“I have had the honour of engaging with some of the most beautiful people in this world. These are unique individuals with varying abilities and diverse outlooks, individuals who have, through their example and perseverance left an indelible mark on me.” 

Mohamed (Mo) Lalji first became involved with Reena almost 35 years ago. Mo was working for a sister agency training individuals with diverse abilities on how to navigate the TTC by themselves. Several of his clients lived in a Reena Group home where, in 1989, he become a part time residential working the overnight awake shift. Later he became a supervisor, and in 1996 Mo was appointed to the position of Resource Manager with responsibilities for Reena’s Day programs as well as seven residential locations.  

During the early 1990’s, Mo remembers a big push to de-institutionalize those who had no supports. As a senior support worker at Reena’s Lonsmount group home, Mo assisted with the integration of individuals from the Huronia facility into Reena. “Many are the most genuine, humble, appreciative, honest, caring and compassionate people you will ever meet.” Mo fondly recalling an outing he and his colleagues organized for 3 of the residents to Niagara Falls back in those early days. The trip was only approved as a day trip, however the group ended up going to Buffalo to go to the famous Anchor Bar for wings. They were having so much fun that they ended up staying overnight, on the fly, like any neurotypical individual might do. “We had such a blast…on way back, we brought a bucket of wings back to the Cartwright offices for anyone passing by into the office who might want to eat. Sandy (Keshen) came by and instead of being angry about us being away overnight, she was so happy at the level of inclusion, and she even tried a wing!”  

Great mentors, great leaders and great colleagues have kept Mo Lajji working at Reena for so long. “I felt very valued right from the start… the people that I’ve worked with have always been very supportive and very caring.“ That support was especially meaningful after the events of 9/11. “Being a Muslim guy working in a Jewish agency sometimes, there is a feeling, you’re always conscience about who you are, and what your name is, your appearance.” He remembers a board meeting where he had to make a presentation, after the meeting Sandy Keshen pulled him aside and asked him how he was given the events of 9/11. “She was sensitive enough, kind and caring and talked to me about it…To do that for me spoke not only speaks volumes about her but about the organization as well. We are a diverse group and no matter who you are or what you are as far as your ethnicity, your religion, your culture, at the end of the day we are all one and it felt really special to be reassured.” 

Mo has not only been reassured by Reena families; he has been amazed by them. “I have witnessed their hope and perseverance, their joys and their difficulties. The parents at Reena remain the bedrock of love and commitment.” 

Mo Lajji is still going strong. “It’s always a constant forward progress in my years at Reena and I am thankful for that.” His commitment to Reena and those supported by Reena continue to fuel his work. Work that has helped promote dignity, individuality, independence and community inclusion for people with developmental disabilities at an agency Mo says remains Jewish to the core, and at the same time embraces diversity. No surprise some 35 years later, Mo continues to contribute to Reena’s success. “We are the leaders people follow,” says Mo, “…we lead, and we don’t look back.”