‘Life had taught him to wear his shoes’: Huntsville’s Got Talent 2023 raises record-breaking $17K to help end homelessness

a woman stands at a podium on a theatre stage and talks into a microphone

Jennifer Jerrett, Community Engagement Specialist for Community Living Huntsville, says record-breaking funds raised from Huntsville’s Got Talent 2023 will help end homelessness for adults with developmental disabilities the not-for-profit organization supports. Photo by Community Living Huntsville.

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NORTH MUSKOKA – Community members came out in force to celebrate ability and support inclusion at Huntsville’s Got Talent 2023.

“Why does Huntsville’s Got Talent matter?” Jennifer Jerrett, event coordinator and Community Engagement Specialist for Community Living Huntsville, asked audience members in a packed Algonquin Theatre on March 4. “First, it’s a celebration of the arts, local talent, and community. Second, it raises vital funds for Community Living Huntsville.”

She thanked the sold-out crowd for helping the organization empower their fellow community members.

The event raised more than $17,000 toward Community Living Huntsville’s Transitional Housing Initiative to end homelessness for adults, who have developmental disabilities and access the organization’s services, in North Muskoka. It was a record-breaking total for the event.

Jerrett noted that, since 1962, the not-for-profit organization has been opening doors in an inclusive community for people with developmental disabilities, and their families. Its team of more than 80 staff support and advocate alongside more than 300 children and adults, and their families, across North Muskoka, to build a community of belonging for everyone.

“But it’s impossible to feel like you belong when you have nowhere to live,” said Jerrett. She noted difficult realities, like the housing crisis, cost of living crisis, and systemic bias, have made homelessness and the risk of homelessness a dangerous reality for an increasing number of people and families the organization supports.

“You can’t build your life if you don’t know where you’re going to sleep at night,” she said. “Having somewhere safe and stable to call your own can make all the difference.”

She offered an example:

A young man with a developmental disability and mental illness was homeless. Community Living Huntsville staff, said Jerrett, was able to build a team around him, develop a support plan, and help him find an apartment.

But before he moved into his apartment, staff noticed something.

“He never took off his shoes. Never,” said Jerrett. “He went to bed in his shoes, he woke up in his shoes. He refused to take them off.”

His shoes, she said, made him feel safe. With his shoes on, he was ready to run from danger or toward help. “Life had taught him to wear his shoes,” she said. “Life had taught him he was never really safe.”

When staff helped him move into his apartment, he got his own room, set up his own bed, organized his own cupboards and fridge space, and had his own TV. He made his space his own. At the end of the day, he bent over, untied his laces and took off his shoes. He said goodnight, went to his room, and closed his door behind him.

“That’s what it means to have a home,” said Jerrett. “Safety, security, empowerment, dignity.”

She noted that, with the community’s financial support, Community Living Huntsville could continue to make a difference through innovative housing solutions for a growing number of people and families it supports.

Jerrett encouraged everyone to visit https://www.clhuntsville.ca/donate/ to give today. She also invited anyone interested to meet her for coffee to discuss how they could help Community Living Huntsville make a difference in their community. Contact Jennifer Jerrett at Jennifer.Jerrett@clhuntsville.ca or 705-380-4153 for more information.

Huntsville’s Got Talent is a nonprofit competition created by Dr. Drew and Janet Markham. It brings community together to celebrate local talent and raise funds for charity. Community Living Huntsville is grateful to the Markhams for allowing our not-for-profit organization to host the 2023 competition. Since its launch in 2017, Huntsville’s Got Talent has now raised more than $45,000 for Community Living Huntsville. Visit the event’s website at www.huntsvillesgottalent.com.