Community Venture providing peace of mind to Winnipeg mother

by Prairie Division
Categories: Prairie News
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When Arlene Wilgosh gave birth to her daughter Lauren in May 1986, she knew something wasn’t quite right. After a series of tests, Lauren was diagnosed with having partial trisomy 13, which means she was born with three partial copies of the 13th chromosome, as opposed to the regular two complete copies.

“We went to her pediatrician who said the best thing you can do is treat her like any other kid. So that’s what we did,” Wilgosh says.

Lauren smiles as she works on a craft at the Community Venture day program facility on Booth Drive.

She went back to work eventually, and Lauren enrolled in daycare before going to school in the St. James – Assiniboia School Division’s special needs program, with the help of an educational assistant. She’s been to camp, as well as on family vacations to places like Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

But like all parents, Wilgosh was faced with the reality that she wouldn’t be able to take care of her daughter forever; a reality that becomes far more frightening with a special needs child.

“Being the pragmatic person that I am, I realized I needed to have a plan for Lauren, because she is an only child, and I’m not going to live forever. So it’s always been in the back of my mind that we needed to do something sooner rather than later,” Wilgosh says. “Because I’d also observed parents who kept their child at home until they were in their 80s. And then it’s too much of a shock for the child. Not only do the parents die, but to lose your home as well; I wasn’t going to do that to Lauren.”

The Salvation Army’s Community Venture (CV) program was recommended to Arlene while Lauren was still living at home. Shortly after that, Lauren started in the CV outreach program, then the day program, and in 2010 became a member of the residential program and moved into her home where she still resides today.

Non-verbal, Lauren is unable to perform most basic daily living tasks, such as meal preparation, bathing, and other things like brushing her teeth. The CV residential program provides 24-hour supervision and support for all of Lauren’s needs, in addition to providing ample opportunities for outings and activities.

Lauren shows her mom Arlene what she made at the Community Venture day program.

“It’s given her an opportunity to be like other young adults,” Wilgosh says. “There are some weekends her social calendar is just… dance on Friday, bowling on Saturday, supper at someone else’s house on Saturday night, church on Sunday. And she’s doing it with her peers. It’s given her freedom, and an opportunity to develop herself.

She’s become more independent with doing things around the house. And that gives her self-confidence; it’s character building.”

It’s also given Wilgosh the opportunity to enjoy her own social life, without always having to worry about Lauren’s wellbeing and safety.

“When you have a special needs child, 24 hours a day you’re worrying about what’s happening,” she says, adding that most parents expect the relationship with their children to evolve and mature naturally over time. “There’s a gradual weening, and they’re not as dependent on you. Which means, as a parent, you have more freedom. You can plan longer vacations, you can have date nights; all that kind of stuff. We did not have that opportunity until Lauren moved in to the residential program. I can go for coffee, I can go for supper with my girlfriends, and I don’t have to worry about what’s happening at home.

And it’s given me peace of mind that there’s a plan for her.”

Arlene Wilgosh (left) and her daughter Lauren.

Staff at Community Venture work closely with its members, developing close, long-term relationships that Wilgosh says have been invaluable to her and Lauren.

“They’re worth a million bucks each,” she says of the CV staff, chuckling. “The underlying philosophy is respect for the individual, compassion for the individual. They have a great sense of humour, and just their interaction is very caring. I think they have a tremendous patience. They’re very thoughtful and very observant in caring for the individual. They’re always very approachable. They’ll always answer my questions, I can call anytime.

You just get a feeling that your child is surrounded by a safety net.”

To learn more about the Community Venture program in Winnipeg and its services, please visit communityventure.mb.ca