A place of their own

The Longside Club for people with disabilities in a funding crisis

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on February 28, 2012

Gary Gibbons shakes his head when his support worker asks him what would happen if he couldn’t come to the Longside Club.

“My dear, that would break his heart. He loves coming here,” says support worker Rosarie O’Dea.

“Hopefully, it won’t come to this — closing the doors. If only I could win $50 million, we’d have a spot.”

O’Dea is employed to help Gibbons, 50, who is limited in speech and uses a special chair. The St. John’s club means the world to him, a world that used to be confined to his home most months of the year before he got approved for a worker through the provincial home support program.

For the past 15 months, Gibbons and O’Dea have been on the go almost every day to the Longside Club, a space where Gibbons can take part in activities.


The activites include bingo, bowling, dances, art, movies, pool, karaoke and games, and socializing with other people.

The Longside’s volunteer board has enough money to pay the rent for only a few more weeks. The manager was laid off, but is staying on to try to save the club.

The Longside Club is also a place special to O’Dea and other support workers, many of whom also volunteer some time to the club.

Betty Hynes, Gibbons’ aunt, has been coming to the Longside Club for about seven years with her client. On this day, she was dropping in to help with an upcoming fundraising blitz.

As The Telegram reported last week, the Longside Club has lost one of its funding generators — a short-order cooking program it operated for 18 years. The course was funded by government to help people get off income support and gain employment in hotels, restaurants and other service industries.

And the board used the course to supplement the Longside operations and now plans to pursue other government grants.

But in the meantime, the Longside Club needs emergency funding and hopes corporate and private donors will step up.

Despite media activity  last week, there was no good news when The Telegram visited the Longside Club Monday.

The social and recreational centre is a haven for 60-80 members with disabilities who might otherwise have nowhere else to go and little opportunity to socialize with each other.

The worry among volunteers, as they organize a blitz of fundraising activities, is profound.

The facility has just one paid staff member now and that position is funded by the Vera Perlin Society.

“It’s just awful. There’s nowhere for them to go, especially if they are wheelchair-bound,” Hynes said of the members.

“It’s devastating to say the least.”

O’Dea recalled the tears in Hynes’ eyes the first time she came with Gibbons to the Longside Club.

“Before that he was looking at four walls.  All he had was a TV and radio,” Hynes said.

O’Dea said when 4 p.m. comes on the days he comes to the Longside, Gibbons never wants to leave.

Each bingo day, Gibbons takes a spot beside caller John Chafe.

“He think he’s calling bingo,” said Chafe, the club’s president and a support worker who first came to the Longside Club after the cod moratorium in the 1990s when he retrained for home care. Chafe does double duty now as a volunteer.

Chafe said most of the clients who come to Longside have support workers.

As Paul Eddy worked on a jigsaw puzzle Monday, Gibbons was watching “Rachel Ray,” one of his favourite programs, with Krista Ball.

Ball described herself as the most popular member of the club.

“She knows everybody’s name,” said her support worker, Emily McCall, who was surprised the number of people who use the facility when she first came there.

Besides the activities for their clients, the support workers have an opportunity to talk about their jobs and unlike going to the mall, no one’s staring or being insensitive.

Members come to the Longside Club Monday to Thursday and get together to go to the movie theatre on Fridays.

The walls of the tidy club are filled with artwork that all the members have worked on with the help of an artist.

The Longside Club is planning an auction of the astounding works — some of which depict streetscapes, landscapes, prominent buildings and flowers.

Vice-president Susan Brenton said the organization is not looking for 100 per cent funding from government and has had its own fundraising programs — such as Friday lunches it sells to businesses and offices.

It’s also been supported through some other grants, including help from the City of St. John’s, the Sisters of Mercy and the United Way, Brenton said.

And the club is also grateful to Smith Stockley, which has given the club a break on rent since 1996.

After four years as an employee, manager Francis Costello said he can’t walk away from the facility, even though he’s been laid off.

“It shouldn’t have to come to this point,” he said as the board met to strategize on the future Monday.

The provincial NDP called last week for Joan Burke, minister of advanced Education and Skills — which funded the short-order cook program — to come up with emergency cash to keep the Longside Club open.

Burke said Monday in a telephone interview that the short order cook course was discontinued because in recent years, those who took it were not successful in finding employment. She said the board of directors did a review which came up with some recommendations and the department is willing to work with the board if it wants to submit a proposal to revamp the course.

But she said, the funding is through a labour market program and it wouldn’t be fair to fund an unsuccessful course if income support clients are hoping to gain employment.

Burke said other than that, the board could approach the voluntary and non-profit arms of government for assistance and her department is willing to help the board find the right officials.

“I wouldn’t want them to feel they are out their on their own to figure out government and good luck at it,” Burke said.

Meantime, the Longside Club, 41 Shaw Street, will hold a recycling drive Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a flea market Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For information on how to help, the Longside Club can be reached at 722-4338.




Gary Gibbons is shown with his support worker Rosarie O’Dea. For people with disabilities like Gibbons, the Longside Club in St. John’s is a place to gather. — Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram