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“Luncheon with the Mayors” hosted by CLEC

Updated: 2 days ago

Political figures and administrators from around the region came together last week to learn more about the work of Community Living Essex County.
Leaders from around Essex County gathered at Community Living Essex County’s “Luncheon with the Mayors” where Community Living Ontario past president Michael Jacques was guest speaker. Top row (from left): LaSalle Councillor Terry Burns, Essex County Deputy Warden and Tecumseh Deputy Mayor Joe Bachetti, Jacques, LaSalle Mayor Crystal Meloche, LaSalle Councillor Anita Riccio-Spagnuolo, Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Kirk Walstedt, Essex MPP Anthony Leardi, Leamington Councillor Anthony Abraham. Bottom row (from left): CLEC manager of community relations and resource development Tony DeSantis, CLEC board president and LaSalle Councillor Sue Desjarlais, Essex Councillor Kim Verbeek, Amherstburg Councillor Molly Allaire and CLEC executive director Karen Bolger.

Political figures and administrators from around the region came together last week to learn more about the work of Community Living Essex County.

Community Living Essex County (CLEC) hosted its 19th annual “Luncheon with the Mayors” last Friday at St. Mary’s Hall in Maidstone. Municipal representatives from around Essex County, including Amherstburg, were represented at the luncheon.

CLEC brought in guest speaker Michael Jacques, a 32-year-old man with autism and an intellectual disability, who told his story with the assistance of his father Marcel. Michael, who lives in Fonthill, has written two books despite the fact he is unable to read and write himself. He authored “Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book” using his iPad’s speech-to-text function.

His second book is targeted at children and is titled “I Belong. Can I Play?”

The first book tells his inspiring story of what he has overcome growing up and the challenges he has overcome.

“He lives his life through his lens,” explained Marcel.

Sales of “Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Here’s My Book” have topped 21,000 while the “I Belong, Can I Play?” book have topped 4,000 sales. Portions of his sales goes to Special Olympics and Community Living Ontario, and donations have topped $12,000.

Michael makes regular trips to the Ontario Police College where he speaks to aspiring police officers and those employed in the field on how to speak to those with disabilities and handle the situations they might be in.

Michael also competes in the Special Olympics, where he is active in basketball and baseball. He has appeared on TSN and numerous newspaper and magazine stories.

Other accomplishments include Michael being a past president of Community Living Ontario and a recipient of a Paul Harris Award, the highest honour a Rotary Club can bestow. Marcel said Michael has “a very strong voice” on the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education, as having disabilities allows him to give valuable feedback on the provincial board.

Michael is also the only Canadian with a disability on the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, something Marcel said gave his son international recognition.

“Volunteering is very important to me,” he said.

The presentation was often humorous, with Michael and Marcel trading banter about Michael’s experiences. Michael works at the Sobeys in Fonthill and despite jokingly insisting he was a manager, Marcel responded “you’re an employee” in the same spirit. They praised the grocery chain for allowing him to work there and that he has gained contacts at the corporate head office.

Strengths Michael uses in his life are having a strong voice, focusing on his strengths, having a positive attitude, having a job, advocating and being a leader, setting goals and never giving up.

Michael and Marcel Jacques address the audience at CLEC's "Luncheon with the Mayors."

While it took him over five years to write his first book due to having to use technology, he managed to get it done. His sister helped enlist the artists for the illustrations.

“People said it was impossible to do but I did it,” he said.

There have been challenges, he noted, including being unsure at times of which restroom to use in a public place. Michael recognizes the outlines of men and women, but has difficulty when public places only use words. As he has symptoms which aren’t often obvious, Michael said he has been laughed at when he asks which restroom to use.

“It breaks my heart,” said Marcel. “He just wants to go to the bathroom.”

People were often shy about befriending Michael growing up due to his disabilities but Marcel’s message was that it is fine to interact with people with disabilities.

“It’s OK to approach people with disabilities and have a conversation,” he said.

CLEC played a video of mayors sharing what inclusion means to them. Tony DeSantis, CLEC’s manager of community relations and fundraising development, said the Luncheon with the Mayors event has shared the message of inclusion over the years with hundreds of people celebrating Community Living Month in Ontario with them over that time.

“It allows the communities we work in to know what our goals are for the coming year and what accomplishments we’ve had in the past year,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis also pointed out CLEC’s Charity Golf Classic is July 11 at Sutton Creek Golf Club in McGregor.

Essex MPP Anthony Leardi brought greetings and said he was happy to be there and to hear the words of Michael Jacques. He said he has a good working relationship with CLEC executive director Karen Bolger and looks forward to working with her going forward.

CLEC board president Sue Desjarlais noted the agency provides supports for over 700 people with intellectual disabilities and their families. CLEC has been around for 63 years, she added, and that other agencies in the province have reached out to CLEC for help in designing their own programs and supports.

Community Living Essex County (CLEC) executive director Karen Bolger gives greetings during the "Luncheon with the Mayors," including applauding New Day - Leaders of Today for its recent 20th anniversary celebrations.

“We give everyone the best opportunities we can so they can be the best people they can be,” she said.

Deputy Warden Joe Bachetti gave greetings from the County of Essex, saying they owe a debt to CLEC and its employees for the work they do. He said the agency makes a difference for people every day, stating CLEC lives up to their motto of “inspiring possibilities.”

“Thank you for making a difference every day,” said Bachetti.

Bolger said the agency promotes inclusion and allows people with intellectual disabilities to live full and meaningful lives in their communities. She said membership in CLEC has its values and she also encouraged municipalities to hire people they support so they can continue to live meaningful lives.

For more information on CLEC, visit For information on Jacques’ book, visit “Luncheon with the Mayors” hosted by CLEC

By Ron Giofu


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1 Comment

Why do they keep building condos apartments we have enough people wish that you start building more stores we only have 3 say something like zerhs then people will have jobs

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