnipeg transitional life skills day program for young adults provides an opportunity to take the next steps towards independence. ‘I am learning a lot, he said, how to cook, clean, work out and try some new games.’ “
Tanis Morwick told attendees at the G.R.O.W anniversary celebration that Ryan and Riley have moved out of the family home and are now living on their own, where they receive support from Supported Independent Living, which provides support to adults with intellectual disabilites.
“They’re both working,” Tanis said. “It’s amazing what your kids can do when they’re not with you,” she added.
At one point three different participants in the G.R.O.W. program were interviewed by one of the program’s workers, whose name was Erin Gamey.
Rachel, a G.R.O.W. participant, said that “G.R.O.W. is such a great place to learn new things – and if you mess up you can do it over again ten times!”
In introducing honouree Pam Wener, Donna Collins noted that Pam has been involved with the G.R.O.W. program long before it actually took shape in 2002, when she “joined a small steering committee which was focused on opportunities for young adults (with intellectual disabilities). At the time that goal seemed unattainable. Through the 20 years of its existence, Pam has contributed to all facets of the program and has served on every committee associated with the G.R.OW. project.”
Pam Wener was responsible for involving the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Manitoba in evaluation and program development. Before the G.R.O.W. in Gimli program ever began Pam worked with three occupational therapy students to develop the initial program. Stemming from that initial partnership with the U of M, Pam began to accept occupational therapy students for their fieldwork placements in Gimli. Eventually that partnership led to G.R.O.W. becoming a place for summer employment for the students. Graduates from occupational therapy were hired as full time coordinators. Over the years at any given time five-six occupational therapists from the program and the U of M are involved in G.R.OW.
In addition, many other undergraduate students have worked and are working at G.R.O.W. prior to applying to occupational therapy and other health care professional education programs, e.g. medicine, psychology etc.
In her own remarks Pam Wener observed that Karyn Lazareck had “wanted to introduce a life skills program” in Gimli for young adults with intellectual disabilities.
“Some of the participants had never been away from their homes over night. The program began with six people and grew to 12.”
Barb Ivans, who was also involved with G.R.O.W. from the very begining added that “what was once a dream has become a reality.”
Finally, Sam Lazareck, speaking on behalf of his family, acknowledged the support given by the Rady JCC over the years, which, he said, “has piloted the program.”
The Lazareck family has established a fund through the Jewish Foundation known as the Jordan Lazareck Fund, which provides scholarships for participants in the G.R.O.W. Gimli program. Families that might need financial assistance in sending their kids to the G.R.O.W. Gimli program should specifically ask the Foundation about the “G.R.O.W. Gimli fund.” If you would like to contribute to that fund, you can contact the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba at 204-477-7520.