Friday, January 12, 2018

My Life, My Path: A Conference for Youth With Special Needs

By Special Guest Blogger Ann Taylor

Benoit Huot with conference participants
On November 17, 2017, a pedagogical day at Champlain College during which the halls would normally have been quiet, the building was filled with excitement and activity as approximately 75 youth with special needs from five Montreal-area school boards came together to learn, exchange ideas, meet new friends and take a small step towards an exciting future.

My Life, My Path, My PACE – a conference for youth with special needs and the first of its kind in Montreal, started as an idea of students attending the Adam’s PACE program. It was originally
Youth gathering  at Champlain College for the "My Life, My
Path, My Pace" conference on November 17, 2017.
to be a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Adam’s PACE, a joint Riverside School Board/Champlain College inclusive college program. The students wanted an opportunity to learn more about issues that are or will become important in their lives over the coming years; issues such as employment and independent living. They also wanted to meet other youth with similar interests and concerns. With the help of a few students, as well as a committee made up of Adam’s PACE, McGill, CRISPESH and some members of the community, after two years of planning, the dream became a reality. The program was set up, the venue organized and the conference was set to take place. The commitment of five Montreal area school boards (including Riverside School Board, Lester B. Pearson, New Frontiers, English Montreal and Sir Wilfred Laurier) to send their students to participate in the event made it official and the last details fell into place. 

One of the most important components of the day was the leadership and logistical help provided by twenty students from Champlain College who volunteered their time to manage the day and provide support to participants. They showed a welcoming spirit, resourcefulness and enthusiasm and created a feeling of camaraderie amongst all present. As was stated by a Champlain student who attended, “the learning went all ways today – everyone benefitted…everyone learned.”
It was all smiles among those present.

Benoit Huot, a gold medalist paralympian, kicked off the day with an inspirational keynote message. He spoke of his love of sports, overcoming disability and fully living his experiences, both good and bad. His story was full of examples of hard work, perseverance, and learning from tough times and celebrating success.  

The keynote address wrapped up by 10 am and the group moved to the college gym to participate in some interactive icebreakers designed to help the attendees open up, share something about themselves and get to know each other. Participants then moved into one of five workshops led by experts in the field. 

The workshops included an employment session led by CRISPESH and joined by a representative from Ready, Willing and Able. Spectrum Productions shared their expertise in the responsible use
Practicing yoga and mindfulness.
of photos and video in social media; Cindy Durack, an experienced yoga instructor, lead a session on mindfulness and techniques to manage stress; LOVE shared strategies to manage bullying and the feelings that come from it, and Avatil talked about how to prepare for independent living.

Lunch provided a time for youth to meet, mingle and share. After pizza, fruit and deserts in the college cafeteria, the participants headed for their second workshop, the same as were offered in the morning and an opportunity for participants to attend their second choice. The day ended with a Karaoke celebration and more time to exchange email addresses and chat with teachers or a new friend. 

The day was an incredible success! We have been collecting evaluations and looking for ways to grow and improve the next event in the hopes of bringing more Montreal area youth together to learn and meet new people. For more information please contact Ann Taylor at