By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—As we start a brand-new year, there is no better time to focus on the many ways we can improve our community. Local youth-led movement Fusion4Inclusion exemplifies this spirit in their dedication to helping provide more inclusivity options for those throughout Haldimand County living with developmental disabilities.
“We believe through the building of youth leadership, that we as youth can inspire our peers by promoting authentic inclusion. We believe that by supporting youth to build communities that embrace equality and equal access for youth with developmental disabilities, we become the ambassadors of change,” said a statement prepared by the members of the group.
Originally founded in 2016, Fusion4Inclusion was inspired by a provincial initiative titled Re:action4Inclusion, a province-wide youth engagement initiative shepherded by Community Living Ontario that “empowers youth to explore how they can influence the way that society views and treats individuals with developmental disabilities.”
The local version is a collaboration between the various developmental service agencies within Haldimand and Norfolk, including Community Living Access, Community Living Haldimand, Haldimand Norfolk Reach, and the Norfolk Association for Community Living. In 2018 they were joined by Community Living Six Nations ‘Ronatahskats’ as the fifth partner in supporting this youth-led movement.
“Fusion4Inclusion creates a safe space for youth to speak up and use their voice. Making youth recognize that they have a voice, and it matters,” said the statement.
Despite being limited to virtual meetings throughout 2021 due to the ongoing pandemic, the dedicated members of Fusion4Inclusion still found many ways to reach out and make an impact in the community throughout the year.
In addition to launching online social media profiles on Facebook and Instagram, the group also hosted a virtual art exhibit, ‘Artful Expressions of an Inclusive Community’, and most recently, launched a campaign aiming to end the use of the harmful ‘R’ word when referring to those with developmental disabilities.
“The ‘R-Word’ campaign, inspired by Motion Ball (a not-for-profit group that raises funds for the Special Olympics), strives to create awareness and stop the casual use of the ‘R’ Word,” said the statement. “The ‘R-Word’ is the term ‘retarded’.”
Members of the group encouraged community members to create short videos expressing how or why the use of the ‘R’ word has affected themselves or a loved one. Participants were also tasked with ripping up a piece of paper containing the word and sharing the video on their social media platforms.
“Overall, our feedback from community members has been overwhelmingly positive. We are continuing to see responses from community members, and organizations.”
Group members have invited Haldimand MP Leslyn Lewis, MPP Toby Barrett, Six Nations Band Council Chief Mark Hill, along with Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt, Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp, and the respective members of each Council to participate.
“This was launched December 1. We know that it has been a busy month and as such this campaign is ongoing and we encourage more people to participate and create videos and spread the awareness to end the casual and negative use of the ‘R-Word’ within our communities.”
While continuing to support this excellent initiative, members of the group are also brainstorming ideas for new projects to pursue in 2022 and beyond. They are always looking for more engaged local youths to join in.
“As a group we meet via zoom and meetings are held about every three weeks to discuss ongoing projects and future initiatives,” said the statement. “Every member is heard and is encouraged to share their ideas with the group… students receive volunteer hours for their efforts. This group is for all youth, and everyone is invited to join.”
Those interested in getting involved can send an email to fusion4Inclusion@communitylivingaccess.ca.