Helping Families Thrive
There’s an organization in Ottawa providing help just the way people need it. It’s called Family Harmonies Familiales (FHF) and it’s empowering individuals and families to make the most of life.
Two developmental service workers, Angèle Jodouin and Melodie Grealy-Fredette, founded Family Harmonies a decade ago because they saw cracks in the social service system that needed to be filled. They had met people without appropriate diagnoses who were unable to access supports or services; they had also witnessed families struggling, feeling powerless, waiting for somebody to come and help. “We wanted to empower them to do it for themselves,” Melodie explains.
At the start, their aim was to offer flexible in-home supports that focused on the whole family instead of one person identified with a “problem.”
“We really wanted to share with families the skills we had, to help them help themselves, so they didn’t always have to rely on a therapist or staffer coming in.” The offerings have grown from there.
“In recent years, our focus has shifted more to daytime programming for adults. It’s sorely lacking in Ottawa, especially for those with mental health issues, or without diagnoses. There are lots of great programs out there, but waiting lists are long, and fees are often not manageable for people with limited incomes.” So once again, Angèle and Melodie wanted to do things differently—by finding a way to involve people in every part of the operation, and by keeping things affordable.
They did find a way.
“We made fundraising activities an intrinsic part of everything we do,” Melodie explains. “All of our participants contribute to fundraising in some way, to help subsidize the program.” For instance, they help make crafts to sell, set up events, or perform with the choir.
“This ties into one of our most unique offerings, called Employability: People with little or no funding can participate in the weekly activities of their choice, pay what they are able, and then ‘work off’ the rest by contributing to activities that help the business run.”
Participants might pitch in with marketing, promotions, budgeting or hands-on tasks. In the process, “They’re gaining employable skills while helping grow the business, and subsidizing program costs for everybody.” For instance, Harmoni’art, a crafting component affiliated with Employability, involves repurposing materials into fun, functional products. At the same time, it offers many opportunities for people to hone skills.
Melodie calls Employability truly empowering. “Each person has something valuable to contribute, and we are all building and growing together.”
It’s win-win, Angèle agrees: “We foster a sense of community in our group where everyone has a role to play.”
Better yet, nobody gets left out. “We offer our services to people of all ages and abilities,” she adds. You don’t need a diagnosis to access Family Harmonies’ varied offerings. Services include consultations, respite, and private or semi-private developmental sessions to work on goals or skills. Group activities encompass everything from personal development and independent living skills to healthy choices and creative arts. Discussion groups, workshops, DIY projects, camps and a choir are also offered. They take place at the Montgomery Legion, 330 Kent Street.
The Musicability Choir has members from across the city and it is a hit. As the website, familyharmoniesfamiliales.ca, notes, “We have seen some amazing achievements and experiences through this group.”
Since 2006 when Family Harmonies started, there have been a lot of achievements. Over 100 families have benefited. Melodie and Angèle have worked with people of all ages, from infants to seniors. They’ve seen some grow up from kindergarten to high school, and have helped individuals graduate high school and transition to living independently. They have helped find jobs, or make jobs work, and they’ve seen all manner of behavioral changes. “We have seen people come out of their shells and blossom and grow. We have seen peers helping peers, and people of all ages and all abilities working together.”
For a small social enterprise, Family Harmonies has big life impact. In fact, the women at the helm say its modest size allows them to offer options like the Employability program. It also affords them the flexibility to tailor programming to the needs and interests of members.
“We are a for-profit business operating from a non- profit mindset,” Angèle notes. That means these service providers are able and willing to personalize supports to fit each family. They can build a custom schedule, staff according to specific needs, and modify supports over time to reflect changing needs.
No label is required to have those needs met. “All families have challenges,” Melodie points out. “Sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective. We come without judgment, pre-conceived notions or assumptions. We firmly believe families know what works best for them.” See familyharmoniesfamiliales.ca for details. ◆