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PADDLE Program continues to persevere 16 years after it began

'The nice thing about this program is that you don’t have to fit into a box. We are so flexible with what we can do'

Rooted is all about the people and the places that make us proud to call our community home.  


For 15 years Judy Camirand has been a part of the Board of Directors of the PADDLE program, acting as the Treasurer. PADDLE (Providing Adults with Developmental Disabilities Lifelong Experiences) is a parent driven initiative which Camirand was involved in right from day one.  

“I had been the treasurer of NADY (Nipissing Association for Disabled Youth) for over 20 years. “Both Lori Venasse (Paddle’s President) and myself had already been a part of NADY and with three other families we were able to put in an application towards the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services that showed the community was lacking in day programs, and that’s what really got the ball rolling with PADDLE.”  

Camirand says it was an initial shock to arrive in North Bay and not have some of these services already here. “We are originally from Timmins and when my husband got re-located to North Bay due to work, I thought “oh great it’s a bigger city which means they should have better services for my daughter,” but that wasn’t the case. “It was a very difficult community to navigate in order to find services. So, I was part of a group of concerned parents who just wanted to be able to get our kids the help they needed and it eventually grew into what we have here today,” says Camirand.  

The PADDLE program can fit the needs of many individuals according to Camirand. “The nice thing about this program is that you don’t have to fit into a box. We are so flexible with what we can do,” she says. “Some of our participants are able to come on their own, some come with a support worker. We do an assessment prior to bringing anyone into the program to figure out how to best support them.”  

But right now, the program is capped.  

“There’s been a big push in the last two years through the COVID-19 pandemic to attract more people and more families to relocate to North Bay. We have 30 participants in our program before COVID and now with the influx of new families moving to North Bay we have 26 on a waiting list to get into the program,” she says.  

“I can’t bring anybody else into the program because of lack of funding, but we do have the space.” Camirand says this is where the advocacy to the government comes in. “We’ve been trying for the last five years to get funding. Any kind of support for us would be for parents and community members to advocate to the ministry. We have staff who have been with us since day one who continue to work on a low salary compared to their qualifications. We’ll never stop doing what we’re doing but if we had some kind of on-going funding to compensate the staff, that would really help us in the long run.”  

The majority of their funding comes from the numerous fundraisers we organize throughout the year as well as the small fee they charge the participants. “I really can’t charge a large fee because they are on disability pensions and that’s who we have to gear this toward,” says Camirand.  

“Rotaract Club of North Bay raised about $55,000 through the “Up the Creek Without a Paddle Program” this year. We continue to do “The Festival of Trees” in partnership with the North Bay Regional Health Centre.”  

Camirand says there was a personal connection to that event the first year they partnered together. “My choice for the hospital portion of the money was to be used for a dental x-ray machine. There was no machine prior to that and when someone with health issues needs to have dental work done, they are usually put under. My husband and I were always taking our daughter to Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and they only did basic dentistry there. Our first year in this partnership we asked for the money to go towards this machine, and the funds ended up being topped up by the local Dental Association,” says Camirand which became a huge asset in North Bay. “For kids and adults with special needs, it's very difficult to get them to sit still and have their mouth open for the dentist.”  

The PADDLE program is run out of the former École St-Anne building on Albert Street. “We are renting this space from Greenwood Baptist Church who have been so great with us. We fit in with what they believe so there is a good partnership there. When we first looked at renting this place, they came to our program at Chippewa Secondary School to see what we were all about and immediately they said they would be happy to have us here,” says Camirand.  

“We’ve got the space we need here and we’re putting money back into it as well. We renovated a room into a kitchen, we’ve upgraded a bathroom, so Greenwood Baptist is very happy with having us here.”  

Camirand says that fits with the overall message of how important it is to have the support of the community behind our Program. “We would not have made it 15 years. I’ve always said that PADDLE belongs to the community. It’s a parent-run program, but without those dollars coming in from the community – we wouldn’t be able to do any of this,” she says.  

“The other thing we offer to the community is that we take a lot of students from Canadore College and Nipissing University to do their placements. We usually have our door banged down because there are so many students hoping to do their placements here. It’s a good problem to have, although you still have to manage it, which is another job for our group to handle.”  

Camirand says they remain optimistic about ever getting ongoing funding. “This is something we’re bringing forward to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. When we started, we had seven students, which then grew to 15 participants. We then got a teacher through the Near North School Board, and we’ve had a teacher for the last 12 years now. So, the educational sector has recognized us, but the Ministry that is really responsible for us has not,” she says.  

“Our staff are good at what they do, they love it, and they are sticking with us as we go into our 16th year.”  

Camirand says getting involved as a volunteer was something she didn’t have to think twice about and encourages others to do the same.  

“I’ve been a volunteer since I came to North Bay and honestly, it's good for your mind and it's good for your soul. There are some moments where I get up and think to myself “what have I gotten myself into?” but volunteering makes you part of an extended family,” she says.  

“I think the younger generation really needs to experience that. We need people to take up the mantle and help out local service clubs whose members are aging. Service clubs are very important and big supporters of organizations like ours and we rely on those partnerships to continue doing what we’re doing.”  

If you have a story idea for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected] 

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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