Marilyn Raphael says Reena saved her life.
Her daughter, Sheree, was institutionalized in the Huronia Hospital for the mentally retarded, as it was known then, for 12 years. Marilyn and Bert were allowed to visit but could not take her home for an overnight stay. “When Camp Reena opened,” says Raphael, “they would visit Huronia and bring as many of the Jewish kids as they could to Camp Reena. Somehow Sherri was involved and came to Camp Reena…So, Sandy (Keshen) got to know her.”
The Raphaels attended a Monte Carlo fundraising event at the home of Helen and Joe Berman where Marilyn says she met a whole new group of people who were working towards something; the purchase of a house for Reena on Lonsmount Drive. Sandy Keshen thought the house that would be a good fit for Sheree. Though unsure of whether their daughter could handle it, the Raphaels decided to take a chance. “We drove to Huronia,” says Raphael, “and told the director about Reena, and how they were opening a group home and how we wanted to try to see if Sheree could survive there and flourish there”. Marilyn told the director that there was a trial period in the house to see if it would work out, “…as I explained this to the woman she said ‘Well if you think you’re going to take her out and then bring her back your sorely mistaken. That won’t happen”. The Raphaels were floored, but they packed up their daughter and took her out of Huronia that day and very shortly after she moved into the home on Lonsmount where Sheree thrived and flourished.
The Raphaels continued to become involved with Reena championing the rights of all people with developmental disabilities. Bert Raphael, a litigator, saw his work as legal counsel for the developmentally disabled as an extension of his legal career. In 1992, the Bert and Marilyn Raphael Advocacy fund was established which assists the Foundation to help the developmentally challenged fight inequities in the community such as in housing and employment. The fund provides assistance for those supported by Reena and their families to access legal or other advocacy means and to represent them against any infringement of their rights. Since its establishment it has provided funds to help challenge the Family Benefits Act and to have a presence at the inquest of a civil suit brought against a hospital.
Marilyn, who was Reena Board Chair from 1986-88, also spent much of her time fundraising and was Dinner Chair or on a committee for practically every gala. According to Raphael, fundraising was the best time for her. “The joy of Reena was that we just reveled in each other’s company, and we worked so hard, and we raised so much money.”
Favourite gala memories, of course, include the dinner where Marilyn and Bert were honored and where they established the advocacy fund, the evening they honoured the Osborne family who adopted 18 children with severe disabilities, and the evening they honoured Mila Mulroney. Raphael, who was honoured to sit next to the wife of the Prime Minister, says they were surrounded by RCMP security. “At one point in the evening she was told her plane was waiting and she had to leave. As she started to walk out of the room, there was a table of Reena individuals and one of the boys wanted to take a picture with her but had a mishap with his camera. but the RCMP were pushing her to go. She turned around and quietly but firmly said ‘I am not leaving until this young man gets his picture’. And she talked to them all and hugged them,” says Raphael. “I never got over the kindness and generosity of people. It was an amazing thing and turned me into a much better person.”
As Reena celebrates its 50th anniversary, Marilyn Raphael says she is thrilled to see it continue to thrive. “One of the things I see as a lovely change in Reena is the families. Now I see the families so much a part of their children’s lives and it’s so much nicer and so much healthier and better for everybody.”
Sheree Raphael moved from Reena’s group home on Lonsmount Drive to an apartment with roommates and currently lives at Reena’s Lou Fruitman Residence.