Making a difference, one call at a time
For Lesley-Anne Cook-Kay, the best part of being a Special Needs Advisor is the personal connection she makes with the CUPW and UPCE families on the project.
“When you call someone three times a year for seven years you really get to bond with them and know a lot about their lives—how things are going—and that’s the big piece,” she says.As a longtime community volunteer and a resource teacher for children with special needs for the last 23 years, Cook-Kay “lives and breathes” inclusion issues. She has a daytime agency caseload of 24 children with special needs aged 18 months to six who are in child care programs in Ontario’s Niagara area. In the Special Needs Project she works with 16 families.
One of the aspects Cook-Kay stresses with the postal worker families she calls is advocacy. “Some families don’t think they can challenge the system and ask for more than they’re getting, and I really try to boost up that advocacy part.”
She also tries to give parents “food for thought” regarding services and other options they can pursue to locate resources that will support them and their children. “I give them homework and I ask them about it the next time I call them.”
Another major part of the job is being there for parents who are having an especially difficult time. “Sometimes you live through their marriage break-ups with them or a death in the family. You are a person they can vent to, who doesn’t know them but is compassionate and will listen.”
Cook-Kay says she feels the project has evolved since she started working as an advisor in 2001. While the job has more or less stayed the same, “there’s more to offer, more places to send people, there’s the Moving On Project [for adult sons and daughters with disabilities] and the project web site.”
Her original motivation for becoming an advisor has not changed. She just wants “to make a difference—big or small—in people’s lives. This is right up my alley. I’m doing what I love.”