On April 30, Waterloo Region Family Network hosted its seventh annual Evening of Elegance and its first in-person event since 2019. This year, the event was held for the first time at St. George Banquet Hall in Waterloo. This new venue allowed us to host a sit-down meal in a spacious hall where our guests could feel comfortable joining us in person once again. The health and safety of our guests and their families were our main priorities while planning and executing this year’s event.
During the evening, guests had the chance to participate in a silent auction with a range of items and curated baskets from fantastic local businesses and generous community members. They also had an opportunity to purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win a $1000 gift card for Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa or a Hot Air Balloon experience in Waterloo Region.
Our Self-Advocacy Liaison, Cristina Stanger, was our feature presenter and spoke about her work with WRFN and the impact her Self-Advocacy support has on individuals with exceptionalities. Her speech was heartfelt, full of honesty and humour. Overall, it was a testament to her journey as a woman with exceptionalities, the impact WRFN had early on in that journey, and how Cristina now uses her experiences to help support others whose shoes she’s been in.
We were fortunate to have Mike Farwell, host of The Mike Farwell Show, join us for the evening and be our energetic emcee. With his help, we were able to run a smooth and joyous evening!
This year, WRFN was so pleased to present Jennifer Lasenby-Lessard, WRFN Parent Mentor, with the Matthew MacGregor Award for volunteerism. Parent Mentors provide emotional support to, and share resources with, parents who are traveling similar journeys. Jen joined the WRFN Board in 2020 and later joined the Governance and Nominations Committee. She was also instrumental in overseeing one of the key action items within WRFN’s current Strategic Priorities – a parent/caregiver survey. Jen worked with a recently-graduated psychology student from the University of Guelph to complete and analyze the survey last fall. Hearing and listening to parent/caregiver voices is critical to the work of WRFN. The survey results will influence future supports and programming offered by WRFN and partner agencies in our community.
We are so lucky to have another incredible Parent Mentor, Christine Zaza, to honour with the Matthew Macgregor Award for Vounteerism this year. In 2019, Christine created and facilitated a program and information session for students with exceptional needs transitioning to Post-Secondary education, their parents, and educators. She continues to be passionate about sharing this information and, along with other working group members including Jen, is planning new information sessions. Along with her own experience, Christine has engaged representatives from local Post-Secondary institutions as part of presenting panels helping to prepare students, and their parents, for this significant life-stage transition. She had a lead role in the development of the Autism in High School website in 2017 Autism in High School – a web-based resource guide created to help students with autism and their families navigate the transitions and challenges of high school.
Christine has also shared her knowledge and experience as a speaker at an A New Chapter Group meeting and recently as a co-presenter to a Parent Network of over 100 parents at a local business on the topic “Walk with us: lived experiences with autism.”
WRFN is truly grateful to Jen and Christine for their passion and commitment to helping exceptional families in our community thrive.
This year’s event was generously sponsored by Heffner Toyota, Melloul-Blamey Construction, Gowling WLG (Canada) LLP, Coupal Markou Commercial Real Estate Inc. Brokerage, David Schooley, Your Neighbourhood Credit Union, and RBC.