Two seniors raising a grandson is challenging. But supporting a young adult with developmental disabilities can become overwhelming.
Two St. Albert women refused to allow provincial government red tape to deprive their grandson of the basics in life. Instead, they raised $100,000 for SAIL Home Foundation, a four-person group home. In support of the project, Prince Edward Island singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant is set to perform a benefit concert at the Arden Theatre on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Carol Vogler and her life partner Alice Sears raised Alice’s biological grandson. Erik, 22, was born with Down syndrome. The duo worked hard to give Erik the special care he needed so he didn’t feel there was a difference between himself and other children. In fact, the young man graduated from Bellerose High School in 2019.
“Erik blossomed at Bellerose. The friends and connections he made with other people was special. People with disabilities are treated like rock stars at Bellerose. They included him in everything,” said Vogler.
Unfortunately, once those who live with disabilities turn 18 and graduate from high school, the province cuts all supports to the family. Through Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), Erik receives $1,680 a month for food, rent, and utilities.
“We were getting older. We didn’t have as much energy, and at one point we had to think of Erik’s future needs. And it all coalesced with COVID and not having the support package we were dependent on,” Vogler said.
The most progressive option for Erik was integrating him in a group home with adults of similar abilities and interests. In examining residential housing, they reviewed all options. None fit their family’s needs.
Taking matters into their own hands, Vogler and Sears started the paperwork to create a charitable foundation with a mission to raise money for small option housing. Until the paperwork was legalized, the couple partnered with Braeside Presbyterian Church who agreed to develop an outreach program collecting donations and issuing tax receipts.
“From September 2021 to January 2022, we collected $120,000. It was enough to secure a down payment for a half-duplex. With four residents, they can pool their AISH cheques and there’s more than enough to cover mortgage payments and still have money for food and other things. This way, they can even save money.”
The four roommates bunking at the new Erin Ridge abode are Erik, Alex Kemps, Kalen Mussieux, and Sierra Glew. They are friends from Bellerose and their average age is 22.
The group home will offer a moderate degree of independence with guidance from around-the-clock staff. The foursome will have private bedrooms but will share a living room, kitchen, and recreation area. Caregivers will also encourage a full range of physical, mental, and social activities to encourage self-sufficiency
“The thought of someone else taking care of him is hard. We’re excited one moment and freaked out the next,” said Vogler.
Lennie Gallant is a renowned singer-songwriter with 14 albums to his name and a list of honours ranging from the Junos and Les Prix Eloizes to the East Coast Music Awards. Galllant tours out west regularly and has played the Arden on several occasions.
In fact, he first met Alice when she booked him for a house concert at Edmonton’s Rio Terrace Church. Earlier this year Gallant mapped out an Alberta tour and contacted her inquiring if she knew anyone who could promote it.
“It was the cosmos coming together full of wonderful things,” said Vogler.
The international touring artist will perform a kaleidoscope of older songs with his official band: singer-multi-instrumentalist Patricia Richard, bassist-violinist Keelin Wedge, and pianist Julien Robichaud.
“I’ll be taking the audience on an emotional ride. We have a lot of laughs, but we also touch on serious issues. We cut a large swath of emotional issues. We need to celebrate the small people on the planet. We need to work together for our children and grandchildren,” he said.
Tickets are $40 and are available through the Arden box office at 780-459-1542 or online at www.stalbert.ca.
Once the four young adults have transitioned to the group home and everything is running smoothly, Vogler and Sears plan to open a home-based business that assists other parents and caregivers find or develop affordable options for their children who live with disabilities.
“We’re familiar with the system and we can help them explore options. We may pair people up and they can go forward on however they’re able. We’ll see how it develops,” said Vogler.