Sad News: “Ish Tzaddik” Award Recipient Passes

During Reena’s 2017 Annual General Meeting (A.G.M) we recognized attorney David Cohen with the Morris Baker “Ish Tzaddik” Award to honour a worthy individual who has made an outstanding commitment to the enhancement of life for people with developmental disabilities. 

Regrettably, we were recently informed that Mr. Cohen passed away. 

The term Tzaddikrighteous one, comes from the source Tzedek, which is often referred to as justice, but it is more accurately reflects the notion of equity. David Cohen was an example of both. 

As a senior partner at the Canadian immigration law firm of Campbell Cohen, David was practicing Canadian immigration law for more than 35 years. He was a member of the Quebec and Canadian Bar Associations, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association.   

Ten years ago, David received a letter from a distraught mother in the U.S., imploring him to help her autistic, 15-year-old Canadian daughter to return to Canada. David enlisted the help of his friend, Charles Conant, an experienced educator, to come up with a plan that will allow the daughter to return to her native land and receive the much-needed supports. 

Charles and David, working together since late 2015, were unable to secure any supports for the child since she was not a U.S. Citizen. All doors seemed closed every time they tried to get help for the family.    

After contacting Reena, Charles and David became key members of a cross-border team, including local Toronto agency partners that met frequently over the phone, to build a plan with the family. Charles and David were essential, providing important history, connection to family, and information about the daughter’s needs.   

In January of 2017, a Reena support team drove to meet the family in the US, picked up the daughter and her father, and made the 18-hour journey to her Reena home.   

It was the dedication and commitment made by David and Charles that enabled the young girl to have a new life with countless opportunities, including living successfully in her apartment, attending day programs, and participating in a community like anyone else. 

May his soul be bound in the bundle of life and may his memory be forever a blessing. 

May is Jewish Heritage Month

MAY is #JewishHeritageMonth in Canada!
We celebrate the many contributions that the Jewish community has made to the development of the country in all sectors of society.
Reena is proud to be a member of this incredible community, as an agency that promotes dignity, individuality, independence, personal growth, and community inclusion for people with diverse abilities within a framework of Jewish culture and values.
As we approach Shavuot, we acknowledge the important work of our Faith and Cultures Department and the Judaic programming they provide.



Southlake Regional Health Centre, Mackenzie Health, and Reena collaborate to vaccinate those with developmental disabilities

Southlake Regional Health Centre, Mackenzie Health, and Reena worked together to make accommodations for those with developmental disabilities and their caregivers to get their COVID-19 vaccinations at the Ray Twinney Vaccination Centre and at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital on April 13 and 14.

In order to create a positive experience, there were designated days for these individuals and their caregivers to come to get their vaccinations.

See also article HERE.

“In-van vaccinations were offered to some people if necessary, volunteers were on-site to support people with behavioural needs, and they even changed the lighting and music,” says one individual who was part of this experience.

Many other changes were made including lowering lights, providing private spaces for vaccinations, playing calm music, and allowing for extra time so that there were no long lineups. This alleviates stress for everyone who came. The hospitals also brought in pediatricians to provide additional support.

This was truly a collaborative effort that provided a seamless and comfortable vaccination experience meeting the unique needs of this vulnerable population. More than 2,000 individuals received vaccinations between the two sites on these dedicated vaccination days.


Employment Advice Column: The Last Question of the Job Interview: What to ask?

Dear Joanna,

I’m preparing for a virtual job interview for a work-from-home part time position as a bookkeeper. I’ve attended a couple of excellent virtual workshops on this topic with Reena’s virtual employment and career program. Plus I’m practicing with my Reena coach on zoom. I understand that the interviewer will ask me if I have any questions at the end. I’d like to be ready to ask questions to help me understand the job and company better. Do you have any recommendations?

Signed:  Questions to Ask

Dear Q&A

According to blogger Eber, in and Simpson in it’s important to prepare four to five questions when the interviewer asks you “Do you have any questions” at the end of the job interview. You never know when some of your questions might be answered during the interview. And it’s important to ask questions. It shows the employer that you are eager and interested in learning. However, cautions the bloggers, the interview is not the time to ask tons of questions and do a deep dive into the company. Leave this for when you get the job offer.

Simpson stresses the need to ask questions and reports that according to Glassdoor Survey of 750 hiring managers“…nine in ten (88%) hiring decision-makers agree that an informed candidate is a quality candidate.” and that “an informed candidate is prepared for the interview and asks pertinent questions.He suggests that the questions you prepare should cover these areas: THE JOB: Is there anything in the job that wasn’t in the job posting? THE REQUIREMENTS: Are you fully prepared to start if you are hired? Is there anything you need to know in order to do the job? Is there any special training or any classes you’re going to be required to take if you’re hired? THE EXPECTATIONS: How you do your job is also equally important…and what they expect from you as you do it! The best way to meet the goals of your employer is to know upfront what they are. What do they expect from someone who is hired for this position? How do they evaluate that performance? Are there reviews? THE COMPANY: Find out who will be your boss – who you will be reporting to. Some information on the company is available when you do your research, but some facts can only come from an employee – the hiring manager is a great source! THE PEOPLE: How about your fellow co-workers? What about the people that make up the roster of employees? Who are you going to be working with? Are you working with a team? THE WORKPLACE CULTURE/ATMOSPHERE: Another important consideration is the culture of the company you are going to work for. What kind of place is it? What do employees wear to work? Is it a more casual approach or professional all the time? Do employees volunteer in the community?

In the box below, you will find some recommended questions by Simpson to prepare in advance for your job interview. For more information visit the links above. Good luck with your job interview!

  1. Can you tell me exactly what I would be expected to do if I was hired for this position?
  2. Can you walk me through a typical day here at Company X?
  3. If I were hired for the position, would I be going through any training prior to actually starting the work?
  4. How will I be trained?
  5. What are the performance expectations for this position? Will that expectation change the longer I am doing the job?
  6. Is there an employee performance review process? How often does that occur and can you walk me through a typical one?
  7. Where do you see the company in 5 years? 10?
  8. Can you tell me what the career paths are for this department and what sort of advancements I could work towards?
  9. Will I be working with a team and if I am, can you tell me a little about each of them?
  10. Can you tell me about my direct supervisor? Is there anything I should know about working with them that will make my integration a smooth process?
  11. Can you tell me what you love the most about working here?
  12. How would you describe the working environment here? Is work done in a collaborative style or are employees more independent?
  13. What are the next steps in the interview process?
  14. Is there anything else I can provide you with that would be helpful or questions I can answer?



To submit your questions and comments to this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Supervisor,

Liberation 75 – join our virtual presentation

Reena and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies are facilitating an interactive workshop on the power of propaganda used by the Nazis. Please join us and learn about The Aktion T4 campaign that targeted people with disabilities as their first victims.

This powerful program will take place during Liberation75, an online 5-day event (May 4 – 9) dedicated to commemorating the 75th anniversary of liberation from the Holocaust.

Date: Thursday, May 6, 2021

Time: 4:00 PM – 4:45 PM

To register for this and other programs

please visit:

Well Done!, Sandy Stemp

During the last year, Reena led numerous sector initiatives, advocating for the health of individuals with diverse needs.
Leading those efforts is Sandy Stemp, our COO, who navigated our response to the pandemic with her calm and confident demeanour, bringing relief and much-needed support to the people in our care and their families.
Sandy was recently named Member of the City of Toronto’s Accessibility Task Force on COVID-19 vaccines. We are proud of her and wanted to acknowledge her tremendous contribution to the DS sector and to Reena. Well Done!
Sandy’s work in York Region was instrumental in making it the first region in Ontario to have vaccines available to all adults with developmental disabilities. Thanks to Sandy 113 congregate settings and over 3,000 vulnerable people received vaccinations.
Sandy will continue to work tirelessly to combat COVID-19 and ensure that vulnerable populations are safely vaccinated.
Well done! 



Is work experience really required for getting a job as an office clerk? I am a recent graduate of a local high school and had a work experience placement. As soon as Covid19 is under control, I will be looking for paid employment Feedback from my Reena job coach is that I need to gain some related experience to be hired for office clerk jobs. What is going on here?

Signed: Inexperienced Job Seeker

Dear IJS

Great question and definitely a major concern of many job seekers like yourself who are new grads looking for their first paid job in the competitive labour market. Feedback from employers and Reena job coaches confirms that although relevant experience is important for getting your first paid job, there are some exceptions.  For example, if you have specific hard/technical skills that are in demand in your field, the employer might give you a break and hire you. However, in general, it’s best for you to tackle this obstacle by considering these five (5)  suggestions from the Reena job coaches and on how to gain work experience for your resume and job search:

  1. Educate yourself.Find out from the job postings which hard and technical skills are required for an office clerk. Then start learning the ones you don’t have; and improving the ones that you do. Take classes, attend workshops, get certificates and diplomas, learn from Youtube videos and Linkedin Learning. You can do all of this virtually during Covid. This is how you can gain knowledge for the job. This looks great on the resume under “Education & Professional Development” as it shows your dedication and commitment to your employment/career goal. Plus: teachers and fellow students are a great way to start and expand your network.
  2. Volunteer Another way to get some experience in a specific area is to find a volunteer opportunity (remotely during Covid) or at a safe placement site. This is a fantastic strategy to help you get your foot in the door and get hands-on-training too. You can volunteer, intern or freelance to get hands-on training and a reference too. All of these volunteer experiences are relevant and valid – add this to your resume.
  3. The most popular way to get a job is to be recommended by a friend and/or family member for a job opportunity. For this to happen, you need to start meeting different professionals in your field in an information interview, attending job fairs and employer events in addition to letting everyone know in your contact list that you are looking for work as an “office clerk”. Learn everything there is to know about the industry and the job. You can use social media – especially LinkedIn – to build your network, apply for jobs
  4. Prepare and update your resume. This is a perfect time to start building your resume and cover letter. Focus on your talents, strengths and skills that you do have and can contribute to the job. Work with your job coach in Reena’s community participation program. There are other employment supports in the community that offer free assistance with your job search.
  5. Focus on the soft and transferrable skills.Transferable skills can be transferred from one situation or job to another and show how you interact with people. Examples of these soft skills are listening skills, time management skills, team work skills and  organizational skills. Your first resume is a chance for you to show off your soft / transferrable skills. Show the hiring managers that your soft skills make it easier for you to learn a particular skills on the job.

So IJS, I have chosen only five suggestions. If you’d like to get more information on this topic, including additional tips, you can find countless blogs on the internet.


To submit your questions for this employment advice column IN CONFIDENCE, please

Happy Passover – Chag Pesach Sameach

Passover is one of the world’s oldest and most enduring stories of hope and freedom.

Every year, we gather at the Seder table to recount the story of the Exodus, as an eternal reminder, from generation to generation, that freedom is something that we must work to safeguard.   

Passing on this tradition to our children for thousands of years has helped to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people.
This past year challenged all of us to support and protect each other as a community, and freedom was given an additional meaning. With medical breakthroughs to help us, we can begin to see the return to a more normal life and freedoms we have been missing.
We wish you, your family and the entire Jewish community a joyous, warm and healthy Passover. Chag Pesach Sameach!


Dear Joanna,

I’m a job seeker who is participating in Reena’s virtual job search workshop program. I’m looking for work as a dog daycare attendant and will be ready to go to work in person once I’m vaccinated. I’ve applied for a ton of jobs online, but haven’t received a phone or virtual job interview. My Reena job coach has been stressing the need to increase my efforts with my job search on my own – to take initiative – as it’s an important skill to have on the job as well. What does this skill mean?

Signed: Initiative on the Job

Dear Initiative,

The most common definition of taking initiative is that you find out what you need to know and do for to be a successful employee and then you act on this without being told. It’s also known as self-motivation, resourcefulness, inventiveness, imagination, ingenuity, originality, creativity, drive, dynamism, ambition, motivation, spirit, and energy.  Your job coach is right on.  Initiative has become increasingly important in today’s workplace. Employers want employees  who can think on their feet and take action without waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

Here are some ways to develop initiative in your job search and at your workplace that are presented by

  1. Develop a career / employment action plan. Research has shown that individuals who make long-term career plans are more likely to take initiative. Being a professional who has goals is much more likely to show initiative at work, especially when the action or decision will help them with their job. It is also important to understand your role,  your team, and your organization’s culture so that you know what you need to learn and what steps you need to take to be a successful employee and team player.
  2. Build Self-confidence. It takes one to have a strong sense of self and having the courage to show initiative. How confident would you say you are? If you want to build your self-confidence, set small goals so you can achieve some quick wins. Push yourself to do positive things that you would otherwise be too afraid to do. This can help you build your self-confidence, and help you build the courage to accomplish bigger, scarier tasks on the job later on by taking initiative.
  3. Spot opportunities and potential areas to improve. Often, people who show initiative do so by spotting and acting on opportunities that their colleagues or managers have not noticed.  Often they are curious about their organization and how it works, and they keep their minds open to new ideas and new possibilities. To spot opportunities, consider the following:  What small problems do we have that could grow into bigger problems?  What slows our work or makes it more difficult? What are the goals of my department and how can I help achieve them? For example, if my job is a dog walker, how many dogs can I take to the part at one time on my own as a new employee? How can I achieve the number of dogs to walk required by my boss?  Get into the habit of looking for these things. And if you make a mistake, take initiative and let your boss know as soon as possible – don’t ignore the mistake. And think on your own on  how you can fix the problem right away. And if you need to ask for help, do so. Consider the mistake as a learning opportunity.
  4. Check out your ideas. Do your homework/research to make sure the idea will be good for the company. The more you research and consider your idea(s), the higher your chances of success will be improved.
  5. Be Persistent! Persistence is the art of moving forward even when you encounter difficulty or a standstill. Don’t give up. Individuals who show initiative often encounter difficulties and setbacks along the way. Keep learning and keep being curious by asking questions to better perform your job and to better understand your team and the company culture.
  6. Appropriate vs Inappropriate – Find Balance. Although it is important to take initiative, it’s just as important to be wise in the way that you use it. In some situations, it may be inappropriate to take initiative, and people who generate to much extra work for people can upset others. Just make sure you consider what it is you decide to take initiative in, and how this will impact others. Keep in mind, if the result is going to benefit my team or not. Identify when it is appropriate to take initiative from the following: a) The printer has no paper. Should you refill it? b) You hear that your boss needs extra help in an area you are not familiar with. Should  you take initiative? c)  You notice that the shelves at the store you work at have missing items and some items you cannot read the labels because they are disorganized. Should you find the missing items in the back and reorganize the display even though you do not work in that department?


Hope this helps. Good luck with your job search and refining your initiative skills!


Reena and the Developmental Sector Receiving COVID-19 Vaccinations

Reena and the York Region Developmental services agencies are proudly moving forward: protecting our staff and supported individuals against the COVID-19 virus.

We would like to thank York Region Public Health for their amazing support and collaboration. Special thanks to Tiffany, Lindsay and Denis.
A huge thank-you to the EMS teams from the York Region: leading and coordinating many teams across 15 developmental agencies from last Monday to this Sunday.
With incredible sensitivity, flexibility and often creativity to find the best ways to vaccine individuals with developmental disabilities effectively, efficiently and causing minimal discomfort and anxiety.
We would also like to thanks Mackenzie Health and Southlake, who are vaccinating staff from 18 agencies and other people supported.  
Their sensitivity and creativity allow them to vaccinate even in vans, adapting and accommodating as needed to support our individuals.
Such team work – Reena is proud to be part of such an important initiative!

Transitioning Together*, a wonderful new, free opportunity for youth with ASD, is coming to York Region this year!

Transitioning Together is an eight-week online program help teenagers with ASD, and their parent(s), plan their futures after secondary school.

For the first time in Canada, Transitioning Together will be delivered by local trained professionals in March-April and May-June 2021.

What’s In It For Me?

  • If you are someone between the ages of 14-17 with ASD who communicates verbally, attends secondary school and wants help developing your own plan as you transition into adulthood, this is for you.
  • The small on-line groups of 5 people like yourself are a great way to connect with others in a comfortable format. Transitioning Together has resulted in many lasting group member friendships.
  • You will develop a personalized plan with help from your peers, group facilitators and your parent(s)/family.
  • Your Mom, Dad or other adults in your life will attend separate on-line sessions of their own to learn how they can support your plan.
  • You will need access to a device with a working camera and internet access.

Brock University is evaluating the outcomes of the program.  You and your parent(s) must participate in the evaluation research.  For research purposes, participants will be randomly assigned to groups so you should be available for either Session One (March/April) or Session Two (May, June).

To Register, please email Research Assistant Shona Mills at

Beyond 20/20 Reena’s Strategic Plan Explained

Strategic planning still seems like an obscure concept to many of us. Beyond the hype, however, strategic planning can bring real value to an organization that takes the process seriously. 

Simply put, strategic planning determines exactly where our organization is going over the next few years and how we will respond to the changing conditions to get there. A strategic plan is a coordinated effort to match vision to operations to help us develop a course and direction for Reena. 

Every five years Reena launches its Strategic Plan, like many other agencies in our sector and in the business world. The 2020-2025 strategic plan we launched in the fall of 2020 is titled: “Beyond 20/20” and has three main goals: 

  1. Driving Change To Meet Growing Needs 
  2. Leading Through Operational Excellence 
  3. Exceptional Service Standards, Exceptional Outcomes 

The plan was developed after extensive consultations with a variety of stakeholders: from our individuals and their families, staff, Board members, colleagues from the DS sector and government officials. 

To achieve our goals (Read more here) we created nine workgroups, comprised of a variety of staff members, to work collaboratively and set the path to reach our goals. 

Achieving our goals will enable us to better serve our individuals, venture into new areas of expertise, e.g. – housing and mental health, and continue to position Reena as a leader as an ardent advocate of our sector. 

Reena’s Learning and Development team put together a short video, helping to better explain the strategic plan’s impact on our individuals and our service provision. 


Please take a moment to review it


 We will continue to update you in the next months on our progress. 

Thank you 

Bryan Keshen, CEO 


COVID 19 and The Importance of Getting the COVID 19 Vaccination

Reena developed an educational module for our staff: COVID-19 and The Importance of Getting the COVID-19 Vaccination.
It was created from credible, science-based sources of information AND vetted by our infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Ostrowska.
Once completed, we realized we would like to share it with the world.
The sooner we vaccinate our communities the sooner we return to our normal lives.
Remember, always consult with your physician, if you have any questions.
Please help to spread the word about his –

COVID-19 Vaccine: Q&A w Angela Gonzales

Date: January 15, 2021

Presentation by: Sandy Stemp, Chief Operation Officer, Reena

Guests: Angela Gonzales, R.N M.N., Health Care Facilitator, Advanced Practice Nurse, Surrey Place
Guests: Sharon Magor, Marketing and Communication Manager, Reena

Once the genetic recipe for the coronavirus was published international research networks worked hard together as a team to develop the COVID-19 vaccines

The 2 vaccines currently being used are synthetic messenger RNA type vaccines and that mechanism has been researched for over 2 decades. It’s not a new mechanism, but the COVID-19 vaccines, which are messenger RNA vaccine, they are “new”.

Usually, Health Canada receives all of the research in one package and at one point in time. However, this process was unique where the research was submitted in real-time, as it came out. The review process for Health Canada was quicker this way.

We need to protect the people we are meeting and supporting and not transmit it to them. If we look at information from the news and reputable sources, like Health Canada, the only way to stop the pandemic is a worldwide vaccination program. The only way to have herd immunity in large numbers is by getting the vaccine. But meanwhile, we need to stop daily actions that could still transmit the virus to other people who are vulnerable

They are not competing but are collaborating to offer as many options as possible. The first 2 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are labeled because we need to know which vaccine is which (much like every medication is labelled). Both use the same mechanism of messenger RNA but have slightly different ways for storing and administrating etc.

People should not be worried about the side effects of these specific COVID-19 vaccines in the sense that there are safety nets and processes in place. We need to pay attention to reputable evidence-based information vs. hearsay or social media.

You should check with your family physician or RPN (Registered Practical Nurse) about the safety of the vaccine in relation to your own specific underlying health conditions. The Ministry of Health consent forms list some of these conditions that you should check with your family physician or RPN about.

They appear now but may be changed in the future. For example, some women during the clinical trials did not know they were pregnant and received the vaccine. These women are being monitored through the international research network, and there is hope that from that data they may be able to change some of the conditions that are listed.

There are lots of other countries ahead of us. In mid-January 2021, more than 35 million doses have been given in over 49 countries. Thousands of people have received the vaccine, so there is lots of data that is supporting the safety of the vaccine and what might be considered a milder adverse effect.

The PPE is the external protection, but the vaccine would be the “internal” protection. When we receive the internal COVID vaccine, it will help us to not develop serious COVID-related symptoms and possibly death. We can still transmit on our hands, on our skin, on our clothing, so using PPE is helping to cut the chain of transmission. The vaccine is helping protect us specifically internally.