Bryan Keshen literally grew up with Reena. His mother, Sandy Keshen, joined the board before it was formally created later becoming Reena’s founding Executive Director. “Imagine being 10 or 11…what do you really know about the world? You know your mom is committed, the people around you are committed to making place in their neighbourhoods for people with disabilities. When my mom was invited to become Executive Director it became part of every day of our lives, every moment and every aspect of our life.” While Sandy was a highly value driven executive, according to Bryan, his father, Murray Keshen, was driven by people. “It was a good mix. My father was so devoted to supporting my mom and loved her so much. He became integral to Reena…he is the untold story of Reena. From picking up 600 oranges to deliver or fixing the plumbing in a group home …it was unpaid, and he would just do it because he was so devoted. He did not distinguish between princes and paupers.” To this day, Bryan says, it has affected his attitude towards work. “There is nothing too low that it isn’t the job of the directors to do and there’s nothing too high that we can’t imagine aspiring to. No job description should ever limit someone from doing the right thing.”
At age 16, Bryan was involved in a program at the JCC and was asked to work with an individual who was connected with Reena through a Friendship club. While he had no training or direct experience, he had a great time. Bryan went on to work at Camp Reena in the kitchen, where he says the cook adopted him as his assistant. “It’s the only job I’ve ever had where at the end of the day my job was done,” says Bryan, “Kitchen clean, people fed. Now at Reena there’s not a moment where I’m not thinking about what’s next or working on something or doing something. You never get to close the kitchen now!” In university, Bryan started to cover overnight shifts at Reena group homes. “I had gotten a call, I was 19 years old, my mom said the night person isn’t coming, I need you to go there…no training, no background…I arrive and the person standing there says why are late? They have no idea who I was…here’s the meds, here’s so and so …goodnight and they left.”
After getting a teaching degree and Master of Social Work, as well as an advanced diploma in Social Service administration, Bryan worked at the Toronto and Vancouver Federations in a variety of roles including Campaign Director, Director- Israel at 50, Vice President Strategic Planning and Executive Director of all three of Toronto’s Jewish Community Centres. While in his 20’s and 30’s, Bryan says he attended Reena events and fundraisers with his family but was not really active at Reena. It wasn’t until the development of the Lebovic campus, for UJA, where Bryan got involved in the planning and design of the Reena space in the Schwartz Reisman Centre for their adult programs that he began to reconnect. And then in 2014, when his mother announced her retirement, Bryan was encouraged by several former board members to apply, so he did.
Bryan says he has never looked back for a second. While stepping into his mother’s shoes was uncomfortable at first, he says it has been a good fit. For almost 10 years, Bryan Keshen has led Reena with a strategic vision for planning and growth based on the same value driven decision-making process as his mother. In fact, he says he is starting to think and plan in a 20-year cycle. Bryan’s hope for Reena’s future is “that we continue to stay in touch with our mission and ultimately get to a stage where society as a whole and the systems that are built into it relieve Reena of always having to create new solutions; where there already part of every aspect of our society whether its education, housing, health etc.” In the meantime, the work continues. Bryan says Reena is “strengthening our asset base in the form of being able to have flexible, diverse, person centred housing in various models and that should give us flexibility to respond to changes in support funding as it moves towards individualization.” Bryan also continues to help build and maintain strong government relationships to continue to keep up with changes in the sector.
In addition to his role at Reena, Bryan continues to advocate with governments on behalf of the developmental sector and holds several volunteer roles outside of the sector in support of and advocating for individuals to have equitable access to healthcare, affordable housing, and service. Bryan was the founding chair of the Intentional Community Consortium (ICC) which is dedicated to developing housing across Ontario for people with developmental disabilities, founding co-chair of the Western York Region Ontario Health team serves as Chair of the OASIS Housing Working Group and has also taken lead roles with The Toronto Developmental Services Alliance (TDSA), the Provincial Network, ONTrac and other sector leadership tables.
“When I think of Reena I think of creation,” says Bryan, “Creation is what we do together to build a better society and I think we are creating something amazing together.” Bryan continues to work diligently providing effective leadership not only for Reena, but for the whole Developmental Sector.