UPDATED WITH VIDEO: New organization seeks to provide REALM with more funding

Friends of REALM will gather funds and awareness and increase their ability to help Cranbrook’s disabled community

Paul Rodgers

Realize Empowerment Access Life to the Maximum is the mission statement acronym for Cranbrook’s for-profit organization REALM which exists to provide services to individuals of the community with developmental disabilities. On Friday, July 21 they held their biannual community picnic at Rotary Park.

The picnic is REALM’s way of saying thanks to the community who have supported the organization over their 14 years of operation and to celebrate their many diverse clients. The event featured live music, games, free food and cotton candy, a special REALM Idol talent showcase, but it also introduced the community to a recently-formed organization called Kootenay Friends of REALM.

“There’s never enough money to do all of the things that they want to do for their clients,” said Sharron Billey, chair of Friends of REALM, speaking of the funding challenges posed to the for-profit organization.

“We are going to be assisting in the funding so that they can do more things like take the clients on trips or help them get employment opportunities in the community, doing all sorts of things with people with developmental difficulties.”

Billey has a brother who has been involved with REALM for the last decade and so she has been familiar with the organization and the good that they do for a long time; ultimately leading her to form Friends of REALM with the hope of helping them do even more.

“How they have taken [my brother] from being a very quiet, shy, stand-at-the-back-of-the-room kind of person to right up front dancing singing, talking to people and doing those kinds of things and going on cancer research projects,” Billey said “It just melts your heart to what they’ve done for people.”

Lana Ferris is another founder of the Kootenay Friends of REALM Society. She retired from working with REALM for ten years and has worked in related fields for the past 38 years. She tragically lost her own daughter, born with Down syndrome, at the age of 27. After her loss she moved from Fernie to Cranbrook, and became involved with REALM, finding that it helped her in the grieving process to be around people just like her daughter.

“I grew to love REALM very much and it just filled the gap for losing my daughter,” Ferris said. “I love people with disabilities and I try to improve their lives and REALM was a service that I thought if my daughter was still alive this is where I’d want her to be.”

Ryan Shea Leonty is one of REALM’s 108 clients in Cranbrook and has been involved with the organization for about the last 12 years. He says REALM has given him the chance to connect with peer groups, other people with disabilities as well as given him increased confidence by letting him showcase his talent of singing.

“It gives me the opportunity to experience the skills and the accomplishments that I made and now looking back on what I’ve done I feel very proud of myself that I was able to accomplish those,” said Leonty. “And now I can move on forward and go to the next phase in my life. So It’s a great support group provider and without it we would not be able to showcase what we can do.”

Leonty won over the crowd at the picnic singing “Hold on to the Nights” by Richard Marx, and said many in the audience said they thought he could become a singer if he wanted to. Leonty, however, feels that the life of a touring musician is not for him, and instead he hopes to get into jiujitsu, perhaps competitively, and then one day marry start a family.

Kerry Taylor-Johnson and her business partner Ana Yost created REALM together 14 years ago and Taylor-Johnson serves as the co-managing executive director of the organization.

“We try to help people out in different ways and things that they need,” Taylor-Johnson explains. “So we’re hoping that Friends of REALM will be able to access some funding, do some fundraisers. They ear-tag specific things to help those events or possibly help individuals with things that they might need. So we’re looking to them to help us create more, to augment what we’re doing.”

Those interested in supporting REALM can contact Sharron Billey at (250)-489-9242, visit www.realmbc.ca or attend some of the numerous events that they have planned for the rest of the summer into fall and winter including a slow-cooker challenge in November and their annual Christmas party.

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