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CARES Facilitator Spotlight: Ragavan Paranchothy

I am a communications consultant by trade and a mental health advocate by passion. SAAAC CARES to me, has been an incredible journey of learning and sharing as a facilitator since 2017. I have met many great individuals from several walks of life, all united by a common thread – caregiving and its impact on their well-being. Our conversations about individual experiences, societal norms, mental health, and life have always been enlightening. Furthermore, witnessing a positive transformation in the participants from their first day to the last is gratifying. The program leaves a lasting and life-changing impact on many of the participants.

CARES empowers and enables the participants to look at daily life situations differently. In addition, the program fosters a community bond amongst the participants and creates a sense of belonging. It is a safe space where one can speak freely without the fear of judgement. To many, it is more than a reprieve from the daily grind; it is a joyous retreat to self-care.

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CARES Facilitator Spotlight: Sahana Jeyakumar

I am a social worker and psychotherapist that has had the opportunity to work with SAAAC and their families since 2016. Consequently, I’ve learnt a lot about what a culturally responsive service looks like. CARES is a great example of this responsive nature.

Being a CARES facilitator, I’ve seen the resilience that caregivers have along with the challenges and barriers that they face when caring for a child with special needs. I’ve had the opportunity to listen and learn about these family’s stories and how they navigate such complicated care systems. I’ve seen first hand the empowerment and confidence they gain by having the space to share their stories with families that can relate. Learning skills to cope with stress along with practicing how to share their stories are a few of the benefits that can be expected for participants. Some of the benefits of being a facilitator includes fostering and nurturing therapeutic skills along with being part of a family centered approach.

I continue to be inspired by fellow facilitators, SAAAC staff and clinical team for their commitment to families and their children. Moreover, I look forward to listening and learning to our families’ stories. 

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CARES Facilitator Spotlight: Shankavi Selvanathan

Hi There! My name is Shankavi Selvanathan and I have been part of SAAAC for a year now. I am a Registered Kinesiologist by profession and the founder of a wellness clinic, HRIM Wellness. I have been in the health and wellness field for over 5 years and I am continuously working on impacting the lives of many. My passion for empowering individuals to understand the value of their mental and physical health is what drew me into becoming a SAAAC Cares facilitator. SAAAC provides families with an 8-week program to help caregivers support the development of a child with an autism or special needs diagnosis. Over the course of the program, we have round table discussions about topics such as stress, self-compassion, helpful thinking and more.

My very first experience of being a CARES facilitator was truly a heart-warming one. Hearing the obstacles and difficulties that caregivers encounter day-to-day, and watching them develop and apply new strategies is truly inspirational. The transformation from orientation day, to our final day of the program is an opportunity I hope that many caregivers should consider. Reconnecting with caregivers who have completed this program speaks volumes of how the program impacts their lives beyond the 8 weeks.

To me, the SAAAC Cares program is a program that truly shows that not all superheroes wear capes! Caregivers are the backbone for children with special needs and the support and skills we share are the pillars for better mental health. 

Stomp on stigma and let’s embrace the beauty of how unique we all are!

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CARES Facilitator Spotlight: Jordan Fruitman

Developmental, psychological, and sociological challenges associated with autism are not only difficult for affected children, but also for their caregivers. Through the process of mirroring emotions and building trust, I have helped parents realize SAAAC CARES is a safe space to share personal experiences related to caregiving. My goal is to help every parent have their personal stories feel heard, understood, and respected; gaining realization that they are not alone in their struggles.

By facilitating SAAAC CARES, I have learned the value of shared experience is really powerful. I have seen parents create meaningful friendships with other parents, broadening their sense of purpose outside of caregiving, and rewriting their stories and experiences to emphasize positives in every situation. Nothing makes me more happy when parents of various ethnic backgrounds connect with each other and build a sense of community, especially during challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To me, the word “CARES” means being compassionate towards yourself. Humans beings can have a tendency to be overcritical, especially towards ourselves; it is important to offer ourselves the same level of kindness you would provide for loved ones. Through practicing self-compassion, we can enjoy life from a fresh perspective by appreciating what we current possess, and seeing mistakes as opportunities to empower ourselves.

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Our Brand Story

The CARES 24/7 concept was born from the fact that parenting is more than a full-time job. It is a responsibility that continues around the clock. Hence the CARES Program. This much-needed program is designed to assist parents and caregivers in coping with the extraordinary responsibilities they face every day. Ideally, the program will offer coping tools that the caregivers can apply to their lives as they operate around the clock. 

The Sun was used as an icon of light, love, hope, support, and warmth. There are 24 rays of light that consist of 7 dots to represent the 24/7 concept and the notion that the sun rises and sets every day.

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CARES Facilitator Spotlight: Michelle Bascom

Bringing caregivers together from all over the province during a pandemic has been one of my greatest experiences as Service Navigator for Autism Ontario. Part of the role as Service Navigator is to host a variety of events and support groups within our communities, though I could not have anticipated the way in which this program would connect our team with caregivers from all over the province. Covid-19 quickly halted all in-person events which were a large part of the way we connected and supported our families in Ontario. Fortunately, the CARES program has allowed us to come together virtually and support one another during these current and unprecedented times. 

Facilitated by parent volunteers and trained staff, the CARES program offers an opportunity to connect effectively and share experiences pertaining to caring for children and youth on the Autism spectrum. Throughout the six-week program, caregivers explore topics such as: stress management, helpful thinking, self-compassion, and problem-solving, which allow them to learn and reflect on their personal mental health needs.

The CARES program provides helpful and relatable content to participants across the province of Ontario. For some, taking part in this virtual platform has also helped create connections and build friendships that continue beyond the program. Parent Maria Silva states, “My son’s new diagnosis with ASD has been extremely difficult for me. Having some supportive people around me is very appreciated during this unprecedented time.”. In my time as a Service Navigator and CARES program facilitator, hearing caregivers share their experiences is always a privilege. Their resiliency always shines bright and their support for one another as parents is truly inspiring to witness. 

Participants of the CARES program that have connected across Ontario, including from more remote areas of the province, have expressed their sincerest gratitude for the program. They also stated that they would have never been able to attend this program and connect with other parents, province-wide, if not for the virtual platform. One mother shared that she has traveled up to four hours one way in order to attend other programs she felt were important. Fortunately, the CARES program allows for caregivers to participate from anywhere in the province, from Thunder Bay through to Hamilton, and anyplace in-between, all from the comfort of their own homes. Many parents have expressed that not having to worry about travel concerns or organizing childcare, in order to be able to attend important programs such as the CARES program, reinforced their willingness to participate and their ability to commit to the six-week program. There is something to be said about virtually bringing caregivers together province-wide, helping them feel understood and supported, while in the comfort of their own homes. As Service Navigator for Autism Ontario and program facilitator, taking part in this essential virtual platform and helping parents build connections province-wide has been an incredible achievement and heartening experience. 

Covid-19 brought forth many interruptions in our daily lives, but in this case, it has provided us with an opportunity for meaningful virtual connections. With all the positive feedback received by caregivers from across the province, Autism Ontario hopes to continue offering the CARES program on an ongoing basis, utilizing the virtual platform.  Our next six-week program is set to begin in the new year, and we look forward to seeing you there!

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