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The Beginning of Something Special

Jeff Semple

Published in the "Carleton Place Canadian," the "Almonte Gazette," the "EMC," the "Perth Courier," and the "Smith Falls Record News"

June 2006

"And the award goes to...Shannon Mitchell!"

May 31, 2006, marked the beginning of something special. 18 students accepted their diplomas as part of the first graduating class of the social service worker program at Algonquin College Perth. Shannon Mitchell was one of these graduates. Shannon entered the new program in 2004, hoping to pursue a career working with troubled adolescents. As part of her final year in the program, Shannon was offered a field placement with Community Living Association Lanark County, supporting adults with an intellectual disability. With little interest in pursuing that type of work, Shannon fought to rid herself of the placement. Eventually, however, Shannon reluctantly accepted the position. It would be an experience that would change her life.

"There's not enough words to describe it," she says. "It was just a great, great experience. I can't say that enough. It's everything that you would want in a placement or a job."

After spending three days a week of her final year working at Community Support Services (a program of Community Living Association) in Perth, Shannon has decided to pursue a career working with adults with an intellectual disability. And, at her graduation ceremony on May 31st, Shannon became the first recipient of the Community Living Association Lanark County Certificate of Excellence, awarded to a student who makes a significant contribution to the goals and beliefs of the Association.

"Shannon is just so natural, she stands out," says Peter Bigras, a facilitator for Community Support Services in Perth who worked with Shannon during her placement. "It's no wonder she's won. She's just...well I don't want to say perfect, but she's darn close."

"It was a unanimous decision by all of the faculty," says Lisa Shaw-Verhoek, coordinator of the new social service worker program. "There were other candidates that would have been very appropriate for the award. But Shannon had that extra sparkle and commitment to this particular target group." On a broader scale, the new award signifies the growing relationship between Community Living Association Lanark County and Algonquin College Perth; a relationship that is creating opportunities and shaping career choices for Shannon and others like her.

"It's a win-win situation," says Lisa. "We're training graduates that will be ready and able to support people with (intellectual) disabilities in Lanark County."

During the school year, Algonquin College students can be found at placements in all four Community Support Services locations in Perth, Smith Falls, Carleton Place, and Almonte. And as much as the relationship assists the students and staff on both sides, the real benefactors are the people receiving the support.

"The relationship is important because it creates more connections in our community," says Karen Southcott, facilitator for Community Support Services in Perth. "But the connections it makes for the people we work for is just amazing."

Shannon has now graduated and her placement has ended, but she still makes time to drop in regularly to help out and say hello. And in the meantime at Community Support Services in Perth, Karen and Peter are looking forward to a new year with a new student placement.

"The new student coming in September is musical; she plays guitar and sings," says Karen.

"So there will be a new idea starting in September. I'm looking forward to it. It's really great."

This could really be the beginning of something special.

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