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The unique knowledge of Colin Cook

September 06, 2022

Almost as soon as he saw the stressed-looking mother with her child in a hallway at George Jeffrey Children’s Centre (GJCC) in Thunder Bay, Colin Cook had a sense that he knew what was wrong. Colin had been a client of GJCC from the time he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months until he aged out, and now he worked there, on a temporary placement in the Finance Department from his business program at Confederation College. So as he approached the woman, he could draw on unique knowledge of all sides of the treatment process.

Colin Cook sitting in front of a welcome painting“I know from the disability community that it is hard on parents, having to provide so much extra to a child with disability,” says Colin, now 23. “Sadly, I’ve seen parents give up on providing treatment to children as it’s a lot. It’s happened to people I know. But I look at a child and I can see their potential and imagine their future.”

Colin, an enthusiastic and intelligent person who has himself struggled with many challenges, gave the mother all the encouragement he could. “I told her to never give up, and it was something I believe she needed to hear,” he says.

He didn’t stop there. Colin arranged a meeting with centre CEO Tina Bennett and made a proposal.

“The main idea I gave Tina was to have some sort of mentorship for both the parents and the clients,” he says. “I proposed a parent support group where former clients like myself or their parents could come as guest speakers, providing a unique view and maybe some advice to the parents who may be struggling currently.

“In a parent support group,” he explains, “someone like me, for example, can relate to their child, say what their child’s mindset is currently, and say what their child’s mindset could be once they grow and look back. On the client side, past clients can be mentors to the children. For example, a former client can come in to see adolescents and speak about fears of transitioning to post-secondary education and share what it was like.”

Bennett was immediately impressed. “It was very inspiring to me,” she says. “It was a perspective I wasn’t expecting, and we started brainstorming ideas.”

She plans to implement some of the ideas as soon as some organizational restructuring is complete. ”The management team is on board with this, and they had some more ideas, building on his ideas,” she says.

During his internship, Colin also made his mark as an innovator, says Finance Manager Shannon Little. He showed her what he considered a more user-friendly way to design some spreadsheets. “And since he’s left, I’m actually still using those spreadsheets because he’s right, they were better,” she says.

It may be no surprise that Colin advocates mentorship by former clients. He has had a lot of support – and difficulties – himself. “Growing up was definitely a challenge, as I had more barriers than others,” he says. “I was the outlier out of all my peers. I was never supposed to walk, talk or even graduate high school.”

But he did, and then some, for which he credits his years of treatment at GJCC— and his mom, Mandy, and his dad, Les.

“My parents defiantly fought on my behalf, trying to keep my academic development normal while doing therapy on me every day to get me more independent physically,” he says. “I fought my parents a lot over my daily therapy routine, as most children do, but I’m glad that they never gave up. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if they did not put in all the hard work.”

Things got even tougher for Colin in 2019 when, as an apparent result of a back injury from a traffic accident, he began suffering from epilepsy. But he is hardly a person to be daunted by any such setbacks. In June 2022, he proudly graduated from Confederation College with his advanced diploma in Business Administration – Accounting and began job-hunting.

And he is grateful for the support he’s had from GJCC. “It was an absolute honor to work there,” he says. “I finally had the opportunity to give back to an organization that helped me so much.” Some future parents and clients will likely be grateful to him as well.


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