Day camp reaches out to disabled Ottawans
As a child struggling with learning disabilities, Christina Ranieri was told time and again that there was something wrong with her.
She didn’t listen to them, and is now counting down the days until she opens the door to her new summer day-camp program for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
It is the first program being offered through Ranieri’s non-profit organization, Christy’s Integration, Skills, Day program and Educational Programs for persons with disabilities.
CISDEP, as it is known, launched in December.
It allows the 27-year-old South Keys resident to pour her training as a developmental service worker into providing respite care for families.
“As a person with disabilities myself, I see what families go through,” Ranieri said. “Families are struggling.
“Governments put so much pressure on the families to be the main caregivers, but give so little funding for relief time that it starts to affect their own health,” she explained. “And then some felt they either have to give up their children to the system or they don’t know where to go.”
Aging parents pass away and their children – who are often grown up, but still can’t live on their own – end up in the care of various organizations.
“It’s happening so much,” Ranieri said. “And that was the main motivation to do CISDEP, because we have no waiting list.”
The summer camp takes place Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, July 7 to Aug. 15, from noon to 4 p.m., at Steve MacLean Public School in Riverside South. The cost is $60 per day.
Ranieri knows what it means to navigate life with a learning disability, and realize her dreams regardless of any challenges. In addition to having directional dyslexia, she also has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Her career as an on-call relief worker for the Ottawa Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities has given her some perspective on the needs of those she helps.
The waiting lists are long for families trying to access programs, Ranieri said, noting that families living on the outskirts have the added challenge of having to drive in to the city to access services.
Ranieri herself provides care-giving services to a number of people living on the fringes of Ottawa, where she said the need is the greatest, including Manotick, Kars, Osgoode, North Gower and Barrhaven.
“The issue is that there isn’t enough funding for programs,” Ranieri said.
Her own organization is so new that it must rely on fundraising.
She’s thankful for community minded people coming forward to volunteer their time to help raise money through music nights, bake sales and a board-game night. A garage sale and barbecue is planned for July 5. “We’ve had some success, but I’m actually the one paying for the rent (for the summer day camp),” she said.
Although just one person has signed up so far for summer-camp programming in July, and another four are signed up in August, Ranieri said she believes she’s making a difference one family at a time.
“My program makes sure the parents get a little relief time where they can go and do groceries and go and socialize and feel less stressed, that maybe they can keep their kids home longer, if need be.”
And unlike some developmental service workers who specialize in working with people with specific disabilities, Ranieri said she has experience working with people with different types of challenges, from autism, and learning disabilities such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and attentiondefi cit disorder to cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Downs syndrome.
Ranieri said she also knows what it’s like being the primary caregiver of a loved one – her mother has Parkinson’s.
“Funding was even cut for my own mother’s care,” she said.
Summer day camp will be offered by Ranieri and two of her staff members for people ages 10 to 70. She chose such a wide age range because of a gap in services for people with developmental disabilities.
“A lot of them don’t have services after they graduate from high school. Their funding is drastically cut,” she explained. “We started at (age) 10 because that’s when the cuts start happening.”
Day-camp programming will include life-skills training, helping participants build a social network, fostering their independence, building self esteem and connecting them to recreational activities. Ranieri is also offering adult skills training and volunteer mentorship opportunities through her non-profit. “I just want to help people with disabilities reach their dream as well,” Ranieri said. “I want to inspire them to do better, to have jobs that they like that pay reasonable or to find friends.”
She said that while one day she hopes to run CISDEP full time, for now she’s passionate about helping participants in her program achieve their full potential.
“I can’t bear the thought of letting them down,” she said. “I know what they’re feeling.”
To celebrate the launch of CISDEP, and to help raise funds for programming, a barbecue and garage sale, featuring music, special guests and games, will be held on July 5, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 1250 Southwood Dr.
For more information about the organization, its summer day camp program or to volunteer, visit cisdep.org.