Words | Cara Williams. Photos | Clay Dolan
Events For Life (EFL) began as a summer program in the Town of Blue Mountains in 2013 under the leadership of the program’s founder, Shelley Higginson. Since then, Events for Life has been enriching the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities by providing social, recreational and educational day programs geared towards lifelong learning. A registered charity since 2015, EFL had been operating out of the Grace United Church in Thornbury, and prior to that at Shelley’s family farm. In the fall of 2016 EFL was approached by local residents Alicia and Mike Hutchings with a generous offer to move EFL to a permanent home at their 100-acre hobby farm. Shelley and her team of dedicated staff and volunteers couldn’t believe their fortune, and in July of this year, Events For Life Centre officially opened its “forever” doors on Frogs Hollow Side Road in Thornbury.
“Last year my wife and I attended a fundraiser which was sponsored by the McFarlane Family Foundation who support a number of good causes including the Events for Life,” explained Mike Hutchings. “Shelley Higginson gave a wonderful speech about the organization and she mentioned that EFL was still is looking for a permanent home. I have worked with the disabled through an organization called the ‘Friendship Club,’ thus the EFL program is very close to my heart. It occurred to me that the farm would make a perfect setting as a day centre for the EFL program.”
The multi-acre farm offers EFL participants the freedom, space and opportunity to practice life skills; a primary objective of the organization. Regular day programming takes place in the farmhouse, which overlooks a pond, complete with a fountain and resident ducks. “It’s so comforting for our participants to come here,” said Shelley. “This really is perfect for our needs.” The multi-room home includes a cloakroom, gathering room, functioning kitchen, “chill-out” room, laundry room and an office for EFL volunteers and staff.
“Special needs adults face a difficult situation once they graduate from school, because there are few to no programs available to them,” explained Shelley. “Many EFL participants live in a supported living situation, either with their parents or other caregivers. The goal of the Events for Life Centre is to give them as much freedom and independence as possible, with support.” In addition to regular programs at the farm, EFL organizes social events and outings like hockey games, trips to Disney on Ice, dances, hikes, and field trips to Stratford Festival and even Plunge! Aquatic Centre at Blue Mountain. “These outings give parents and caregivers a well needed time off,” explained Shelley.
EFL participants do their share of chores around the farm, like feeding the goats, sheep, pot belly pigs, chickens, turkeys, miniature donkeys, alpacas, rabbits, and horses. The farm has a hiking trail, fire pits, tennis court and a woodworking shop. “For many of our participants, they are doing things that are outside of their comfort zones. That’s why when we were naming the program we went with Events For Life, because all the things that we do ARE events for life. And they are events that once they have done them, they will be able to do for a long time.” ~Shelley Higginson
With a 1:5 staff/volunteer to participant ratio, EFL aims to provide interest-based programs geared to participant’s self-esteem and confidence. Community involvement is imperative for both fundraising efforts and aiding participants’ feeling of belonging. Every Wednesday morning from 10—11am, EFL hosts a “Coffee Nook” at the Grace United Church in Thornbury. Items for sale include adorable seasonal wood crafts made by EFL participants, as well as coffee, muffins, baked treats and tea.
In May 2016 EFL held a one-day “nearly new and new” clothing sale at the Beaver Valley Community Centre. “Donations came from the community and the special ladies of the Georgian Bay Club and Lora Bay as well as local ladies fashion stores like Furbelows, Gaia, Tigs and Designer Clothing in Collingwood,” explained Shelley. “Through everyone’s generous support Events For Life received $7200 towards the operation of our day programming. We will be having our second sale, affectionately called ‘the Hadassa Sale of the North’ on Saturday May 11, 2018. We are accepting clothing donations now and are in need of everything from purses to jewellery to good shoes and scarves.”