Our story begins in the trenches of Flanders Fields. During world war I, social barriers dividing officers and privates remained even in the face of the common enemy. Rev. P.B. Clayton was determined to transcend the barriers and allow for free communication between the ranks.
The good Chaplain approached the High Command with his friend Neville Talbot and convinced them to commandeer a large house for the duration of the war. This house was utilized as a house of worship and as a meeting place where rank and class would be forgotten. While there was resistance among many senior officers who believed that such free communication would end military discipline, high command agreed with the concept.
Prior to the house becoming a reality, Neville Talbot was killed in action. In his memory, the house was named Talbot house. A sign was placed above the door of the Chapel stating “When in God’s house, abandon rank”. Through the use of morse code and the phonetic alphabet (“T” is designated as Toc and “H” by home), the house soon became known as a place where men could meet on common ground and discuss their problems, hopes and fears. Friendships were forged that did not recognize rank.
After the war, the spirit of Toc Home remained. Many people bequeathed funds to the organization that had done so much to break through class barriers. While the origin of the name TorchLight is not clearly delineated in any documentation, it is a strongly held belief that it came from the last verse of the iconic John McCrae poem, written during WWI:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
In 1969, Guelph Community Torchlight Council was incorporated as Community TorchLight and received financial support from Toc- H
Torchlight Industries began as a separate program operated under the financial aid and support of Community TorchLight in January 1974. In April 1974, Torchlight Industries evolved into a separate corporation and became Torchlight Services. The Letters Patent that incorporated Torchlight Services was dated May 24, 1974. The goals of the organization as written in the Letters Patent stated:
“To provide training in both industrial and social areas so as to enable those with physical, social, emotional or mental handicaps to become part of the working community; and To provide a sheltered working opportunity for those too handicapped to compete in the market-place:
At this time, Torchlight Industries was a small workshop where clients provided mailing services for some companies or assembled products for others. The program strived for integration and to offer services that no other agency in the community was providing for people with disabilities.
Mr. Pat LeDuc was Torchlight Services first Executive Director and remained so until his passing in 1980.
The Board of Directors worked tirelessly to develop and create by-laws, policies and procedure manuals, banking and security measures and job descriptions.
Two years following the original Letter of Patent, a subsequent addendum to the goals was added:
“To establish and operate workshops and sheltered workshops for the purposes of providing treatment, education and vocational training for handicapped persons”
Mr. Keith Lymburner succeeded Mr. LeDuc and served as Executive Director until 2016 serving for 36 years. Under Mr. Lymburner’s guidance two more programs were developed.
The Community Options Program for Employment (COPE) was implemented by Torchlight Services in 1989 to fill what appeared to be a gap in services for people with disabilities. Participants in the COPE Program are assessed for possible outcomes of the program and the most desired outcome is to locate and secure competitively waged employment in the local community.
The TORINDAY program was established in 2002. This program provides vocational opportunities for adults with developmental/physical disabilities who require extra support and supervision while learning essential work skills.
At present, Torchlight Services still operates three separate programs, all of which address the needs of people with developmental and/or mental health disabilities in a vocational setting. Some people attending our programs are long standing participants; who decided to remain with Torchlight after completing a co-op in high school. Others, are newer participants who were referred to our program through various community agencies or friends and family of present participants.
Our programs offer vocational training, routine and social connections to participants seeking to lead productive, well-rounded lives. The programs do not only support participants in a vocational role, but they also provide esteem and life skills building for our participants. For example, social opportunities founded from friendship bonds among participants. These friendships would sometimes result in participants finding the confidence to move out of the family home and live independently with a friend. The engaged and connected staff also bolstered the quality of life for many of the participants by instilling confidence and encouragement. The smaller size of the organization also allowed staff to know the participants very well. Staff would be able to notice changes in behaviour in a particular participant and would investigate to find out what was causing the behavioural change (i.e., increased anxiety because of a change in routine, medication change or social life issues).
In November 2015, the Ministry of Community and Social Services announced that all sheltered workshops would no longer be allowed to accept new admissions to sheltered workshops and that they would work with the sector to gradually transition away from these types of programs. It was later announced that funding for these programs would cease as of January 2019. At the time of the announcement, Torchlight Services continued to operate as normal with current contracts and participants.
When Mr. Lymburner went on leave in March 2016, Ms. Patty Cote-Duncanson accepted the role of Acting Executive Director to work with the Board of Directors to determine an appropriate direction for Torchlight.
At an April 2017 Board meeting, Ms. Cote-Duncanson presented a well researched report that led to the formation of an ad hoc committee to formulate a plan to meet the Ministry’s mandate.
Once Torchlight Services’ direction was delineated, things moved forward very quickly. All staff and Board members brainstormed ways that the transition from a vocational setting to a day program setting could work. In just 3 short months, a consultant and fundraising/media specialist were hired to assist with transition planning and fundraising.
Community forums were presented to families of participants and stakeholders and a giant garage sale took place to raise funds.
Individualized meetings with participants and caregivers continue to take place as we aim to determine the most popular areas of interests for program development. Ms. Cote-Duncanson has attended countless meetings with other agencies to determine best practices for moving forward.
In addition, Ms. Cote-Duncanson has submitted a lengthy transition plan to the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
The Acting Executive Director, the dedicated Staff and Board of Directors are encouraged and enthusiastic about what the future holds for Torchlight Services and seek support from the community in the reinvention of Torchlight Services and our mission to “…advocate for, promote and facilitate the full participation, inclusion and empowerment of people who have a disability” remains as strong as ever.