Citizen Advocacy Haut-Richelieu

April 2017

“I used to be afraid…” These are the words of a person who receives services from Citizen Advocacy Haut-Richelieu. This organization helps people with an intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, physical disability or mental health problem become more involved in society and in their communities. The agency’s work focuses on empowering individuals to act in different areas of their lives.

The vulnerability of people living with an intellectual disability means that they often have a negative image of themselves and become isolated. Citizen Advocacy Haut-Richelieu wants to break people out of this isolation.

For this agency, the key is pairing the person with a disability (the “godchild”) with a volunteer mentor from the community (the “godparent”).  The goal is to establish a long-term friendship in which empathetic listening, respect, and sharing are mutually beneficial.

Both the godparents and the case workers help these godchildren set a goal, such as overcome a fear, create conditions to fulfill a wish, or do a task by themselves. They develop a learning plan and follow up to track the godchild’s progress.

The godparents then help their godchildren start the learning process in a safe environment before they go out and apply their skills in society. At each meeting, the godchild gains new social or relationship skills that they can then apply by themselves out in the world. As their power to act improves, so does their quality of life.

This relationship is founded on empowerment. The goal is to give the godchildren control over their lives, help them make decisions that directly affect their daily activities, and develop greater self-confidence. By encouraging them to take responsibility over their lives, they develop a sense of personal accomplishment. The more they learn, the more they improve their ability to adapt, define their limits, and ask for help.

The work of Citizen Advocacy Haut-Richelieu has a direct impact on the social integration of marginalized people, who can integrate into society and become agents of change in their own communities. In other words, this agency puts people on a path to true social and citizen involvement by helping them pursue their own meaning of freedom.

Centraide of Greater Montreal has been supporting the Citizen Advocacy Haut-Richelieu since 1986.

Citizen Advocacy Haut-Richelieu is the winner of the 2017 Solidaires Empowerment.