A few weeks ago we did an article on PETESTOCK. PETESTOCK was a small local event that gathered a collection of amazing local bands for a fun-filled day of music with the proceeds going to a local charity called the Red Roof Retreat.
Neither Katie or I knew anything about Red Roof Retreat and started to ask some questions and before too long we realized that there was another story we needed to tell.
First off, this is not a sad story, this is a story about champions.
We live in a cynical world. This is a world where a growing number of people do not want to accept accountability for their actions and are looking for every opportunity to lay down and let someone else do it for them because they weren’t given a fair chance. Everywhere you turn it seems someone has a sob story or excuse for not succeeding and it is typically the fault of “someone else.”
And then there is Steffanie Bjorgan. This is from the Red Roof Retreat website:
After five years of teaching, Steffanie Bjorgan’s second son was born with Cerebral Palsy. Steffanie and her husband Moe, quickly discovered that, with love and boundless energy, much can be done to support and enhance the lives of people with special needs. They established Red Roof Retreat as a place for children to learn and grow in a fun, safe and nurturing environment.
I will be candid here. My youngest brother was born with cerebral palsy (you can learn about the disorder HERE). Even though his CP is reasonably mild, I have witnessed the challenges that it has created for him over the years into adulthood, in particular how frustrated it makes him when it limits his activity and his social opportunities.
So, when I learned about Steffanie and some of her story it struck me personally.
Steffanie and Moe had their 2nd child, Garrett, when their first child was only 11 months old. Garrett has severe cerebral palsy, his mobility is confined to a wheelchair, he needs assistance for even the most basic tasks and around the clock care. It was clear in meeting him that he has a sparkling, funny personality and means the world to his family.
Steffanie and her husband Moe did what most people in their situation need to do out of necessity. They changed their life plans. They changed their schedule, they changed their jobs, they changed their home all to facilitate the new lifestyle that they were prepared to embrace but didn’t sign up for.
A lot of people in this situation yell to the heavens or mope or lash out. Instead, Steffanie entered this world and realized that Niagara had a number of options to help their son and other children in this position but it wasn’t enough.
In Ontario, we think we take care of those members of our society that can’t take care of themselves but there are huge gaps between provincial programs, private care and family commitments. Steffanie refers to them as our “hidden citizens.”
Steffanie decided to take on even more responsibility and create a solution to her problem that would facilitate other families in similar situations.
In 2001, Steffanie and Moe started the non-profit organization, Red Roof Retreat. The programs have grown and evolved over the years to currently include:
- summer day camp for ages 5 to 21
- respite services each weekend
- day program for young adults
- continuing education for care givers and professionals
- educational school trips for all ages
- Horseback riding, Teen Nights and Saturday Day Program
Katie and I spent a couple of hours at the beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake retreat and had an opportunity to witness the staff and many volunteers working with their clients (who range in age from 3-21 years).
While we were there, we were witness to a tranquil natural environment, filled with laughter and good-will and lots of love. It felt a lot like a family trip to the petting zoo (including horse rides, sheep, bunnies and a pony).
Steffanie’s father designed Happy Rolph’s many years ago and growing up with that experience, she knew as she moved forward with this project it was important to make this feel a lot less like an institution and more like a retreat. And that is exactly how it feels.
Red Roof Retreat is more than a decade old and Garrett is now 18 years old. The program and facility keeps growing with the support of local organizations, businesses, private donations and public funds. With camps in the summer, they ramp up to 15 staff members and rely on more than 4000 hours of volunteers over the course of the year.
These days Steffanie still is the only one who drives the tractor, but having terrific staff and volunteers allows her to spend more of her time focused on advocacy and education.
Steffanie indicates that the Niagara-on-the-Lake community has always been supportive in so many ways, but still the general public needs to know about these “hidden citizens” hiding in plain view. They need to know that they are just people that need a little more help and many of their families are carrying an unfair share of that burden.
She invites the public to come out and visit, walk along the conservation area on the grounds and see what it is they are doing every day. Like all charitable organizations, Red Roof Retreat can use funds and volunteers, but more than anything she hopes that a visit can create understanding about what they do and why it is so important.
JUST THE FACTS: RED ROOF RETREAT
Official Website: www.redroofretreat.com
Red Roof Retreat provides quality recreational, educational and respite services to children, youth and young adults with special needs and their families. Red Roof Retreat will develop a place where relationships are developed, awareness created and bonds are nurtured through understanding and respect for each individual’s special needs.
For more information, to arrange a visit or to rent the ranch:
1594 Concession Six
Ontario L0S 1J0