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Aiding in the struggle against FASD’s effects

Initiatives for Just Communities holding fundraiser for two FASD-related programs

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(Left to right) Initiatives for Just Communities employee Alex Stearns, Touchstone FASD program director Jewel Reimer, Visions & Voices speaker Russ Hilsher and Visions & Voices co-ordinator Patricia Braun.

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(Left to right) Initiatives for Just Communities employee Alex Stearns, Touchstone FASD program director Jewel Reimer, Visions & Voices speaker Russ Hilsher and Visions & Voices co-ordinator Patricia Braun. Photo Store

An upcoming fundraiser will direct its proceeds to helping those who struggle daily with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Initiatives for Just Communities, a Winnipeg institution that specializes in restorative justice, is holding a fundraiser for two of its FASD-related programs on Thurs., Oct. 24 at The Edge Village and Gallery (210-611 Main St.).

The Touchstone FASD Program aids youth and adults living with FASD, while Visions & Voices is a speaker’s bureau where FASD-affected adults present their personal stories to reduce the stigma around the condition.

"We try to be quite client-centered, but typically our program participants struggle with living independently and often they live well below the poverty line," says Jewel Reimer, director of the Touchstone FASD Program.  

"They’re often on welfare. They often have a lot of traumatic childhood experiences. Even finding a constant stable roof over their heads is often an issue. We’re helping them maintain and acquire a lot of basic needs, but in addition to that, trying to find ways to help them be successful."

In addition to mental health problems and poverty, people with FASD often have substance abuse problems and trouble with the law.

Reimer says Touchstone helps guide its participants through everyday situations like budgeting, grocery shopping, looking for a place to rent, getting to appointments and navigating the justice system.

"They struggle with making decisions and organizing themselves," she says. "If they do have a plan or a dream, like maybe getting a high school diploma, it’s what they want, but they can’t figure out the steps to get there as a result of their brain injuries."

Russ Hilsher, 36, is one of the FASD-affected people Touchstone assists. He’s also a member of Visions & Voices, sharing his struggles and successes with social workers, teachers, police, students, foster parents and communities.

"I talk a lot about impulsivity, addictions, being in trouble with the law and not being able to hold down a job, stuff like that. Those are the things that I struggle with in my life on a daily basis," Hilsher says.

Hilsher says he needs to have understanding, compassionate people around him, or his impulsive nature takes over and gets him into trouble.

"In the moment, I don’t think ‘I can do that after.’ If there’s an opportunity to do it now, I do it. Everything else is erased. It’s sad, but it’s just the way it is."

Patricia Braun, co-ordinator of Visions & Voices, says it’s important for people to hear from those who live with FASD.

"We do partner up with the (Manitoba FASD Network) and also a couple FASD specialists, who do the statistics and education about FASD, but then our speakers give a more personal approach, their stories."

Admission to the fundraiser is $15. The night — titled "Feast for the Senses" — will include live music, dessert, raffle prizes and artwork by Initiatives for Just Communities clients, staff and supporters, including some of Hilsher’s own photography.

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