Monica Maiato is on her way to independent living thanks to the help of Mary Centre. Mary Centre has helped Maiato with life skills to help her on her path. Michael Swan

Mary Centre paves path to independence

By 
  • November 15, 2020

Determined to become self-sufficient, Monica Maiato set her sights on a goal to live independently. Now going on two years since embarking on that journey, her life has completely transformed. 

Through the Mary Centre, a Toronto non-profit organization that supports and equips adults with developmental disabilities to live an independent life, the 29-year-old says she’s gained the life skills and confidence she needs to stand on her own two feet.

After a change in her family living situation, Maiato told her father she wanted to live on her own but wondered how she would get to that place of independence. With the support of family, she was connected with Mary Centre and took the first step towards her own autonomy.

“My cousin told me about this place where I can take programs, meet people and get my own place,” said Maiato, who hails from North York. “I had a sleep over and I really liked it. I tested it out for the first time, and I wanted to continue and see where it took me. I’ve really grown as a person.”

Mary Centre is an agency supported by ShareLife and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto. It strives to assist people with developmental disabilities in building a good life, creating new opportunities to attain a rich, satisfying life with social contact, friendships and family. Through its programs, Maiato has learned to cook, take care of a home, take the bus and other life skills.

Like many young millennials Maiato struggled with finances and says the Mary Centre has helped her in that area as well.

“Since being here I’ve become a better version of myself,” said Maiato.  “I’ve learned how to manage my money. ... It took me a little bit of time, but they helped me with that.”

Maiato grew up in a home with her mom and dad, but her life “turned upside down,” she says, in high school in 2009 when she lost her mother to cancer. Her mom was her “best friend” and she still gets emotional thinking about that time.

She lived with her father for a long time and her godmother played a big role in her life in helping her get to appointments. After the family home was sold, she moved in with an aunt for a short period before coming to Mary Centre.

While a generation ago people with developmental disabilities rarely lived into their 50s, today more and more are living well into their 70s and 80s, often outliving parents, siblings and caregivers. Mary Centre is helping to fill the gap by providing support for daily living and ensuring people with developmental disabilities can live life to their fullest potential.

“She has grown a lot from when I first met her,” said Shoyann Johnson, a direct support professional who has been working with Maiato for the past 10 months. “She was a bit nervous about making her meals, but now she’s more confident. Little things that we would have to remind her about, I think she’s getting better at doing it herself, like doing her laundry, waking up on time to taking her meds. I think she has a very bright future ahead.”

Through the job skills training Maiato landed a job at Legoland in December 2019.

“I got that job by nailing the interview,” said Maiato, beaming with pride. “I had a support person from my employment day program where I learned how to freshen up my resume and interview skills. I went to job fairs and my job coach found (the opening).”

More than the new skills she’s gained, it’s been the relationships she’s built with the staff and other residents at the centre that helped to shape a strong supportive community for her. Early this year she got the great news that she will be moving into her own apartment, which is also run by the Mary Centre, but due to COVID-19 the move has been delayed.

After working at Legoland for nine months Maiato was laid off in late September, also due to COVID-19. Though it has been a challenging time for her, with the confidence she’s built from all that she’s accomplished over the past two years, she maintains a positive attitude and is optimistic about what lies ahead.

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