COVID-19 crisis impacting Montreal school, association for people with special needs

Sabrina Viviani loves to play with her three-year-old daughter Milana.

But the mother is disappointed that part of Milana’s routine has been interrupted by the coronavirus.

The pandemic has closed the Pat Roberts Centre since mid-March — a pre-school for children with special needs.

“It was her home, it was her friends, her teacher. And the lack of it has emotionally burdened her,” Viviani told Global News. Milana suffers from a genetic disorder causing low muscle tone.

Normally the school would house up to 20 children a day for half days. But a lack of funding and a COVID-19 alert level of red for Montreal have precluded the operators from reopening the school.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” Lyne Charlebois, the executive director of the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped (WIAIH), told Global News.

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The association has owned and operated the Pat Roberts Centre for 15 years at its current location on Gouin Boulevard West in Pierrefonds.

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A large portion of the association’s revenues dried up this year as it wasn’t able to hold fundraising events, such as a golf tournament and a talent show, that normally draw in tens of thousands of dollars.

Charlebois says efforts are being made to reopen the school at a future date but in a limited capacity.

“We’re working on a plan. We had a plan to get going shortly. Sadly with the red zone stepping in, we had to re-think things to make sure that we’re covering all our bases,” she said.

WIAIH serves approximately 450 people with special needs. Many of them are adults and rely on the service for after school programs and weekend activities. But now many of those events have been cancelled or scaled back.

“I call it our church, our synagogue, our mosque, our place we can come to for guidance,” Veronica told Global News. The mother of 19-year-old Justin, who suffers from encephalitis, causing a speech impairment, didn’t want to reveal her last name.

She has been bringing Justin to WIAHI for 16 years and says the interruption of services has been difficult.

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“I do feel that tenseness. I feel stressed,” she said.

Many people just hope the non-profit organization, which receives no direct government subsidies, can resume the pre-school in the near future and offer more activities through the WIAIH’s main centre so that people like Justin and Milana can benefit.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.