Angie Carboni, executive director of St. Bernadette Family Resource Centre, pictured with Samantha King at St. Jude’s new gift shop. Photo by Jean Ko Din

St. Jude’s helps special needs clients feel a part of society

By 
  • March 13, 2016

A genuine smile makes a big difference when one walks into a store. At St. Jude’s Academy of the Arts, you might even be welcomed with a hug from one of the special needs clients helping at the gift shop that day.

St. Jude’s recently opened a gift shop next door to the classrooms where it runs a day program for young adults with special needs. Every day, clients help restock shelves, organize inventory, package goods and even help create the products they sell.

“At St. Jude’s we teach people with intellectual and physical challenges life skills,” said executive director Angela Carboni. “It’s also a way for the people to work here and be a part of society, to say I’m capable of producing something of value.”

Carboni said having St. Jude’s clients contribute to the gift shop empowers them, developing work skills and gaining experience to make them employable. It also gives them confidence in their ability to contribute to society.

The St. Jude’s gift shop opened in December as an extension of the day retreat program St. Jude’s offers for elementary and high school students.
St. Jude’s Academy of the Arts is only one part of a larger charity that supports people with special needs. St. Bernadette Family Resource Centre also runs St. Bernadette’s Daycare Centre, which also supports physically and intellectually challenged children. The centre also runs lunch and after school programs for special needs children, as well as summer and March break day camps.

ShareLife has been supporting St. Bernadette’s program since Carboni started the charity in 1999. Being part of ShareLife has allowed her to run programs based on Catholic faith and teaching.

“What they are is a backing of our faith being administered to the public,” said Carboni. “It’s backing us up as Catholics and say I can teach the Catechism of the Catholic Church in our programs which is so important for the youth that come to our retreats.”

St. Jude’s also has a partner in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Carboni hosts religion class retreats that give students an opportunity to participate in workshops with the special needs clients. During arts and crafts workshops, students and clients make their own rosary bracelets as a souvenir of their day together.
Four years ago, St. Jude’s partnered with the students to sell the rosary bracelets in the schools to help raise money for the day charity. Soon there was more demand than supply.

“People wanted to help us, so teachers and students took boxes of the rosaries back to their schools and they were selling them and knowing that all the money would go to help the lives of the people they met at St. Jude’s,” said Carboni. “And it’s really beautiful because now they can see their item being sold in the store and so can the people we serve.”

Carboni said the gift shop has been a direct result of the community coming together to support St. Jude’s. Not only does the gift shop sell handmade rosary bracelets, it also has a diverse stock of religious statues, gifts and other items all donated by Franco and Maria Martire who recently closed their own gift store for retirement.

“(Maria Martire) wanted to leave her legacy, her mission to someone that will help the community,” said Carboni. “She gave us thousands of dollars worth of religious articles... she donated shelves and furniture and it became a full-fledged store.”

Although ShareLife has been a big part of the charity, Carboni said more support is needed. She hopes funds raised through the gift shop will help launch new programs through St. Bernadette Family Resource Centre. The Angel’s Care outreach program is meant to provide social support for families with special-needs children who are newly diagnosed in the daycare and hopefully, in the hospitals, as well.

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