Joan Chaissson was chosen to be this year’s patron of the Lions Club Winter Carnival in Port aux Basques.
This life-long resident of the town has had an interesting life, one of challenges as well as success.
She was just a year old when she suffered severe burns in a house fire in 1958; an event that left her with scarred hands and other residual effects, including a diagnosis of fibromyalgia 20 years ago.
Originally, she never intended to pursue a university degree. She had planned to take over her father’s bussing business. But she ended up with two degrees from MUN: Bachelor of Arts and Education and Bachelor of Special Education, and spent 30 years in the education system as a teacher.
Even after retirement in 2009 she continued to work as a substitute teacher, and began working with children with autism as a Home Therapist using the Applied Behaviour Analysis program. Five years ago she confounded the AIM (Autism Involves Me) Group with a parent of children with autism, to support local families and children, and educate others about Autism.
She also volunteers with her local church, and is chair of the Wesley United Church Board.
She and her husband, Tony, have one son, Andrew, who lives in Alberta.
In her speech to the audience on the opening night of the winter carnival, Chaisson gave further insight into what motivates her.
Here then, in her own words, is Joan Chaisson:
It is indeed an honour and a pleasure to accept the Position of Honorary Patron for our Winter Carnival.
When Brian (Button) called me, he said he was calling on behalf of the Winter Carnival but since I was asked just the day before to be on the Come Home Year Committee, I did as I do so often — I jumped to the wrong conclusion and told him I was already asked and I was not able to do it at this time since I was so busy with the AIM group, my church and working each afternoon.
Brian went quiet and then he asked me what I was asked to do.I told him about the Come Home Committee. He said, “No, I am calling to ask you to be our honorary Patron for Winter Carnival.”
For the first time in many months, I was speechless! This was the furthest thing in my mind.
I have to be honest, I feel that I am a representative for many people.
Our AIM (Autism Involves Me) has become very successful but it is because of you, our townspeople.
Whenever we dream of a new project to help our children with autism, the citizens, businesses and Town Council is right there to partner with us. As most of you may know, we have worked together with our council and Bruce 11 so we could create a sensory gym, a specialized swimming program and a partnership in the Sunshine Bowling program at the Bruce 11 Complex. We are now working on developing a Sledge Hockey program.
We worked with Cathy Lomond and her staff at Hotel Port aux Basques so we could develop a sensory room at her hotel, educate her staff on Autism. Mrs. Lomond renovated several rooms in her hotel as well as specialized her menu and registration process, resulting in her hotel becoming the first Autism Friendly Hotel in Canada.
She started with renovating a couple of rooms but now she realizes, she may have to do all the rooms on the first floor.
Last summer I presented our Town Council with a document that explained 17 different citizens and businesses in our town going above and beyond to help our autistic community.
I do not have the time here to discuss all 17 but there were people such as Jeanette and Shawn Tobin who donated a large portion of their building to our group so we could have a meeting room and Resource Center. This area is totally rent free and it is a dream to us and the children.
We have hairdressers and barbers who make special times for our children to visit.
The staff at Pizza Delight work with us so our children can learn how to order, eat and behave in a restaurant.
We also have the citizens of our town who support us when we sell our puzzle pieces or when we ask for time or donations.
Just last month I asked if people would donate their recyclables to our account so that we could buy some weighted blankets, costing approximately $200 each. Within a week, people were messaging me and there was enough money donated to order four blankets. I had not even asked for money but this is how supportive our town is.
We were so proud in July when the Town Council proclaimed our town as an Autism Friendly Town.
Our AIM group is currently working to increas our Resource Library so that educators, therapists, parents of all children — not just the children with autism — may be able to borrow these materials. We are also in the early stages of trying to bring the MedicAlert Connect Protect Bracelet program to our town so RCMP officers can identify wandering or lost children or adults.
We have been told many times by people from large cities, such as St. John’s, Montreal and Toronto that they cannot believe what we have accomplished in a town of this size.
This could not happen by one person or one group.
So, I may be the Honorary Patron but I am representing all of you since each one of you are Honorary patrons in the eyes of our group.