In 1999, five families found themselves in a difficult position regarding the care and education of their children with autism. In the midst of a political firestorm and dealing with a severe shortage of qualified centres of excellence, specializing in cutting edge therapy to children with autism, these families took matters into their own hands.
Their goal was to create a centre of world-class quality, wherein their children could find the best care available. To that end, they began hiring a staff of highly specialized professionals to create programs, conduct one-to-one therapy (based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis), monitor progress, advise families, and champion the progression of all constructive interventions that would facilitate the education, growth, and development of their children.
In this way, the Shining Through Centre for Children with Autism was born.
Word spread about the satisfaction these families were feeling regarding the care and therapy of their children, and little by little, Shining Through grew well beyond the initial load of five students. As such, in January of 2001 – after acquiring a stand-alone, dedicated building (a beautiful century mansion) and enlisting close family and friends to renovate the interior – the Woodbridge campus of Shining Through was opened and began registering learners.
As time went on, Shining Through grew, both learners and in mandate. Before long, the Centre boasted a large number of serviced families, a robust fundraising calendar, an annual Gala that attracted over 1000 attendees, a social skills program, academic publications, an annual training conference hosting internationally recognized educators and practitioners, and a therapy outreach program that supports in-home education and intervention strategies.
So extensive was the Centre’s success that in 2008, learner loads exceeded the capacity of the Woodbridge campus. It was at this time that Shining Through acquired a second campus in North York. The building in which the North York campus (another beautiful century home) resides has been a meeting place and landmark for Toronto residents for nearly 150 years. Joseph Sheppard II built it around 1860 on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue (the road to which his family gave its name) as both store and family home.
The store was bought in 1921 by brothers Bill and George Dempsey, who concentrated on hardware stock. In the 1960s, George’s sons Jim and Bob took over operation of the store. Widely known, “Dempsey’s” provided generations of North Yorkers with all the barbeques, appliances, garden seeds, fishing lures, tools, and hardware required by residents of this growing suburban area.
In 1989, the Dempseys sold the property to a development company that planned to build a multi-storey office and commercial development on the site. A planned widening of Sheppard Avenue, along with the TTC’s plans for the extension of the subway line, threatened the store. Briefly, the Dempsey Store – now one of two surviving 19th-century commercial building in North York – was in danger of disappearing for good. Fortunately, the Prudential Assurance Company Limited agreed to help preserve it. They purchased the property from the Dempseys, donated it to the City of North York, and included the funds required for its move and restoration,. The city provided a site for the store in the new Beecroft Park. On a frigid February day in 1996, the store was hydraulically lifted off its old foundations and wheeled 1.5 kilometers from its original site, to start a new chapter in its life.
Today, the interior of this historic site has been completely refurbished and outfitted with all the amenities required to run a world-class therapy centre for children with autism. As an integral part of Shining Through`s work, the North York campus helps us further extend our dedication to helping children with autism and their families into the City of Toronto proper.
So: what happened to the original five families?
Their dedication, perseverance and resourcefulness continue to inspire Shining Through’s staff, families and its many supporters to this very day. As for the Centre itself, it continues to attract international renowned staff, recognized and published researchers, accredited and credentialed management, as well as established and prolific educators.
In the end, all of Shining Through`s efforts are exclusively and single-mindedly focused on the achievement of its sincere mission: to enhance the lives of all those affected by autism.