Whitcher's son, Cody, was born with a rare form of the autism spectrum disorder. He was non-verbal for much of his childhood and has since required one-on-one support to continue his development.
Whitcher hired Joanne Bouchard to provide his son with the one-on-one care he needed to prosper.
Because Cody is an adult, and was no longer attending school, they realized there was no space in Sudbury to meet his needs.
As an adult, Cody was added to Developmental Services of Ontario's long wait list for the Passport program, which helps adults with developmental disabilities participate in their communities.
But rather than wait, Bouchard decided to open the Adult Enrichment Center to give Cody and others with similar needs in the community a place where they could learn together and become more independent.
“As soon as he came here, the second day, he wanted to be in here,” Whitcher said. “That tells you he's very happy, he's stimulated and he's being challenged.”
The centre opened June 3, and had its grand opening July 4.
Bouchard said after one month, about 25 people with developmental disabilities come to the centre on a regular basis.
“It's been very successful,” she said.
The space includes an entertainment room, where participants can exercise with Wii fitness games.
It also has a kitchen, to teach basic cooking and meal planning skills, along with a computer room.
The computers are loaded with programs for academics, computer literacy and life-skill training.
Bouchard and a team of special education teachers provide participants – many of whom are non-verbal – with one-on-one learning opportunities.
Jessica Martin said she attends the centre three times a week and has made a lot of new friends.
“We're learning a bit at a time,” she said.
Laura Bellmore said she first heard about the Adult Enrichment Center through a letter in her mailbox.
“It made me call right away,” she said. “I liked what I read.”
Her son, Dalton Chretien, has severe autism and is non-verbal.
She said he was no longer getting the care and attention he needed through the school system.
Bellmore said the Adult Enrichment Center allows parents to have more daily involvement in their children's progress.
Two Fridays each month, the centre hosts family relief nights, to allow clients' loved ones and caregivers to socialize and relax with them.
The Adult Enrichment Center does not receive government funding.
For now, caregivers have to pay out of pocket, or use funding from the Ontario Disability Support program or the Passport program to cover the costs for the programs.
“We hope the government gets involved, sees what's here and let's more funding out for more people to obtain,” Whitcher said.
To learn more about the Adult Enrichment Center visit www.adultenrichmentcenter.ca.