Community Living Brant executive director Debbie Cavers (left) and director of community development and services Rishia Burke are excited about an Ontario Trillium Foundation grant that will help launch a new project called Belonging Brant. BRIAN THOMPSON/THE EXPOSITOR

A new Community Living Brant project aims to strengthen connections and friendships in people’s neighbourhoods.

Thanks to a $560,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, a three-year project called Belonging Brant will launch soon.

“We believe that all of us have gifts to share, and each has a core gift we share with our family, friends and community,” said Debbie Cavers, executive director at Community Living Brant, which provides support and services to meet the developmental needs of people. “Through that core gift we give back to our neighbourhood and community.”

Cavers said the organization has been working for a number of years on asset-based community development, helping people they support take their gifts and share them with the community at large.

“We know isolation is a huge issue, not only for people who experience disabilities, but for everyone in our community,” Cavers noted. “We think the possibilities for decreasing isolation and the further development of a connected community through Belonging Brant are endless.”

Rishia Burke, director of community development and services at Community Living Brant, said that leadership training for group hosts will be conducted through a curriculum called Lead, provided by the Grand River Community Health Centre and the Community Legal Clinic – Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk.

“We’ve partnered with them, and they’ve made that a community-shared initiative,” Burke said. “The people we’re looking for to host a group are those natural community connectors who are willing to share their gift.”

The goal is to create groups for people who share the same interests and passions, from topics ranging from walking to bird watching and from knitting to refurbishing furniture and even rebuilding neighbourhoods.

“The process brings people together through common passions,” Burke said. “The host creates a small network and community of belonging. That’s why it’s called Belonging Brant.”

Cavers observed that, historically, the thought was that creating something special for someone with a disability was the most helpful.

“But we know that it is through belonging to your community where you share your passion or gift, that’s where you create lifelong relationships that are built on shared interests. That does not happen in a segregated world,”she said.

Several community partners have come on board, including the Brantford Public Library, Brant Community Health Unit and Eagle Place and Holmedale neighbourhood associations.

Burke noted that as the project evolves, story telling will be captured through podcasts and videos enabling participants to share what they have learned about themselves, each other and their communities.

Belonging Brant is being modelled after a similar endeavour in Perth, Australia, called Befriend Inc. Its director, Nick Maisey, shared that organization’s model, survey results and evaluations so Community Living Brant staff could assess the potential for a similar effort in Brantford and Brant County.

Maisey, along with Brantford-Brant MPP Will Bouma and community partners will take part in a Zoom-E-bration on Thursday at 7 p.m. to introduce Belonging Brant.

“Nick is really supportive and will be joining us to share what they’ve been doing in Australia,” Cavers said. “He’s excited we’re doing this here.”

Anyone interested in taking part in the Zoom event Thursday night should register at to receive a meeting invitation.

“We are very excited about this partnership and what it might do for Brantford and the broader community,” Burke said.

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