Joanne Farley - "Never Turn Anyone Away"

With a $5,000 donation and a dream, West Island Citizen was born in 1976 with the idea that a community takes care of its disadvantaged residents with no other reward than the good feeling of a job well done.

Thirty-five years later, the philosophy hasn’t changed but the organization sure has.

Funding has ballooned from the initial $5,000 to more than $500,000 annually and the number of protégés has jumped from 15 matches in its first year to approximately 400 today.

Citizen Advocacy’s conception can be attributed to a Winnipeg conference founder Joanne Farley attended in 1976 where she was inspired by Dr. W. Wolfensberger and his “people helping people” philosophy.

As the parent of an autistic and intellectually challenged son, Joanne had already spent more than 20 years championing the causes of people with intellectual and physical challenges in the West Island of Montreal when she decided to open the first Citizen Advocacy office in Quebec. 

“She was strong, determined and nothing stood in the way of what she wanted,” said Mary Clare Tanguay, Joanne’s daughter and current Director of Citizen Advocacy.

When Paul was born in 1950 and later diagnosed with autism, a term unfamiliar at that time, it pushed her to spend the next four decades creating educational, recreational, and housing programs for the handicapped. 

In addition to helping establish the first special education program in Quebec with the Baldwin Cartier School Board, Joanne sat on the board of the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped and helped raise funds to get the Gary Taylor Centre built.       

If that weren’t enough, she helped establish a summer camp for the intellectually handicapped at Camp  Kinkora and she was involved in the development of the  Lakeshore Vocational Project which provided jobs with local employers for the intellectually handicapped. 

In 1985 WICA launched a housing project called the Church Apartment Program designed to provide supervised housing for people experiencing mental health problems.  CAP provides shelter for 42 residents in the community as well as in two apartment complexes called Heron House and Farley House. 

The primary mandate is to recruit, screen, match and follow up volunteers with disadvantaged people in the community.  It could include the intellectually and physically challenged, people experiencing mental health problems, and seniors.

Mrs. Farley’s philanthropic efforts have not gone unnoticed.  She was awarded the Order of Canada in 2004, which was hand-delivered to her Pointe-Claire residence by then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

“It was her philosophy to never turn anyone away,” said Mary Clare.

That philosophy has carried Citizen Advocacy into the year 2011 and counts almost 400 active matches, 350 volunteer advocates and almost 500 protégés.  

Written by Marla Newhook
Edited by Lucinda Atwood

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