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Focus on Abilities closing the gap for people with special needs

Newest private-sector day program for adults with developmental disabilities
Jenna Whitcher is part owner and program manager of Focus on Abilities Day Program, Sudbury’s newest privately run day program that services adults with a wide range of developmental disabilities. Photo by Arron Pickard

There are currently 225 people with special needs in Greater Sudbury who are on a waiting list for programs to help them become more independent, according to statistics from Developmental Services Ontario (DSO).

“That's astronomical,” said Jenna Whitcher, part owner and program manager of Focus on Abilities Day Program, Sudbury’s newest privately run day program that services adults with a wide range of developmental disabilities. 

“It's unfortunate, because the government can only provide so much funding in a certain amount of time, but the need for these programs is growing.”

Once individuals with developmental disabilities reach the age of 21, they are no longer able to continue in the education system. There are more and more people with disabilities graduating from the school system, but the chances for them to continue learning life skills after graduation are limited, Whitcher said. 

“After they graduate, they should be transitioning into some sort of day program to continue their development and independence,” Whitcher said. “However, the harsh reality is that the majority of these individuals are sitting at home waiting for these types of services, since the government-funded programs in our area are all full, and have wait lists that can take years.”

Whitcher has a background in psychology. She attended teacher's college and trained to teach special education. That's the path she was going down, but as her brother — who required special education — reached the age where he left the school system and entered the adult sector, she started to realize there's was a need there to help people like her brother beyond graduation. 

“There are great programs in the school system for these individuals,” she said. “My brother became independent and made leaps and bounds while he was in school, but there was nothing to carry him on into adulthood, to foster the skills he learned in school.” 

Teaching people with disabilities to become independent is now her passion, she said.

“I've found my niche,” she said. “I've been working with people with special needs my entire life. There's a need here, and I think I can be of better service to these individuals transitioning into adulthood than working in the school system.”

Focus on Abilities Day Program opened its door Feb. 6. It offers a wide range of comprehensive programs such as lifeskills, academic fundamentals, community involvement, social interaction, physical activity, and many other programs that promote independence and assist individuals in reaching their full potential. 

These programs are individualized to meet the unique needs and goals of each individual in our program. 

“The main focus is on life skills, such as cooking and cleaning, and we weave in some academic fundamentals, such as being able to handle money, as well as social skills, so they can build and maintain solid relationships with their peers,” she said. 

“The end goal is to have our clients become as independent as possible, whether that means they end up leaving the program, because they are working full time.”

For more information, visit or phone Whitcher at 705-674-2424 or 705-698-9625.


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Arron Pickard

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