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Small Calgary children’s program not deterrred by big budget cuts

Small Calgary children’s program not deterred by big budget cuts
WATCH: Calgary's Getting Ready for Inclusion Today is facing a possible 40 per cent cut in funding, but as Deb Matejicka reports, the program is focused on finding new and creative ways to continue to turn out success stories.

Josip Tomic was three years old when he started the education and therapy program offered by the Calgary-based not-for-profit Getting Ready for Inclusion Today.

Born with osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease, Tomic, who is now 25, was medically fragile and unable to attend a regular preschool.

So his school came to him.

“When I started working with Josip, a team was brought in with me and we discussed every kind of goal that he had,” said GRIT program administrator Annette Eckel, who was Josip’s developmental specialist at the time.

“We had a certificated teacher, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a speech therapist and all of us worked together.”

READ MORE: Preschool program brings ‘light’ to parents of child with disabilities

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The goal was to figure out what his potential was and then to help him reach it. Like most, Tomic exceeded all expectations.

Whether it was teaching him how to hold a crayon or making sure he could safely move about in his wheelchair, the team worked to make it happen and they did it all from his home.

Eventually, Tomic was able to leave the house and attend a regular preschool.

“I still remember the first time we left the house to go to playschool,” Eckel said. “I think both [his] mom and I probably cried just as much because it was such an important part for Josip’s independence to get him into playschool.”

That’s just what GRIT does.

“We work with children with language delays, we work with children who have a formal diagnosis, we work with children who have multi-complex medical needs that maybe don’t have that diagnosis, but then we also work with our medically comprised or palliative children as well,” explained GRIT associate executive director Paula Carby.

She said programs are individualized to address the unique challenges of each child they see.

“You can’t expect a parent to, say, pick package A, B or C because it doesn’t work that way when you work with such a variety of kids,” Carby said.

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READ MORE: ‘Absolutely devastating’: Alberta parents concerned about education support funding review

Carby said GRIT’s educators, specialists and therapists also provide consultative therapy to parents so that when their child leaves the program, they can continue with suggestions and activities from the team.

“When [kids] have that solid foundation of early intervention, that’s what can carry them through life and make them successful in whatever area they choose to be in,” said Carby.

After preschool, Tomic was able to continue much of his education at regular schools. A graduate of Bow Valley College’s business administration program, Tomic said attending regular schools wouldn’t have been possible without the help he received from GRIT as a child.

“I wouldn’t be ready for school. Now I am, from the time I joined through to when I left,” he said.

Tomic’s success story is just one of many to have come out of GRIT over the last 25 years.

The program intentionally keeps enrolment numbers small so it can deliver specialized and individualized programming.

However, funding cuts of up to 40 per cent per child as outlined in the new provincial budget could have a big impact on operations.

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“It was shocking to us, absolutely,” said Carby. “But then the next day, we came back and we’re like, we’re just going to be even more creative on how we’re going to continue and continue to provide these amazing programs to our children.”

READ MORE: Preschool a key opportunity for early learning, Calgary educator says

Tomic represents the perfect example of how the program’s holistic approach helps set kids up for a lifetime of success. Not only was Tomic able to attend a regular school and receive a post-secondary certificate, he has also found meaningful employment at, of all places, GRIT.

“We provided him early intervention and now he’s working for us, right?” said Carby. “So, to me, that just shows you how impactful early intervention can be.”

“Basically, whenever they need me, whenever they need something to help with, I just do it. I don’t complain,” said Tomic. “I think without them, where would I be?”