Oh, What A Night!

Stressful as it was at times, if you are the co-founder and co-leader of a local charity (that’s part of who I am, in case you are wondering) it really doesn’t get any better than the evening of June 6, 2013.

LiveWorkPlay was hosting it’s annual recognition banquet, Engines of Success. Well beyond our anticipated 200, this evening of dinner, awards, and celebration of community at St. Anthony’s Banquet Hall was bursting at the seems with more than 230 attendees: individuals who are supported by LiveWorkPlay in some way, their family members, volunteers (we have more than 120), board members (also volunteers of course), staff, and a huge list of community partners that includes everything from non-profit housing providers to business of all sizes (who hire people with intellectual disabilities).

I hear it was probably the best edition of Engines of Success since our inaugural attempt in 2005. Why am I talking about this as though it is second-hand information? Because I wasn’t there!

As the fates would have it, Julie (Julie Kingstone, also co-founder and co-leader of LiveWorkPlay; oh yes, also my wife) and I had a happy problem: LiveWorkPlay was receiving the United Way Ottawa Community Builder of the Year 2013 for Belonging to Community. We all dealt with the problem in the usual way: trying to accomplish more than we should. And as we usually (but not always!) do, we pulled it off!

The staff team rallied. Everyone had an important role, but stepping up to be the MC of Engines of Success when you’ve never done it is not small thing, so kudos to Allison Moores! I usually have a hand in the technology side of things (we do everything ourselves at these events) so kudos also to Anthony Stratton – he not only managed what was happening at St. Anthony’s but at the same time had to deal with me remotely from the Ottawa Convention Centre (and I was feeling just a tad anxious).

Why? Because we couldn’t stand that everyone at our own banquet was being left out of the award presentation – since the award was for EVERYONE, not for any individual or individuals. So we were determined to connect a live video feed via Skype. In 2013, none of this is actually as easy as it should be. Establishing the two wifi connections was problematic. At first the Skype video and audio was good. Then it all dropped. Then we got the video back just in time, but the audio was no good – so I called Anthony and put my cell phone in front of a speaker literally as I was running to the stage to receive the award! He held his phone up to the microphone on his end, and it worked. Phew.

The awards at Engines of Success went very well, so I am told, and best of all we managed to keep them a complete surprise. A lot of people with intellectual disabilities are not used to being recognized for their contributions, and there is often a lot of heartwarming fist-pumping. We don’t really worry much about limiting our celebrating at LiveWorkPlay. Life is too hard to worry about over-celebrating those occasions when someone appreciates us or when we appreciate them.

The United Way Ottawa Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala features a slightly more reserved crowd, but it had a different vibe – I’ll describe it as “earnest excitement.” I think there was at least 800 people which can be a bit overwhelming and humbling, but it’s also a good feeling because the room is packed with giving people – many of whom may never be publicly recognized for their efforts, and are not seeking such recognition. People from a LiveWorkPlay table would easily earn a “rowdy” label.

I can tell you that Julie and I were pretty OK with accepting an award about Belonging To Community. What the award is about (see below) pretty well describes what we’ve always dreamed LiveWorkPlay would be all about. And after 18 years, to a certain degree, we now feel we’ve arrived. That is not to say that we are done. Reaching one level of accomplishment simply means we start working towards the next – which at this time is all about EXTERNAL change. We want to change the Ottawa community to such an extent that outsiders looking in will say “Wow, Ottawa has got to be one of the most welcoming places in the world for people with intellectual disabilities!”

Ultimately, we want to see responsibility for a welcoming and inclusive community to rest with the citizenry, not with an agency. Then we can retire.

No worries. We aren’t there yet, and we’ve got plenty of work to do. In case you are interested I’m providing text from some of the Community Builder Award speeches, some of the live video is available above, and also above I’ve provided links to the awards given out at Engines of Success. Have a look, you might be surprised by the type of awards we give out and to whom they are given.

Thanks to everyone who has had a part in all of this, big or small. Oh, what a night!

LiveWorkPlay is the recipient of the United Way Ottawa Community Builder of the Year Award for Belonging To Community!

The Community Builder Award for Belonging to Community recognizes a person or organization that is focused on helping people who want to play a more active role in our community – but who need a bit of help to get there.

This year’s winner is an organization that is working toward their vision of a community where everyone belongs.

By partnering with government, business and community agencies they are not only helping people with intellectual disabilities overcome barriers, but are helping the community understand their role in ending exclusion and giving them the chance to put their skills to work.

How do they do this?

By being a voice for change when it comes to programs and supports for people with disabilities. They welcome a future where we don’t keep people with disabilities on the sidelines, but give them a chance to get in the game – to find a job, to make friends to have what everyone wants – a good life.

Tonight’s recipient works to create opportunities and experiences that ensure that people with disabilities in our community are living life to the fullest by helping them get access to many things that we take for granted:

– Homes, health care, education, personal dignity, and personal privacy

– Paid work at minimum wage or better, short-term unpaid work, and volunteer positions

– Having a bank account, keys to a home of their own, and a membership at their local gym

– Cultural and spiritual life, sports and recreation, political life, and;

– Like all of us, they want to meet that special someone, and fall in love

Because of the work of organizations like tonight’s recipient, people with intellectual disabilities in our community are more as likely to have their own home, involvement in their community, or a paid job than – by way of example, they are more than twice as likely to be employed.

Their ability to attract resources and passionate community leaders to its cause, engage other organizations and workplaces, navigate social media, and champion possibilities in other communities is inspiring, but the true measure of their success can be seen in the lives that they touch every day.

Please take a look at the screens…and meet Vaughn and Jeremy:

We ask that Vaughn and Jeremy help present the Community Builder of the Year Award for Belonging to Community to LiveWorkPlay, represented by co-leaders Julie Kingstone and Keenan Wellar.

Thank you so much for this honour. I want to quickly thank Innovapost, the award sponsor, our nominator Felice Miranda, here with us tonight, as well as two of our long-serving past-presidents, David Kingstone and Wendy Mitchell and of course Vaughn and Jeremy. And a huge thank you to the 250 LiveWorkPlay supporters who are listening in via Skype – volunteers, family members, community partners, the staff team, and of course the 100 or so individuals that trust us to be a part of their lives.

Julie and I started LiveWorkPlay 18 years ago because we had our eyes opened to an injustice in our community and we were driven to do something about it. It is thanks to countless allies from all walks of life, that we are here to accept this wonderful award.

There are many marginalized populations in our community, and people with developmental and intellectual disabilities are among those who are the least included in community life. Sadly, the divide these individuals and their families experience is mostly one that we have created by thinking and practices that often reinforce the separation of people with intellectual disabilities from other citizens.

For example, we have created many specialized disability-only environments – for learning, living, working, and even recreation. These are well-intentioned endeavours intended to solve the problems that occur when people are not experiencing a welcoming community. But we believe the citizens of Ottawa are more than ready to move beyond this way of thinking. We can and will find ways to learn, live, work, and play together.

Our mission at LiveWorkPlay is all about Belonging to Community and we are thrilled to accept an award that so precisely calls attention to the change we are trying to create. So what does this change really mean? What does it look like? How does it happen?

With your help, I think we can explain this in less than a minute. Please welcome Julie to help lead the exercise.

Thank you everyone, and please don’t be shy, I am just looking for a response to three simple requests. Ready, here we go!

Request #1: Please raise a hand if you have ever received help or offered help to a neighbour. If you have ever received help or offered help to a neighbour, please raise a hand, and keep that hand up.

Request #2: Raise a hand if you have ever received help or helped a friend, colleague, or family member to get a job or to get a better job. Please keep that hand up too. If you have both hands up, that’s OK, please keep them up.

Request #3: If you are now out of hands because you’ve already answered yes twice, then please stand up – of if you need to remain seated, raise a glass – if you have ever made a friend by joining a team, club, course, or other community activity.

Please stand and remain standing if you have answered yes to all three of my requests.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen! You have just helped prove that the citizens of Ottawa have all the skills and experience needed to be a welcoming community.

If we collectively extend that welcoming spirit to marginalized citizens, including people with intellectual disabilities, the resulting growth in the diversity of our neighbourhoods and workplaces will make our great city all the more stronger.

In conclusion, we thank United Way Ottawa for this opportunity, and we thank all of you for your support of a city where we share in our similarities, celebrate our differences, and together build and Ottawa community where truly, everyone belongs. Thank you.

About Keenan Wellar

Keenan is a citizen of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) and co-leader of a social change and community benefit organization, LiveWorkPlay.ca, a registered charity which helps the community welcome and include people with intellectual disabilities, autistic persons, and individuals with a dual diagnosis to live, work, and play as valued citizens. LiveWorkPlay was named Ottawa's Best Non-Profit of 2019 by the Ottawa Board of Trade and Ottawa Business Journal "Best Ottawa Business Awards " With Julie Kingstone, Keenan is co-owner of Wellstone Leadership Services, dedicated to supporting a culture of excellence for non-profit, private sector, government organizations, collaborations, and partnerships. Keenan is a founding member of the leadership group for the From Presence To Citizenship collaborative. Keenan is a regular guest (monthly) of the News 1310 Power Lunch radio show, and he writes the monthly NPQ North column for Nonprofit Quarterly. When not working and supporting various social causes, Keenan loves kayaking and wildlife photography, cheering for the Ottawa RedBlacks and Pittsburgh Steelers, and causing a disturbance on social media.
This entry was posted in advocacy, charity, disability, employment, intellectual disabilities, LiveWorkPlay, volunteer, volunteers. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Oh, What A Night!

  1. Keep up the great work, Keenan! You, your wife, and your team are doing important work and I’m happy that LiveWorkPlay is being recognized for it.


  2. Allison says:

    I am pretty much bursting with pride – between the Community Builder Award, the fabulous LiveWorkPlay community celebrating at the Engines of Success Banquet and the team work that went into pulling the whole thing off – what a night indeed!


    • It’s going to be hard to top this one…I was thinking we should have just announced last night “This is our 20th anniversary!” because I can’t envision how we’ll come up with a night this wild in 2015 🙂


  3. Pennie Styan says:

    Jobs well done! I’m so looking forward to helping celebrate 20 years!


  4. It was a fantastic night ,well deserved. Oh what an night!! I look forward to see what the next ten years brings. Founders staff and members deserve a great pat on the back three cheers for all your success


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