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Volunteer breaks down social barriers

People of Collingwood: Wendy Brass, volunteer with Breaking Down Barriers
2021-05-07 POCBrass JO-001
Wendy Brass, of Collingwood, volunteers her time with Breaking Down Barriers.

After spending years living on a sailboat, a local volunteer settled down in Collingwood.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Wendy Brass, volunteer with Breaking Down Barriers.

Q: Have you always lived in Collingwood?

A: (My husband and I) moved here in 2008.

Q: Where did you live prior to coming to Collingwood?

A: I was living on a sailboat in the Caribbean. Prior to that, I had been in Toronto. Prior to that, in Ottawa. I was born and raised in Montreal.

Q: What led you to make the decision to move to Collingwood?

A: After we came off the sailboat, we wanted to move out of the city, but also be close to the city for family reasons.

Good friends of ours who lived here showed us some places that were for sale at the time. We loved it, for many reasons. We landed here by accident, really.

I’m fully retired and have been ever since we went off on the boat. Our retirement project was to learn how to sail, because neither of us had ever sailed before. We disappeared for about four years.

Coming up here was nice because I love water, so I needed to be near water.

Q: Since you’ve come to Collingwood, you’ve volunteered with Breaking Down Barriers. Can you tell me how that came to be?

A: It’s one of the things I’ve done since I was a teenager.

I found Breaking Down Barriers. It’s a wonderful organization run by some wonderful women. They provide support through different programs for people with diverse disabilities... either physically or mentally to try to live independently.

When I first got involved, they did a craft program and a golf program. I helped out particularly with crafts because that’s where my interest is.

They started a companion program. I think I was one of the first to volunteer with that program, where you are paired with a particular person. We would take them out, to shop or dental/medical appointments, just to be a companion.

We were someone they could feel like they could talk to as well. I did that up until a couple of years ago, one-on-one with the same person.

I still support that person, but just in a different way. It’s been more with phone calls during this COVID-19 time.

Q: What is it about this cause specifically that makes you want to offer your time?

A: I started when I was a teenager. I was a camp counsellor in Montreal. Then, it was called the crippled children’s camp. 

My mother was a very nurturing person. She helped out in the church. Maybe that’s where I got it from.

I don’t have a really good answer for that one. (laughs)

Q: Do you have any stories you’d like to share about your time volunteering with Breaking Down Barriers?

A: These people (clients) are wonderful people. We call them clients, or friends. They have all sorts of different challenges that can make for a difficult life.

I see how strong some of them can be. They have help from different organizations, but if they have no family, there’s really no one looking out for them.

With my lady, if it wasn’t for (Breaking Down Barriers), I’m not sure who would be her support. She has no family here.

We don’t really have a place in town, like a centre, where they can go to chit chat or have a cup of coffee. To me, that’s a big issue here for that community.

Q: Do you have other hobbies you’d like to talk about?

A: My life seems to be very busy up here. It’s a beautiful place to live. I walk, cycle and hike.

I belong to the Georgian Triangle Lifelong Learning Institute. I also participate in the Collingwood Cinema Club.

There’s a lot up here for people of older ages.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: Breaking Down Barriers is very dear to me.

Our community of people (with disabilities) is not small, not only in Collingwood but in the entire region.

I’d like to see them continue to get funding from organizations and government. I’d like to see some kind of centre rented or built for them.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected].

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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