‘Can’t imagine Huntsville without you’: Flag flies at Town Hall for Community Living Month 2024

30 people gathered around a white flag that features the Community Living logo

North Muskoka – A flag celebrating real community inclusion of people with developmental disabilities and their families was proudly hoisted at Huntsville Town Hall in May 2024.

“Community Living Month is a celebration,” Suzanne Willett, our Executive Director, told the crowd of roughly 30 people gathered in Huntsville Civic Square on May 6. “It is a celebration of the Community Living Movement and, really, that is a celebration of the advocacy work of people that we support.”

Everyone had come together to celebrate the Town of Huntsville raising the Community Living flag for Community Living Month. Attendees included town councillors and staff, community members, disability-inclusion advocates, Downtown Huntsville BIA members, and Community Living Huntsville board members and staff.

3 woman standing, Lorraine, Mayor Nancy Alcock, and Suzanne, and one man, Glen, seated in a wheelchair.

Community Living Huntsville board chair Lorraine Morin (left), Huntsville mayor Nancy Alcock, disability advocate Glen Slater, and Community Living Huntsville executive director Suzanne Willett.

Celebrating Disability Inclusion

Willett thanked everyone who joined us for the celebration. She also applauded the disability self-advocates and families who have championed the Community Living Movement in Huntsville since 1962.

Huntsville mayor Nancy Alcock shared that the annual Community Living flag raising celebration was an exciting one for her because it highlighted how Community Living Huntsville worked to help build a disability-inclusive community that is better for everyone. “It creates such a positive vibe in our community,” said Mayor Alcock. “And you touch so many lives in so many different ways.” She thanked our board, staff, volunteers, and everyone who contributes to the Community Living Movement in Huntsville. “I love everything Community Living Huntsville is doing for our whole community,” she said. “I can’t imagine Huntsville without you.”

A woman in a bright green T-shirt speaks at a podium in front of a building, the Huntsville Civic Centre

Community Living Huntsville board chair Lorraine Morin shares her family’s story during the 2024 Community Living Flag Raising Ceremony at Huntsville Town Hall.

A Family’s Story

Lorraine Morin, our board chair, thanked Mayor Alcock and the Town of Huntsville. She said she was excited to promote and advocate for a community where people with developmental disabilities and their families can live as respected, included, and contributing community members. This was the Community Living Movement, she said, and it lived deep in her family’s heart.

“My big brother, Marcel, was labelled with a developmental disability at age 4. My mom and dad were told to put him in an institution. This was common. At the time, families weren’t given many alternatives,” she said. “It not only meant Marcel would live without his family and his community, but also that his family and his community would live without Marcel. He would disappear from his community.”

She said she was thankful her parents, who lived in Kapuskasing at the time, said no. “I really think the reason Marcel has thrived as a person is because he lived at home with the love of his family – including his don’t-mess-with-Marcel little sister – and he lived in his community in ways that mattered to him with support from his local Community Living organization.”

The decision, she said, made a difference for the community, too. “Because Marcel had lived in Kapuskasing since he was a kid – and he is such a fun person who loves to laugh and joke around – he had a lot of people in the community who knew that about him, and they just treated him like Marcel,” she said. “Attitudes changed.”

Morin noted the Community Living Movement was built by families with similar stories – “families who believed children and adults with developmental disabilities deserved better than what they got” – and knew that with access to the right supports and services people with developmental disabilities could make their own choices and live independently in their community.

The movement has helped change public opinion and government policy. For example, in 2009, the Government of Ontario closed its last institution meant to hold people with developmental disabilities. Morin added that there was still more work to do: “Barriers to employment, financial security, housing, support, and social inclusion continue to exist.”

2 people in blue T-shirts that read "staff" across the back, one holds a ladder while the other standing on the ladder and places a flag on a pole into a holder on the side of a building, town hall.

Town of Huntsville staff raise the Community Living flag at town hall for Community Living Month in 2024.

Passion for the Community Living Movement

She said Community Living Huntsville’s roughly 80 staff support and advocate alongside more than 300 children and adults, and their families, in North Muskoka. “I know these staff members share my passion for the Community Living Movement, and I thank them for their care, skill, and unrelenting effort to open doors in an inclusive community for the people and families they serve.”

She also offered her sincere thanks to the people and families who access our services. “Believe me, I know how hard it can be to challenge assumptions, break down barriers, and work your way through confusing and frustrating systems to access the supports and services you need and deserve,” she said. “It is your strength and determination that has got our community to where it is today. You are the foundation of the Community Living Movement and I, my fellow board members, the Community Living team, and everyone here today are proud to walk alongside you as we continue to grow a community where everyone can live with dignity, choice, and inclusion.”

The crowd broke into applause.

Thank you to Starbucks Huntsville for providing coffee and all the fixings, and to community member Cindy Payne for providing delicious homemade cookies, for a reception that followed at our administration offices.

Happy Community Living Month!

A crowd gathers around a woman who stands at a podium speaking 2 women, Morgan and Crystal 2 people, Jamie and Glen 2 people, town councillors Dan Armour and Helena Renwick 2 people, Gwen and Glenn 2 people, Lois and Chris a woman, Jennifer, holds a cookie and a coffee near a table of refreshments.

Click to listen highlighted text!