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“...ILCWR offered more benefits to protect my attendant and protect me..."

The bond between attendants and consumers is something that is valued and celebrated within the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region’s organizational culture. One of the most rewarding aspects of offering an Attendant Services program is watching relationships grow between the people who use our services, and those who provide it. It is a special connection that is simply unparalleled, and one that is truly exemplified in the story of Karen and Catherine.

        The story of their friendship begins over 40 years ago in 1972. Karen and Catherine met at camp during their early teens, at a time when they were both living in Toronto. Soon, Catherine moved to Waterloo Region with her family, but kept in touch with Karen via mail and the occasional telephone call. They visited each other as often as possible, and it was during one of these visits that their friendship was strengthened, and both of their lives were changed.

        “Karen’s accident propelled us into a closer friendship,” says Catherine, who has supported Karen as her attendant for over 32 years. “We likely would have gotten there anyway, but it certainly accelerated things.”

        The accident, in which Karen was struck by a drunk driver as she was walking with a friend, was certainly a turning point in the lives of both women.

        In the weeks to follow, Karen was supported by her family, but also by Catherine, who helped her through her rehabilitation and provided assistance with Karen’s tasks of daily living one summer after the accident. “I didn’t think I was a caregiver type of person,” says Catherine, “but I knew there was a lot of stress on her family.” The summer went so well that the two decided to continue the arrangement for two and a half years. Then, during a one-year hiatus in Europe, Catherine had an epiphany. She felt a strong calling to return to her supportive role in Karen’s life, and over the years the two have shared a variety of experiences as classmates at Wilfrid Laurier University, as roommates of 32 years in their current home in New Hamburg, and most importantly, as enduring friends.

These days, Karen has retired from her career as a social worker, and spends a great deal of time volunteering for her Church, reading and spending time with her standard poodle, Tetley. Meanwhile Catherine is celebrating her 25th Anniversary as a staff member with the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region, and is paid for much of the work she does with Karen.

        “ILCWR offered more benefits to protect my attendant and protect me,” Karen recalls. “I was thrilled that ILC was able to carry me. Otherwise, I would be in an institution, if there was one that would have me.”

        ILCWR services have also been instrumental in giving Karen the opportunity to lead a full and fulfilling life as a social worker, up until her retirement in 1999. “The Outreach program is flexible, so Catherine was allowed to support me through employment,” she reflects. “That enabled me to give back to the community, but it would not have been possible without Catherine being paid a salary.”

        As for Catherine, she is still enjoying her role in Karen’s life, and as an ILCWR staff member. “I think I have the best life of anyone I know,” she says. “Karen is very grateful, and I know she doesn’t take me for granted. And having ILC supporting us has made this already fabulous thing just…over the top.”

        As much as the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region has played a role in this touching story, Karen and Catherine’s tale is a testament to the friendship of these two exceptional people.

        “Catherine keeps me independent in my own home,” Karen says. “She’s my best friend.”

        “I think we do fabulously well,” adds Catherine. There is a mental and spiritual strength to Karen, and she is very, very strong. So I’m not carrying her—I’m simply walking alongside.”






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