What inspired the Oosterhuis family to open their home to disabled children?

Openness. Kindness. Acceptance. There are people who see struggle and want to help. They insist on acknowledging the inherent value in others, no matter how severe their challenges. The Oosterhuis family did that. At a time when care for the developmentally challenged was either at an institution or hospital, where children could not grow up with any warmth and normalcy, the family committed their time and their home to giving hope, comfort, and care in a home-like setting.

What is Hopewell like today?

We have carried on the example set by the founders. Our staff of about 128 full-time and part-time caregivers provides 24-hour residential care. It’s really family support. We have created homes. We are also helping keep families together under the extreme tension of having a developmentally challenged child. Families are encouraged to continue being a part of their child’s life by visiting and, if they choose, by participating in their care.

How many families have a child with severe disabilities?

Many more than Hopewell can help. While rare, severe disabilities at birth are statistically inevitable. We can all imagine the heartbreak. We cannot imagine the struggle endured by dozens of local Guelph area families. These difficulties, combined with the pressures most people have in their lives, often pull families apart. Divorce rates in families with a developmentally disabled child are very high. We work to alleviate the strain.

In our view, families are the heroes of this story. When they get to the point where the strain becomes too much and their child is at constant risk of self-injury, families need a place where their child can live and be cared for by others. Parents grieve that loss and sense of hopelessness even years later.

Thankfully, Hopewell is that needed place. A safe place with a family atmosphere.

How does a child come into the world this way?

Sometimes the disability is congenital. The child’s brain has been affected during pregnancy and development was hampered. Sometimes it happens during a difficult birth. Whatever the cause, the child comes into the world at a serious disadvantage. There are, of course, degrees of disability. The most severely affected are also, almost inevitably, medically fragile too. They are typically in their prime around age 25. Everyday illnesses tend to hit them harder than most people. They can get very sick very quickly, and their life expectancy is often uncertain.  

Are the residents of Hopewell happy?

That’s a hard word to apply to people who struggle so unremittingly. Our job is to make sure our residents are healthy and comfortable, that they experience joy and love. We work hard to help them achieve those feelings. It’s certainly what families want for their children who live with us and grow into adults here.

And we always want to do more. We want Hopewell to be a place where anyone would want to live. A happy place.

Why is this level of specialized care critical for our residents?

It used to be that severely disabled people of all ages were housed in institutions together. They did not do well. Life was far from happy and home-like. That model is long gone, thankfully.

Today, care for the severely disabled normally falls to their families who are almost never equipped emotionally or financially to cope. And as children grow, their behaviours often become more difficult to manage.

At our homes, residents get 24-hour care for the rest of their lives in a safe, highly supportive, non-institutional environment — the best of all possibilities for the severely disabled.

What facilities does Hopewell operate?

We provide housing and care for 19 children and adults at our main facility near the hamlet of Ariss, just north of Guelph. We also own three houses in Guelph where another 11 residents live. A fourth house in Guelph is rented and used as a respite (a rest place) for parents of developmentally challenged  children or adults.

How is Hopewell funded?

We gratefully receive operating funds from the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. It is recognized that care in a facility like Hopewell — and there are not many like Hopewell — is cost efficient while providing extremely high quality care and support. We are seen as a good investment.

Is there enough money?

For all the basics, yes. For anything beyond the basics, no.

Our residents are not deprived when it comes to their medical and nutritional needs. Our devoted staff works tirelessly for wages lower than you might expect given the exceptional care they provide.

But there isn’t enough money for extras. We’d like to paint bedrooms in colours in which our residents take delight. We'd like to provide some residents with a high-comfort wheelchair that enables maximal independence rather than the functional but worn models they use. We’d like to bring in recreational therapists, and provide more outings such as hockey games, basketball games, zoo visits, as well as excursions to local parks and restaurants. Just being out in the community helps our residents feel like they belong. Most will never experience a vacation. But getting out and feeling part of the community gives them pleasure.

These things that the rest of us take for granted are often not affordable, because everyone who lives with us requires a personal attendant whenever they are away from home.

In addition to offering more comforts and fun to residents, what else would donated money be applied toward?

A major priority for Hopewell is to acquire more homes in Guelph so we can reduce the waiting list of families desperate to secure a place for their child with special needs.