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Jason’s Wheelhouse continues to help those with higher needs in the community

Community ProfileJason’s Wheelhouse continues to help those with higher needs in the community

Since opening its doors a little over five years ago, Jason’s Wheelhouse has become one of the key higher need’s recreation centres within Brant County.

The founder, Janice Knill, a registered counsellor with over 25 years of experience, decided that a specialized centre was needed when there was nothing available in the county to help her son Jason, who is non-verbal and has autism.

“The idea started about six and a half years ago. I got a doctor’s appointment and my husband and I went for my son. We were talking about ideas and options [and] there was nothing in our community that qualified for [Jason]…his kind of his needs were too high…so he wasn’t eligible for most things. He wasn’t in school at the time, because school couldn’t handle him. [So, we asked] what else is there for him. [And the doctor responded by saying] it isn’t a community problem [or] health care problem [or] education problem. It’s an engineering problem. So, I left there, pretty upset. Because there was no answer, “said Knill.

Jason and Janice Knill are pictured here. Jason was the inspiration behind Janice’s desire to open Jason’s Wheelhouse and help other guests in the community and beyond with higher needs. Photo courtesy Janice Knill/Jason’s Wheelhouse.

However, despite her disappointment, Knill decided to do something for her son and the community.

“I went home and obviously, fired up…and realized that Jason can’t be the only one…We live in a very isolated world when we have a son like Jason; I don’t know other parents [and other] families; we couldn’t go very many places besides my parents’ house. So that conversation fueled my fire…other children have access to dance class and music lessons and group activities and social events [but for] Jason, there was no safe space to experience those things,” stated Knill.

With the desire to make her idea into a reality, Knill started to do some research despite some challenges.

“I started looking into what business model fit best. I figured out after doing my research that a not-for-profit, aligned best with my morals and values. Being a not-for-profit has created more hurdles than I expected, especially when it comes to financing. Banks don’t want to give you money if you’re a non-for-profit [and] a lot of places that would typically donate [prefer]…to give to a charity so that they can get that charitable receipt. We’re not a charity, so we can’t do that.” Knill continued, “The financial challenges have been quite big. [However,] because I was Jason’s mom, I had a lot of great support from other organizations and agencies in the community. Most of the support came from Lansdowne Children’s Centre…they just automatically supported it…even sharing policies and procedures with me so that I had kind of a template that would be pre-approved by the ministry.”

Jason, pictured here, has made strong progress since Jason’s Wheelhouse opened its doors a little over five years ago. Photo courtesy Jason’s Wheelhouse.

Knill also reached out and connected with other organizations in the community such as Crossing All Bridges and the W. Ross Macdonald School as well as others in Simcoe, Hamilton and Kitchener in order to get more insight in developing the centre.

“As soon as we opened, and even now, all of our programs are individualized. Most of our guests that come to the Wheelhouse need one-to-one. [However,] it all depends on the needs of our guests. So actually, right now, I don’t have any group activities, [but] dance and yoga will come back [soon],” said Knill.

Janice is pictured here accepting a donation from the Paris & District Chamber of Commerce. Photo courtesy Janice Knill/Jason’s Wheelhouse.

However, Jason, who was the catalyst for why Knill opened the centre, has continued to make huge strides during the last five years because of the individualized programs offered.

“Jason is still my toughest guest. He sets the bar quite high. He has a staff of two to one because his needs are high. He walks in like he owns the place which I love! That’s our goal. We want all of our guests to walk in like it’s their own place. But he’s really made huge gains…we’ve been open for just over five years, and he now stays for three and a half hours. That’s the longest he will stay. So, he’s doing great…he will explore the backyard [and] explore new rooms. He’s been playing in the music room more often [and] exploring instruments,” said Knill.

Along with Jason, other guests have thrived because of the centre’s unique programming which sometimes translates into successes away from the centre.

“With our guests that are 20 years and older, we find that choice is one of the hardest things for them. In the art room, for example, a guest will find six drawers that have six kinds of preset activities in them. One might be woodworking, one might be clay, one might be painting, or one might be a scissors and glue type of craft. And when our guests go up to the drawers, and know that they can open them and then choose what they want to do [and] that they’re allowed choice. It’s something that, if I didn’t see Jason going through it, I wouldn’t have known that was going to be a thing.”

Janice Knill has made an effort to reach out to the community to build awareness for Jason’s Wheelhouse. Here she is speaking engagement at the Paris & District Chamber of Commerce. Photo courtesy Janice Knill/Jason’s Wheelhouse.

Knill continued, “We had three young ladies from the [W. Ross Macdonald School] who were blind. And the one was, her behaviors were pretty intense. And it was really hard to find something that pleased her [and] it was very challenging to figure out what to offer, so we tried different things and we discovered that she loved gardening. She has since moved up north with her family, but I still keep in touch with her mother…and she’s still gardening,” said Knill.  

Despite the many varying challenges which a non-profit must face on a daily basis, Jason’s Wheelhouse continues to build momentum and grow its reach within the community.

“Some of the projects that I really wanted to do were put on the backburner as we were very new when COVID started. So now they’re our anniversary goals. [We are] focused on our summer programs…I want our backyard to evolve more [and hold] organized events in the evening [such as] dance, yoga, exercise, and music lessons,” said Knill. 

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