The Abilities Centre in Whitby has just reopened its facility after five months.
However, like many other businesses, it has taken a huge financial hit and it’s now reaching out to the town, which is dealing with its own economic issues, for help.
The centre, which provides accessible and inclusive programs and services, has been important to people like the White family, even during the coronavirus shutdown. For the past couple of months, Ben White has been coming with his mom Allison to the Abilities Centre parking lot twice a week for its outdoor programming.
“This is the best. I’m not a fan of dancing but it’s just so fun and you just get wrapped up into it,” said Allison White.
“Dance Fit is a good workout,” said Ben White, Abilities Centre client.
The 26-year-old was born with Down syndrome. He started visiting the centre six years ago.
“This gave him a purpose every single Monday, Wednesday and Friday — he had something he needed to do, like a job for him, and without that, he was sitting at home. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for people with special needs,” said Allison White.
Stuart McReynolds, the Abilities Centre’s president and CEO, says “the disability community is one of the groups that’s been most impacted by COVID-19.”
While the centre has been able to reopen this week, programs and services have had to adapt.
“Our focus as an organization is on inclusion and accessibility and that means all of us, but we pay particular focus on ensuring we meet the needs of people with disabilities,” said McReynolds.
Despite implementing safety protocols and having clients returning to the facility, McReynolds says it has lost between 40 and 60 per cent of its annual revenue.
“We are used to providing programs and services beyond our four walls but certainly now, where that’s been 100 per cent of our focus, it’s put a great deal of strain on our resources,” said McReynolds.
The centre has sent a request to the town for funding. McReynolds says everything is on the table, which includes assistance in the form of shared services.
“As part of our commitment, we’ve actually placed $872,000 worth of value on the table in exchange for that $400,000,” said McReynolds.
The town says it’s received the funding request from the Abilities Centre and it’s being reviewed. The hope is to have a report to council with options by the end of this year.
However, Whitby itself is also dealing with a deficit of over $500,000.
As for the White family, even though their programming remains outside for now, they don’t know what they would do without the Abilities Centre.
“When we found this centre, it met all of our needs,” said Allison White.