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CLA to start the conversation on what constitutes a community

Perception and participation hold the key to inclusiveness and personal value
SooToday Spotlight Image_Community Living Algoma
Supplied Photo: John Policicchio, Executive Director, Community Living Algoma (right) and Community member, Dwayne (left)

Are first impressions lasting impressions? How quick are you to judge someone and do you allow anything to otherwise change that perspective? In 2021, Community Living Algoma (CLA) is hoping that people will share their feedback and insight about how they perceive that organization’s role and the contributions of the people who they support and serve. They also hope the feedback will identify opportunities for engagement for the greater community.

As a provincial funded agency, CLA provides supports and services to children and adults identified with intellectual disability and/or autism spectrum disorders and their families. CLA has been evolving in its supporting role and internal supports and, according to Executive Director, John Policicchio, it is time to take a community inventory.

“Externally, there are perceptions about those poor people (intellectual disability or autistic) and there is nothing poor about them, they bring thousands of gifts and contributions to our community,” says Policicchio. “The people we support are also citizens of this community and they are contributing by working and volunteering and some even have more social capital in the community than you and I.”

But for those who aren’t aware of those valued contributions, or unaware that people are looking to be a part of something they want to belong to, that is the focus of CLA’s Community Engagement Project. And the flip side is identifying where opportunities for community engagement exist.

In 2014, CLA moved away from congregate day programs and workshops. Policicchio says movement of the yard marker enabled them to become more of a part of the community. 

“You can’t be a citizen if you’re thought of as property of an organization, your gifts and contributions need to be delivered and present in the community in order for you to be a valued citizen,” he says. “This approach gives hope to parents by showing them that their kids can work and be a part of the community.”

Policicchio says the foundation has been laid and those who are working are now earning minimum wage or better and are strong in the volunteer sector. 

“Many are some of the strongest ticket sellers out there because they want to engage with other people,” he says.

CLA’s Community Engagement Project has two aspects to it – micro and macro. On the micro side, it is about starting the conversation to learn how to find the answers as to how they can better engage people in the community. On the macro side, they’ll be looking at how they can play a lead role in building an inclusive and comprehensive community that benefits everyone. 

Policicchio says the Community Engagement Project aligns well with the Mayor’s commitment to immigration and Sault College’s and Algoma University’s commitment to diversity. He says that CLA’s initiative will benefit the people they support, the existing community and provide a great link into the community for new immigrants.

He is quick to point out the difference between ‘in community’ and ‘of community.’ He says you can exist in a community but when you’re part of it, you’re valued and you have citizenship. Feeling like you’re part of a community can make a huge difference in feelings of isolation or loneliness, as experienced by many people during the pandemic.

“Relationships are built on regularity and similarity,” he says. A relationship can be formed with someone who takes the same bus route as you or you can develop a relationship with someone who has like-minded interests, such as photography or astronomy or hiking.

The pandemic has made most people realize what they’re missing and a lot of it comes down to connections, relationships and the sense of community. Policicchio says he hopes that, when they start their project in 2021, people will step forward and assist the CLA by identifying not only their impressions (on CLA) in the community but also what makes them personally feel like they’re part of a community.

“We’d like to imagine a future where we know that we’ve played a role in helping to reduce isolation or loneliness, that would be our outcome, and we need our community to help us find that path to shared community,” says Policicchio. 

Information on CLA’s Community Engagement Project will be announced in early 2021. Further information on CLA can be found at

This article was made possible through the support of Arthur’s Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel.

“Having a relationship with Community Living Algoma has given us the opportunity to easily support them as we have attended their community events and witnessed the care they give to so many in our community,” says Joni Cook, General Manager, Arthur Funeral Home – Barton & Kiteley Chapel. “It is evident that the group home care teams are as close to their clients as their own families.”