MONTREAL — On a sunny Wednesday morning, Claude Sabbah worked the phones on an office table in a building in LaSalle, setting up rides for home visits, doctors appointments and grocery runs for people with disabilities.
Because these pick-ups need to be organized a day in advance, he has to think ahead routinely. And unfortunately, he’s not that high on the list of those waiting for adaptive transport services offered by the STM, which he describes as unreliable.
“You need connections,” he explained, which is a big part of his volunteer job at the Action Centre in Lasalle.
Established in 1998, as a sort of joint venture between the Constance-Lethbridge Rehabilitation Centre and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, the Centre serves about 170 people with mental and physical disabilities.
“Most of the people here live below the poverty line.”
In many cases, those disabilities extend to the financial sphere as well, explained Andrew Pepper, the chairperson of the Centre’s board.
Who does the Centre help?
The Centre serves a niche that isn’t well understood.
There are strings attached to certain types of social assistance in Quebec. The vast majority of Action Centre members fall into a category of recipients that are required to spend a total of 18 hours out of their homes.
The Centre offers leisure opportunities, educational courses and other activities to help members spend those hours in a social and constructive environment, Pepper said.
“Some of these people are saying, ‘What do I do with the rest of my day?'” he said.
“This is their club. It’s their home away from home really. And in many cases it’s their home because they don’t want to go back home. Because this is where the relationships are.”
How is it funded?
The Centre is currently in the midst of a fundraising drive. While about 40 per cent of its budget comes from subsidies, it needs to raise the remaining amount from donations. It hosts an annual wheelchair basketball tournament in an effort to bring in funds.
Typically members of the Centre are people who use a wheelchair, said Ilham Bouzouma, the Centre’s director.
The centre serves to give members “a chance to prove themselves, to ameliorate their lives.”
That’s certainly the purpose that Sabbah finds there.
At the age of 15, he went under the knife for open-heart surgery that went horribly awry.
After spending days in a coma, he woke up to find portions of his body paralyzed and his sense of balance almost completely gone.
As a consequence he’s been using an electric wheelchair for most of his life.
The Centre serves to keep him active and social, he told Global News.
“This is my family.”
The Centre is currently taking registrations for the basketball tournament on its website, which is scheduled for May 9.