Posted Jan 27, 2011 By Bill Freeman

EMC Lifestyles – Hastings Bringing people together and helping young adults with intellectual disabilities connect with an “Amigo” is a goal Lori Zapletal has embraced with enthusiasm.

Zapletal, the community co-ordinator for the new Campbellford Amigos in the Community pilot project, has already matched two “connectors” and “participants” and is looking for local residents who would like to pair up with one of the eight young adults she has waiting for Amigos.

“The sole premise of this is inclusion, everybody being equal members of the community,” Zapletal told the Northwest EMC.

Zapletal oversees school-based Amigos programs at East Northumberland Secondary School in Brighton, where there are 25 Amigo pairs, and Campbellford District High School which has five.

The new local Amigos in the Community program is funded by the Campbellford-Seymour Community Foundation and Zapletal has been working busily on getting the word out.

“I’ve talked to every group possible,” she said. “My goal would be to match them all but I will do one at a time and see each of them as a success.”

The program allows young adults with an intellectual disability (participant) to participate regularly in leisure and recreation activities with the support of a peer without a disability (connector). Through an assessment process leisure and recreational interests are identified and both applicants are screened to ensure safety and suitability.

Zapletal matches Amigos based on shared mutual interests.

“I match them on common interests. That’s the ultimate goal,” she says.

“Empathy toward the fact that others have different abilities and the importance of being a positive role model” are things she speaks to potential connectors about.

Her first match was a participant from Havelock who is paired with a Trent University student, a second is a connector from Campbellford matched with a youth in Hastings.

“They often need more supports in the community,” Zapletal says of the participants.

Connectors, she says, have networks of friends they can introduce their Amigo to. The Amigo participants often feel isolated in their communities and Zapletal says bringing peers together helps break down social impediments and sense of isolation.

“It’s about reducing barriers. They go out and have a good time doing something. Don’t ever underestimate how much they look forward to going out,” she said.

“I’m looking for people who are willing to give a little time even if it’s e-mails and telephone calls.”

She suggests personal meetings take place at least twice a month.

The Amigos develop “friendships based on mutual interests and respect.”

“The whole premise is common interests and you can do that through the computer,” says Zapletal. “The computer is the next best thing (to meeting).”

Through her involvement with the school based Heads Up for Inclusion, Zapletal has watched Amigos blossom. She spent a full day with a group of Amigos at Camp Kawartha where they took part in a number of activities including the “high ropes.”

“It was very satisfying. It was so rewarding just to see that they had no barriers, no limitations. It was wonderful to sit and talk with them.”

For more information on becoming a connector e-mail or call 705-696-1492.