Mending Hearts, Transforming Lives: Creative Options Regina’s Journey of Inclusion

In the spirit of giving, reporter Pamela Cowan sheds light on the impactful work of Creative Options Regina (COR), a non-profit organization that has become a beacon of hope for individuals with intellectual disabilities, often coupled with mental health challenges. As part of our series highlighting the 12 Days of Difference-Makers in Regina, we share the story of how COR is creating new lives filled with love and support.

At the heart of COR’s mission is the belief that every individual deserves to feel loved and safe. One such individual is Andrew Ronnie, who, on his 35th birthday, found himself surrounded by the warmth of a caring community. For years, Ronnie faced isolation and fear, navigating through psychiatric units and emergency departments. However, the transformative journey began when a group of compassionate souls recognized his giving heart and the deep need for security within him.

COR, established in 2009 in partnership with the Ministry of Social Services, emerged as a response to the unmet needs of 448 Saskatchewan residents with intellectual disabilities. Michael Lavis, the executive director of COR, emphasizes that these individuals were often overlooked by existing systems, leading to gaps in their care.

“We started working with people nobody else wanted,” says Lavis, reflecting on COR’s commitment to providing personalized supports for those considered hard to reach by conventional services.

The organization operates on a companionship model, tailoring its services to fulfill individual dreams. This includes a range of support, from daytime and recreational activities to supported living and employment assistance. The goal is to promote independence and connect individuals with the broader community.

Many under COR’s care are among society’s most disenfranchised. Take the story of Gerald, a man with cerebral palsy who, initially bound in restraints, found liberation through COR’s intervention. By addressing his underlying health conditions and providing genuine care, the team at COR witnessed Gerald’s remarkable transformation from confinement to walking unassisted.

Over the past eight years, COR has grown to over 170 employees supporting more than 50 high-needs individuals. Lavis notes that the overarching diagnosis for those they serve is a deep sense of loneliness and disconnection. With an operating budget of $7.8 million funded by provincial and federal governments, COR has become a cost-effective alternative to frequent emergency room visits and police interventions.

To meet the increasing demand, COR has expanded its focus to include youths with intellectual developmental disabilities and mental health issues. The organization collaborates with Campus for All, a program at the University of Regina, to provide inclusive post-secondary education. Additionally, COR’s employment initiative, 4 to 40, connects individuals with flexible job opportunities, fostering inclusion in the workforce.

Lavis and his passionate team are dedicated to challenging the labels and diagnoses that often define the individuals they serve. Drawing on his extensive experience working with marginalized populations globally, Lavis emphasizes the importance of providing opportunities for everyone to shine and showcase their inherent value.

As COR continues to make a profound impact, it stands as a testament to the power of compassionate care and the belief that mending hearts is the key to transforming lives. In Regina, Creative Options Regina is not just an organization; it is a catalyst for positive change, proving that when hearts are healed, everything else falls into place.