Charity Stories

Niagara Children's Centre

Sabrina Elliott Vergara knows the loneliness of learning your child has special needs.

That’s why she is grateful for a $13,000 grant from the Niagara Community Foundation that has allowed the Niagara Children’s Centre to establish a mentoring program for parents of children with physical, developmental, and communicative delays or disabilities. 

Elliott Vergara’s son, Alexander, was born prematurely and came home from the hospital after months in the neo-natal intensive care unit to a life of multiple medical appointments and extreme vulnerability. For the new mother, the trauma and isolation were overwhelming.

“I never want someone else to feel so isolated and completely alone,” said Elliott Vergara, a member of the Centre’s family advisory network who now manages the new family mentorship program. Elliott Vergara recruits and trains parents so they can support other families.

Elliott Vergara says it takes someone with lived experience of being a caregiver for a child with special needs to understand the journey other parents or caregivers are on. No matter how caring your friends and family are “no one knows what it is like until they experience it,” she said. “It’s not about the mentors having answers, it’s about connection.”

In addition to the programs and services the Centre offers children and their families, the mentoring program is a way to support families who can be under tremendous stress.

“We want to be the village around them,” said Elliott Vergara, “to complete the circle of care the Centre is able to offer.” Stronger families have a ripple effect in the community, she said, because other family members also function better and because empowered parents are better able to support their children in the health care system.

In the first year of the program, 13 mentors were recruited and trained, and 32 families were paired with an understanding, listening ear.

The program will continue, said Elliott Vergara, because the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. “This program has helped me so much emotionally,” wrote one parent. “At times I felt alone, but having a mentor who understands has made this journey so much better.’