Meet Family Engagement!
The Family Engagement Team (FET) is comprised of Grandview Kids parents and grads who use their lived experience and specialized training to support others in their journey. What started out as a small number of parents wanting to help other families who find themselves on similar journeys has snowballed into an amazing community of parents, volunteers and staff. FET offerings range from helping families with paperwork to one-to-one peer support to fun, family-centered events and activities. The power of providing caregivers with the opportunity to connect and belong is an invaluable part of what ensures that every child and youth are given the tools they need to live life at their full potential.
Andrea Belanger, Family Engagement Program Manager
I am a mom of 2, both of whom have accessed services at Grandview Kids. After my son was diagnosed with a rare syndrome at 15 months old, I felt the isolation and uncertainty of charting new waters. I was lucky enough to find a small community of families, brought together via technology from all over the world who shared my son’s diagnosis. By sharing their lived experience with my family, we flourished. That ignited a spark to create a community closer to home, where families could support one another, and valuable lived experience could be shared. That spark has now become a career devoted to embedding the family voice in every step of their journey and building communities of support both in-person and online. Our events are family-centered and inclusivity-focused. Our most popular event, Accessible Halloween, was developed as the brainchild of a Grandview sibling who saw an opportunity to make something more inclusive and remove barriers. There are countless aspects of Family Engagement (FE) that I have had the pleasure of witnessing come to fruition, but the absolute best part about FE at Grandview Kids have been the people I have met! From all the families coming to events and workshops over the past 10 years, to the staff who include us as part of the health care team and last, but certainly not least, my FET co-workers. They take teamwork to a whole new level.
Natasha Mills, Program Coordinator
My name is Natasha Mills, I am the Program Coordinator for the Family Engagement Team at Grandview Kids. I’m a mom of 3 wonderful kids; 2 of which are now adults and my youngest will be 7 this month. My youngest was diagnosed as Autistic just before his second birthday. Like any parent after their child is diagnosed, I wanted to learn as much as I could to support my child. This eventually led me on my own journey to discovering I was also Autistic! I received my diagnosis almost exactly 4 years after my son did. Getting any diagnosis is hard, but learning something new about yourself or child is always a good thing. It doesn’t change who they are, it gives insight, tools and it allows for opportunities to educate yourself to know and support your child even more. I’ve been a member of the Family Engagement Team since March 2020. My favourite aspect of being part of the FET is the community that comes with it. All the wonderful families we meet along the way. Coffee chats, park play dates, the Online Parent Support page or even a welcome call to a family have allowed me to meet the most incredible people. I love supporting families all throughout their journeys but it’s the support I get in return that is truly why I love this team!
Clare Alexander-Arias, Peer Navigator – OAP
I have been involved with Grandview since 2016 with my youngest daughter. She has accessed Physiotherapy, Speech Language Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Recreation Therapy and attended Campbell Children’s School for JK and SK. In April 2021 I saw the Family Engagement job posting and knew that I wanted to help other parents too. I have 2 amazing Neurodivergent daughters, one of which is a non-speaking AAC user at age 7. Not many people understand what it is like to have a child who communicates differently so I really enjoy helping other people see that communication comes in many ways. I love connecting with other parents on the phone, at my weekly zoom chat and in person at park play dates and other events. Helping parents of newly diagnosed Autistic children is also something I love about my job. It is an overwhelming time filled with sharing what your child can’t do but I love to flip the conversation and focus on their child’s amazing strengths.
Fadia Omer, Peer Navigator – Complex Care
I’m Fadia Omer, a Peer Navigator at the Complex Care Clinic, Oshawa site. My primary role is to facilitate connections among families, organizing coffee chats and hosting events. I hold a critical position in enabling effective communication between families and the healthcare team, especially when dealing with linguistic, cultural and religious diversity. Additionally, I arrange events tailored to their specific needs, creating a supportive atmosphere. My aim is to ensure families have the necessary guidance and resources, helping them navigate their child’s intricate care journey. Drawing from my personal experience raising an almost adult son with physical disabilities, I offer profound empathy and understanding, enriching our conversations and providing invaluable support to these families. Our inaugural in-person family day event in July was incredibly rewarding, witnessing families form new connections and bonds.
Jackie Nimesz, Peer Navigator
My name is Jacki Nemisz and I am a Peer Navigator on the FET. My role is to support our family leader programs and share with families the significance of self-care and finding strength. I am a mom of 4 kids ranging from 6 to 15 years of age, with my second son being born with a rare seizure disorder. We have been a Grandview Kid’s family for 10 years and it is so important to me to help others on their journey; making them feel less alone. Through workshops I enjoy creating connections and community for our clients while sharing self-care ideas. It is truly wonderful knowing our team is making a difference.
Annette Neufeld, Adult Transition
My name is Annette Neufeld and I have a nineteen-and-a-half-year-old who has been a Grandview kid since he was a wee lad. My role at Grandview Kids is working with the Family Engagement Team (FET) as a Peer Navigator. I work mostly with families and youth who are transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. My role helps connect families through both online parent support (TAPS) and the education series running throughout the year where families will have an opportunity to interact with each other and their youth will have the opportunity to make friends. My favourite aspect of being part of the FET is having the opportunity to work with families and prepare them and their adolescents for brighter futures as they enter adulthood. Having learned from my own journey with my son and being able to share that knowledge with them brings joy. I totally love family holiday events such as Halloween at Safety Village and Christmas with Santa.
Brad Sexton, Peer Navigator – Youth
My journey with Grandview started at 6 months of age when I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. I also attended Campbell Children’s school at Grandview after one of my two major surgeries and loved it so much that I went back to do my high school co-op there. Once completed I realized this is where I wanted to pursue my career. I am now living out my dream working here at Grandview Kids. My ultimate goal is to help clients of Grandview and their families in any way possible reach their full potential and do my part in making this world a better place for all people with disabilities.
Abby Valenciano, Amabassador Advisor
After relocating to the Durham Region in 2019, our family was transferred to Grandview Kids from our previous children’s treatment centre. Two of our four sons have accessed services from Grandview Kids, and one of them also attended Campbell Children’s School. What blew me away was the Facebook Grandview OPS: Online Parent Support page, a collective community of parents and staff that was there to lend resources, experiences, advice and a listening ear. It didn’t take long until I plugged myself in because I wanted to be part of this community that held each other closely. As Ambassador Advisor, I work with clients and caregivers to help share their stories about the impact of Grandview Kids in their lives. I love knowing that these Family Ambassadors are given a chance to find their voice of advocacy and be proud of not only their child(ren)’s journey, but also their own.
Sujay Rambajue, Peer Navigator
I am currently completing my Masters in Digital Media at Toronto Metropolitan University, while I do freelance photography and videography during my free time. I attended Grandview for several services when I was younger and still have fond memories that have positively impacted my life.
Grandview Kids Foundation wishes to extend a huge thank you to the Family Engagement Team! You keep us connected, and we are so thankful for all of your incredible work. To see more #ThankfulThursday posts for Grandview Kids Week, check out our social media pages: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.