SCIO Community Magazine

Building Connections

“Human connections are deeply nurtured in the field of shared story.”
– Jean Houston

Providing peer support – true mentorship – has been a hallmark of the work of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario (SCIO) for 75 years.  We believe that the sharing of lived experience and knowledge is central to helping people who have sustained a spinal cord injury adjust to their situation and rebuild their lives.  For the newly injured, there are so many questions and so many emotions.  The long-lasting success of our SCIO Connect Peer Program rests with our understanding of the situation both for the injured person and their family.  SCIO Connect matches people who are newly injured and their family members, to mentors who have lived experience with a spinal cord injury to provide a first-hand perspective of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

This important work could not be done without the support of our program sponsors.  “We are so fortunate to have found partners who not only value what we do but share our vision of what the program can be.  They are invested in making a real contribution to the spinal cord injury community,” says Peer Program Manger, Lubna Aslam.  This program provides an important safe space for our clients, their families, our mentors and practitioners, alike.  Beyond its supportive role, SCIO Connect, particularly the monthly workshops, has become an important learning resource especially for rehabilitation clinicians who may be new to the world of spinal cord injury.  “They need to learn how we speak about ourselves.”


“Our sponsors have been consistent during these unprecedented times and through their generosity we have been able to continue to offer the hope and encouragement that is essential to those facing a new spinal cord injury.”

– Peter Athanasopoulos, Director of Public Policy

Since 2019, our Provincial Partner, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) has provided support for SCIO Connect, our web-based “Living with an SCI” educational content and our community events including our pre-COVID “Community Celebrations” across the province.  The relationship with IBC has grown over the years from event support to its present robust partnership.  IBC is the national industry association representing Canada’s private home, auto and business insurers.  In the words of Dr. Stuart Howe, CEO of SCIO, “IBC’s commitment on behalf of the insurance industry to SCIO’s work is a strong endorsement of the value of the service that we provide and we are extremely proud of this partnership.  This long-standing relationship has intangible benefits for both IBC and SCIO in that we often provide input on each other’s public policy ideas and initiatives – we can help each other pressure-test policy ideas from our different perspectives.  IBC helps demystify insurance for our clients; we help demystify the disability sector for insurance companies.”

Bell Mobility is a key Knowledge Enterprise and Content Partner.  Beyond their support of our Cortree course on “Adaptive Home Technology” and events such as our upcoming (post-COVID) anniversary gala, Bell Mobility is the sponsor of the Toronto SCIO Connect Peer Program.  “The scale of the Toronto program makes it particularly demanding and incredibly rewarding to offer,” according to Ms. Aslam.  “There are so many competing options for clients’ time and resources in Toronto; we have to make sure that they roll away from the SCIO Connect events feeling like they have gained a great deal from the experience.  We just could not do that without the resources that the partnership with Bell Mobility provides.”  “Having a new spinal cord injury is a huge obstacle to overcome; throw in a pandemic and limit the number of family members available for support – it has been just unimaginable.  Our sponsors have been consistent during these unprecedented times and through their generosity, we have been able to continue to offer the hope and encouragement that is essential to those facing a new spinal cord injury.  Thank you for allowing us to continue to help others,” added Charlie Warriner, Toronto Peer Program Coordinator.

The generosity of Bergeron Clifford LLP is well known in the Kingston region.  They have been the sponsors of SCIO Connect Kingston since 2009.  Not only have they provided the solid financial basis for us to build perhaps our flagship peer program model, but they are nearly always seen at the monthly SCIO Connect events.  “Working alongside the people from Bergeron Clifford has been an incredible experience.  Their professionalism, kindness and their willingness to help, demonstrates their love and compassion for the people of Kingston and the surrounding community.  Their presence and continued dedication to our peer program and events have impacted the lives of many clients, families and community members.  Not only do I see Ted Bergeron, Chris Clifford, and the team at Bergeron Clifford as valued sponsors, but I also see them as friends. It is because of their support that we have been able to create a family-like atmosphere that keeps people coming back each month,” says Andrea Andrecyk, Kingston Peer Program Coordinator.

Edward Bergeron and Chris Clifford
Edward Bergeron and Chris Clifford

This year, Bergeron Clifford has taken the extraordinary step to expand their support of SCIO Connect as they become the sponsors of the Ottawa region program as well.  “We are thrilled to have this amazing opportunity to strengthen and grow our program in Ottawa,” says Federico Boccheciampe, Ottawa Peer Program Coordinator.  “One thing we have learned in our years of offering this program is the importance of sharing food together – it builds community connection and relationships.  I am looking forward to a return to in-person peer events and being able to break bread with our clients and volunteers and when we do, we will give thanks for the kindness of our friends at Bergeron Clifford.”

Marcel-Bourassa
Marcel Bourassa

The latest addition to our SCIO Connect offerings is our SCIO Connect for Families – an incredible and much-needed support for the family members of people who have sustained a spinal cord injury.  This program is a combination of our signature peer mentorship model and group information and support sessions on a wide range of topics of concern to family members with a strong focus on caregiver well-being and support.  This program would be nothing more than a dream were it not for the incredible generosity of the Bourassa-Savaria Foundation who provided the seed capital to develop the program content and delivery platform.

“Being able to offer SCIO Connect for Families means that family members have the opportunity to come together with others to feel empowered to care for themselves and their loved ones and gather the knowledge and tools they need to be successful in their role,” says Sheri Upper, the developer of the group session portion of the program.  Feedback from the participants has been overwhelmingly positive, with members commenting, “this was a valuable experience for me and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate” and “it helped me to know that I am not alone in this unexpected journey.”  The Bourassa-Savaria Foundation was established in 2014 by Marcel Bourassa, President and CEO of Savaria Corporation, to support people facing mobility challenges.  Through their support of SCIO Connect for Families, the Foundation has most definitely made a significant contribution toward their mission.

SCIO is grateful for the foundational support of all of our partners; with their support, we are able to guide our community in their spinal cord injury journey from “Peer to peer. Strength to strength.”

By: Wendy Hough | Spring 2021

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