As a mother of a son with Autism, Karyn Lazareck wanted the same opportunities for her youngest son as her older two sons had experienced. She believed everyone deserves the chance to continue his or her education post high school and to become an active member of the community.
In 2002, G.R.O.W. in Gimli was founded as a project of the Steering Committee for Persons with Disabilities in the Jewish Community. The committee of volunteers was led by Karyn, and through partnering with the University of Manitoba Department of Occupational Therapy, a unique, summer life skills program for young adults with social and intellectual disabilities was developed (18- 24). The program provided the opportunity for individuals to learn and practice life skills and social skills in a safe environment. The partnership with the University supported the development of evidence-based curricula as well as quality assurance through the establishment of a program evaluation process.
The G.R.O.W. in Gimli Program quickly became known in the community, and based on its success, the G.R.O.W. in Winnipeg Program was established in 2010. Originally, both of the programs were piloted under the auspices of the Rady Jewish Community Centre. In November of 2013 further success and development of the program facilitated G.R.O.W. becoming an independent registered, charitable organization governed by a Board of Directors comprised of parents and professionals.
The G.R.O.W. in Winnipeg Program is an innovative, transitional day program for young adults (21 and older) preparing for independent living. Centered on the individual with a goal oriented approach, the program focuses on life management, health and healthy living, and the development of social, recreational, and pre-vocational skills. Since the inception of the program, three participants have reached their goal of living independently in the community. Participants and their families are our priority and we believe in excellence in all that we do. G.R.O.W. has occupational therapists on staff offering a client-centred, best practice approach to learning life skills and social skills, as well as providing advocacy for the participants through educating the community. G.R.O.W. believes in interprofessional collaboration and welcomes partnerships with other institutions and organizations to enhance programming.
Our program continues to grow along with the needs of our participants. G.R.O.W. has expanded to include an Outreach Program that runs two Saturday evenings a month. Outreach focuses on social skills development by providing opportunities for socialization with peers and engagement in community life. A community support component has also been included to ensure that our participants living independently in the community are successful and safe. We are currently exploring a small business venture for our participants to produce and sell dog biscuits; a business to employ our participants and to provide them with the opportunity to actively contribute to their community.
The G.R.O.W Program has most recently been honored as the recipient of the 2014 Canadian Association of Occupational Therapist Provincial/Territorial Citation Award acknowledging the program’s contribution to the health and well-being of Canadians. G.R.O.W. plans to continue to provide unique opportunities and supports for young adults with special needs in the years to come.