Fred Winegust spends his time literally growing Reena’s future. The Reena program manager launched GReena, a sustainability initiative aimed at improving the lives of individuals with diverse abilities supported by Reena, as well as the greater community while reducing Reena’s ecological footprint. But that’s not what first brought Fred to Reena.
Fred retired from IBM in 2010 after working there for 32 years and had been pursing different opportunities when he came to Reena in 2018 on a part time basis. Gary Gladstone, Lead Stakeholder Relations, was about to run for the first time as a Liberal candidate in York region and needed a backup for government relations. “I had known the Kelman’s and the Keshen’s for a number of years, but this was my first chance to work for Reena,” says Fred who first began to work on Reena group home bank book audits leveraging his 2010 Cornell-Queens Executive MBA training. “It was an interesting and eye-opening experience because I got to visit every single group home. I got to meet the staff, I got to meet the individuals.” Fred also had the opportunity to learn more about Reena and its stakeholders before he joined Reena more formally in 2019 as Gary’s backup. He joined Reena’s 2019 Canada-Israel Inclusion Misson with politicians as well other representatives from organizations across the country dealing with developmental sector.
According to Fred, in the summer of 2019 “Bryan Keshen had a vision of a sustainability initiative that would work inside of Reena. Eventually we just decided to call it GReena.” GReena was to have three pillars: Food security, renewable energy and reducing Reena’s waste footprint. “I was well versed in a lot of the green issues in the Financial Services Sector, before I retired from IBM. When I retired from IBM, I joined the Climate Reality Project and was further educated on Climate issues by Al Gore.” That training led to Fred presenting to over 2,000 people over the next two years, and helping a startup win the $10,000 ClimateSpark prize from the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. Combining his IBM ‘intra-preneur’ experiences in breaking down barriers between siloed IBM departments, with his new MBA credentials, Fred put a business lens on sustainability issues and was ready to tackle the GReena challenge.
“When we first started getting serious in 2020, one of the first initiatives Bryan put me in charge of was figuring out how we could implement Secure Medical Transports. COVID had just started, and Wheel-Trans/YRT Mobility were not yet taking precautions to separate drivers and passengers. We decided to put shields in our Reena van fleet and separate driver from passenger. The Battle Centre had many idle vans when we were not transporting Reena supported individuals to COVID test centres. So, we began looking at how these vans could be repurposed to deliver food.” Not only did Fred figure out how to repurpose the vans to deliver food, personal protective equipment (PPE), supplies and other needed items to Reena group homes to avoid the need for staff and individuals to get further exposed, he also began to piece together a plan. “It was in the middle of all these food deliveries that we began to think…okay, it’s one thing to deliver food, but is it something totally different if we were to begin to grow our own food and have the group homes more self-sufficient around that and in that way we could reduce COVID transmission risk at supermarkets because people would be growing their own food and then using it to cook.”
Fred had no experience in gardening, however he relied on those who did. He looked for a simplistic way…containers on the ground verses in the ground to make it as turnkey as possible and creatively helped apply for grants in a way they had never been used before.
Fast forward to today, and the Reena Community Farm is well on its way to fulfilling one of the GReena pillars, sustainable food production. With vegetable gardens at the Sandy Keshen Reena Residence (SKRR), the Lou Fruitman Reena Residence (LFRR), many Reena homes and balconies of supported independent living individuals (SIL) and additional community partners, Fred couldn’t be prouder of the program the will not only “deliver program financial security but also provide Reena supported individuals with the opportunity for paid employment at the Megafarm location.” True to his ‘intra-preneurial’ ways, Fred has ensured the program not only benefits those supported by Reena, but he has also ensured the inclusion of individuals with diverse abilities in every step of the program. From planting and maintaining the gardens, to harvesting and cooking, Reena supported individuals and staff volunteers worked together at Residential and Apartment locations of the Reena Community Farm. The future is not only blossoming, for GReena, but for Fred and the Reena Community Farm program with year-round hydroponic growing and plans for expansion in the works.