Brain injury non-profit opens in Fergus to address need in county

FERGUS – A Waterloo Wellington non-profit for people living with acquired brain injuries and physical disabilities has opened a new day centre in Wellington County meant to help local clients experience independence and build a community closer to home.

The non-profit, Traverse Independence, currently runs a free drop-in day program for adults 16 and older living with acquired brain injuries (ABI) or physical disabilities in Kitchener called the Opportunity Centre, in addition to its other initiatives in Waterloo Region and Wellington County.

Celebrating their grand opening at a new location on St. Patrick Street West Wednesday afternoon, Traverse Independence CAO Toby Harris said the non-profit chose Fergus because there are no similar programs and they already work with a lot of clients from Wellington County at their Kitchener location.

"We're really looking forward to the opening," said Harris. "We're very excited to have something in Wellington County and in Fergus, so we're not driving people back and forth."

According to Harris, transportation issues like winter weather, car capacity and gas prices have been ongoing barriers for Wellington County-based clients attending their Kitchener programs.

"What was occurring was...if (a Wellington County-based client) indicated an interest in wanting to go to the drop-in center or the day program, staff were driving them from Wellington County, over to Kitchener which was problematic for so many reasons," said Harris.

"(Kitchener) also wasn't really their community. The people that they were meeting at the day program weren't their neighbours who they could walk down and visit outside of the program," said Harris.

Intended to be an integrated program with Community Living Guelph Wellington, Harris said the Opportunity Centre will offer a place for recovery and socialization in a rec-leisure environment while supporting more practical elements and helping to build skills for independence.

Harris is also hopeful the Opportunity Centre will make it easier for their clients to access other community resources and initiatives. The Centre currently hosts a morning coffee social and free prepared lunch in addition to their activities.

"We have so many stories of clients who have progressed so significantly at the drop-in center from, you know, arriving and sitting in a room crying all day to being a full member participating and helping plan programs," said Harris. "The other really cool thing is that they all help each other...it becomes one big family."

While every person living with a brain injury is different, Harris said men are more likely to be subjected to ABI. Their client base is mainly people aged 30 to 50.

Harris said their typical roster in Kitchener is about 100 clients and on any given day they can see anywhere from 20 to 40 people at the centre.

"Our staff are really used to dealing with (our client's challenges) but our hope is that again, they'll be bonded from hanging out together and get to be friends," said Harris. "Fergus is a small town and so through our connection with community living, I think our clients will start to integrate even more fully...into all of those things that help people integrate into a small town."

The Opportunity Centre is located at 280 St. Patrick Street West in Fergus and is open every Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Toby Harris at t.harris@travind.ca.

Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com