After two years of pandemic setbacks, hard work, and an outpouring of generous community donations, Family Respite Services Windsor-Essex is opening the doors to their new community respite home.
The 4,400 square-foot house is located at 4400 Howard Avenue and offers a variety of programs and engaging activities for children with intellectual and physical or mental health challenges.
“It’s a central location; we want to make it as easy as possible for families to access,” explains FRS’s Community Relations Alexandria Fischer, noting the new space is located directly beside their previous home.
Family Respite Services Windsor-Essex works in partnership with 1200 families who have children with disabilities, coordinating support and providing short breaks that strengthen families and contribute to children having meaningful lives in their community.
The organization had been providing these invaluable programs at their previous home for the last twenty five years. Fischer explains that while the outdated home had been maintained and updated over the years, the group was in dire need of a new space. The organization was thrilled when the opportunity to purchase the property next door became available three years ago.
The group was able to purchase the lot at the same time they sold their existing property to Joe Ciaravino, owner of neighbouring business Antonino’s Pizza. Through their arrangement, FRS was able to operate out of their original home until the new location was built. This enabled families to continue to receive support during the construction process.
“It just worked out perfectly,” says Fischer. “The stars aligned.”
The two-million-dollar project was completed through monetary gifts and in-kind donations from individuals and businesses across the area. The only government funding was a grant to assist in making the washroom and play space within the home accessible for children with disabilities.
“We’re so grateful that the community came together and we had the donations to make the build possible,” says Fischer. “So many businesses came on as in-kind donors. The whole roofing system was donated. All of the doors and windows were completely donated. All of the flooring was donated.”
“These items weren’t any off the shelf items or things these businesses couldn’t sell; these were exactly the things we needed to create a specialized, accessible home,” she continues. “Meloche Windows fabricated a completely new line of windows for us because we needed triple pane shatterproof glass with blinds inside the windows for safety purposes. Incredible.”
The Solcz Family Foundation ignited the campaign back in 2019 with a $300,000 gift and made additional donations of $200,000, as well as $225,000 this past December to cover additional expenses that the group didn’t anticipate with their initial projected budget due to the impact of Covid-19.
“We did our feasibility assessment three years ago and then the pandemic hit and our projected budget increased significantly,” Fischer explains.
Thanks to the support of these community donors, the interior of the home is now complete. Fischer says the remaining outdoor work will be completed in the spring, including landscaping and the installation of special rubber ground for the fully accessible play area.
“This is the only respite home for children with disabilities in Windsor that is licensed by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services” says Fischer, sharing that there has been a wait list to utilize the home’s programs for many years. “We’re excited that we can now have increased flexibility and provide a high quality of support in our community.”
“This home is very specialized to offer support for children after school and on weekends. The support is adapted to each child’s needs since every child is affected differently by their disability.”
In addition to after-school programs, Family Respite Services also provides a specialized summer camp program, day support programs, as well as a full weekend program and overnight stays for the children and youth. Many of the children require support during the day and throughout the night to give their families a much needed break.
“It’s a large home. We can have five children sleeping there based on our ministry standards,” says Fischer, noting that the children are scheduled to come in on a rotating basis.
Fischer points out that each family might need something different, so the organization’s goal is to be as flexible and family-centered as possible.
“It’s like an individualized respite support plan; it’s not a cookie cutter program,” she explains. “We want to make sure that we’re offering support that works within cultural dynamics and individual family situations.”
Over the years, Fischer says families have expressed to them the importance of these programs, which allow parents and caregivers the chance to rest and recharge while their child socializes with their peers, builds and develops skills, engages in sport and recreation, and participates in the community.
“Research tells us that families benefit from respite. Parents who have children with disabilities often experience challenges with being able to balance the needs of the child with a disability and their siblings, the financial impact, and the social isolation that often occurs,” she explains. “So, when we hear from families directly and we read the research, we know this home is crucial for so many, giving everyone a short break.”
Fischer says that the journey to create this new home has been an emotional one, but the entire Family Respite Services team and the families they support are thrilled to finally be able to utilize the modern, spacious home to its full capacity.
“It’s very exciting to have families walk through the doors of the home. There’s just so much more room to roam. Now we have this beautiful space to get more creative and offer and implement some really amazing learning opportunities,” says Fischer.