Rose & Ben Novlesky

Rose and Ben Novlesky speak proudly as they reminisce about the early days of the Association and their first experiences with their son Brian, youngest of their three children. Brian’s family connection has remained an important part of his life, largely due to their efforts and choices on his behalf.

The Novleskys knew there was something different about Brian when he was born, but their doctor did not tell them that he had a handicap.

We could see that there was something wrong with him, but the doctor didn’t tell us. We didn’t know much about that syndrome. After a few months I went back and I told him – there’s something wrong with him. The doctor told us Brian was handicapped. That was a shock to me. I wish he’d have told us right away.

It was the district health nurse who suggested that the Novleskys contact the Peace School of Hope. The year was 1963. Rose and Ben found it hard to leave Brian at the Barrydale Dorm, as it was the first time he had left home.

Brian would stay at the dorm during the week and he would go home every weekend. Sometimes he would cry when it was time to go back to the dorm. These were the most difficult times. The Novleskys felt there was not much they could do; for their family, it was best for Brian to live in Barrydale Dorm and attend the School of Hope.

Brian formed many friendships in the dorm and the Kenneways were his favourite house parents. Mr. Kenneway used to smoke a pipe and that really “caught Brian’s eye.” Eventually Brian moved to a group home, where he lived with up to six other children. Six children living in a home at one time made it difficult for the staff to give everyone attention. Difficulty with group home life included the chance for some roommates to team up and exclude others. There would usually be one or more children outcast in the group. At one home there were about 13 kids with only one set of house parents in charge.

When the group homes were first being built in the community, a common neighbourhood attitude was “Not in my backyard.” A retarded child was someone to be gawked at. Even though the handicapped are aware that some people still regard them in this way, Rose says that the handicapped children (many now adults) that she has come to know would not take issue with such disrespect. “They are forgiving people. They don’t carry a grudge against anybody.”

Rose and Ben experienced a great many changes in their lives once it was determined that Brian was handicapped. The challenge of his special needs demanded that they concentrate their energies on searching for services and making sure that Brian was healthy and happy, even though he lived away from them for much of the time.

Ben was President of the Association Board and the Peace School of Hope for a couple of years. He says he had no idea what the job included when he first started, but had strong support from Bert Tieman and Ivan Rosin. Ben and Bert Tieman teamed up to take care of the school building.

The cost of building a group home at that time was approximately $17,000. Residential helpers were paid about $400 per month. The Novleskys paid $15 per month room and board to keep Brian at the group home when he first started.

During Ben’s time as President of the Association, there was a great need for fund raising to keep the organization going. The Flowers of Hope campaign, bake sales and auctions were depended upon to bring in the needed funds.

I remember Dr. Bacchus was the MLA. We were cleaning up the school and he came over one day and said ‘we found $26,000 in the budget’ and gave it to us.

The money was donated to the shop for equipment and upgrades. The shop environment was not the healthiest in the early days of its operation. Many of the products were made from cedar, the dust of which contributed to asthma in some of the workers. Ben notes that health issues are dealt with very differently these days and more care is taken to ensure that the shop is a safe workplace. That is one of the important changes the Novleskys have noticed.

Rose and Ben are thankful for the people who are working with Brian and note that these days people are fortunate to live in a time when attitudes are more accepting of the handicapped. There are more resources available for parents of children with disabilities and a system in place to give them the care they need. Their experience has been that it gets easier to deal with a disability over time.

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