Jack Goy is brimming with stories about his experiences as the parent of a handicapped child, son Kenneth. A born storyteller, Jack’s stories flow seamlessly through the remarkable path he and his family have taken in dealing with the challenges they have dealt with and those they continue to face.
Jack and Freda Goy and their family of four children moved to Grande Prairie from England in 1975. Kenneth was three years old at the time, and had only just recovered from his first seizure, one that left him developmentally disabled. Jack and Freda, who had previously been raising their bright and healthy young son, were now faced with the prospect of learning to care for a handicapped child in a time when services were not as readily available as they are today.
The Goys kept Kenneth at home with the family and, when he was old enough, they arranged for him to attend the Peace School of Hope. As he grew older, Kenneth moved on to Crystal Park, Swanavon and Hillside elementary schools. Jack was in favour of integration of the disabled into the pubic school system. He was not particularly concerned about the curriculum, but wanted the teachers to give Kenneth “something that he can do, that he enjoys, and that he feels good about.”
Often the teachers did not have the time or patience to deal with Kenneth in a public school classroom. Kenneth would fall out of his desk regularly, so to avoid having him belted into the seat, a circular desk was made. It worked to keep Kenneth safe and comfortable.
The Goys talked to many, many parents who had handicapped children. The parents were concerned about what they would do when their children were ready for school. The Goys’ advice to them was to do the same as they had done for Kenneth.
“You have to fight tooth and nail to get them into school and you have to fight tooth and nail to keep them there.”
Jack has been involved with the Special Olympics committee in Grande Prairie since 1984. At about the same time, he worked to promote participation in PARDS (Peace Area Riding for the Disabled). “Riding a horse is the finest therapy.”
In the beginning, the Special Olympics commmittee consisted mainly of the parents of handicapped children. Interest was slow to start with, but the organization grew to include clients from the Association for the Mentally Handicapped. The group traveled to summer and winter games. Support from the community came in the form of special discount prices for transportation and contributions of team jackets by (ACT) Associated Canadian Travelers.
Lanny MacDonald had been booked as the guest speaker for the Special Olympics hosted by Grande Prairie, but had to decline at the last minute due to a family commitment. Jack suggested that Lanny should attend the family function rather than travel to Grande Prairie.
“Family comes first. If it was a choice between watching my son’s floor hockey game or coming to watch you playing for Calgary, I’d be watching the floor hockey game, regardless of how big Lanny MacDonald was.”
Lanny sent Jack the speech he had written so that his message could be read to the athletes despite his absence. Jack only spoke to Lanny twice, as he recalls, “once to ask him to come, and once to tell him not come.”
Jack’s memories of the Special Olympics are not solely concerned with the sporting events. He remembers that, as important as the sports were to the athletes, the camaraderie and celebrations surrounding the games were just as exciting.
“We used to always try to make sure that everybody got a medal. There were so many categories, which I thought was wonderful for the athletes. That’s all they wanted to do, put it around their neck. They’d come to the dances with their dresses on and their suits and ties on and all you could hear was medals jingling around. Many happy memories of that.”
Jack has served on the Association board since 1990s. He has now retired. One of the difficulties the board deals with is the issue of pay for the workers within the Association.
He acknowledges that the board achieves accomplishments every day “by trying to keep the whole ship together. If there’s an issue that comes to the front, then it’s dealt with quickly.” The policies and procedures are updated all the time.
Jack has spoken at Grande Prairie Regional College about his experience with Kenneth. In his talks, he has referred to Kenneth’s seizures as “break dancing” and received mixed reactions to that description. One individual commented that Jack was being flippant about Kenneth’s “affliction.” Jack’s response was that Kenneth does not have an affliction; he just happens to have something that doesn’t agree with him.
“I’ve seen what’s wrong with him for a long time. He’s not going to get rid of it because they’ve tried. That’s the way he is. We need to be just a little bit more lighthearted. If you were in my family, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. We tried to make it on a happy note.”