Save Wilderness Discovery Resort For The Disabled

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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the EditorTHUNDER BAY – LETTERS – My thanks to Executive Director of HAGI, David Shannon and Bill Mauro for addressing the concerns of the nearly 21,000 petitioners to Save Wilderness Discovery Resort For The Disabled…finally!

 Ten weeks after the start of the petition, we’ve begun to see acknowledgment by decision makers. The silence was deafening. It took over 20,000 petition signers on Change.org to get attention. National attention. The attention of Emily Chan, CTV reporter in Toronto. Considering David Shannon’s comments to the reporter, his silence became more understandable.

 This petition was begun in an effort to persuade the Ontario government to deed the property where Wilderness Discovery is situated, to HAGI, property owned by the citizens. By doing so, it would release HAGI from lease payments and ease the operational costs. It would also solve the rights to that location permanently. The petition was started as a full-throated endorsement in support of HAGI and the camp.

 What changed? The surprising comments from Shannon that it would be an acceptable alternative to shutter this camp and divert people with special needs to tents and trailers when a far superior alternative is currently up and running. To say in the article, “We would like to reach out to all of those individuals (who signed the petition) and ask them: What do you want for your so-called wilderness experience.” is incredulous. His statements in that article  and on the latest TV news reports are tone deaf.  The comments on the petition site and on social media were overwhelming. They are SAVE WILDERNESS DISCOVERY! Not for a season. Not twenty years. Permanently!

 Board members at HAGI have taken the time to sign and support the petition. Curiously, unless it was done recently in a CYA effort, David Shannon has not. Thousands of Canadians are rallying to preserve their legacy in your community, and you can’t be bothered to sign their petition? It makes all your statements of doing “everything you can” to keep the camp open disingenuous.

 You claim to now be the victim of personal attacks on social media. Those “attacks” have come from a groundswell of dissatisfaction on how this resort has been managed under your guidance. If your name is going to be on the office door, and not on the petition that supports you, I imagine that makes you fair game. If you’re going to be the director at a non-profit organization that operates in part with taxpayer funds, you can certainly be open to public critique. Commenters have called those funds into question nearly from the start. Can you assure them that your figures are accurate? What exactly went up that much just recently. Or why did your funding drop so much just recently?

 I think it is fair when one of the camp’s patrons mentions on TV that you weren’t putting money into the place by not funding repairs and maintenance. And how now it seems to make sense since you were going to just close the camp anyway. I think it’s fair when OUR group stays at Wilderness Discovery and it’s surprising when we’re NOT the only cabin in use.

 If someone is going to manage, much like a baseball team, you’re going to have to put people in the seats and win for them. If you don’t, and you haven’t with Wilderness Discovery, you DON’T DEMOLISH THE BALLPARK. You don’t blame empty seats on the USHERS. The MANAGER gets replaced.

 It’s unfortunate that you think this is so impossibly difficult. You point out how expensive it has become to run the camp. Did you ever consider appealing to your community instead of waiting for me to send a letter to the newspaper in January? Worse yet, were you even going to tell them at all? Had you ever considered embracing the people who have rallied behind this petition, the very people that want to help, instead of sitting on the sidelines wondering what was going to happen? 

 There are nearly 21,000 people you could have reached out to for potential fundraising. Have you even tried? NO. If you’re so committed to saving the camp, why in the world wouldn’t you? You didn’t even have to do the heavy lifting. I believe your leadership can be called into question when you didn’t take the initiative as Executive Director to address your community of 113,000 to help on this matter. It’s a shame that it took a disability caregiver from a town of 1,000 who is on duty 24/7 for a paralyzed veteran in his own home to devote enough time to reach out to 20,000 trusting and caring Canadian souls. 

 These are people who didn’t know anything about me. Many still don’t. But that doesn‘t matter much and never did. What matters is that I care. And so do they. Those words, “I care”, are two of the most frequently use words on the comments page. What matters is what has ALWAYS mattered. Our disabled children, seniors, veterans, and families were about to get Wilderness Discovery sold out from under them. They know that it’s WRONG and THEY SAID “NO!” And their number is GROWING. What matters is you’re dismissing them thinking by you can get away with allowing this to happen. Sure. Just try that. You think they’re passionate now?

 I’m sorry you wrote this petition off as folly or some type of stunt. I’m terribly sorry if the comments by the petitioners hurt your feelings. They’re the voices of the people that Michael Gravelle, Bill Mauro, Kathleen Wynne, and David Shannon are charged to serve. But the citizens of the disability community and Ontario don’t speak in the talking points and legalese of lawyers and politicians. They speak with moral conviction. That’s why they’re unwilling to just have you tell them, “Too bad. We did our best.”  They don’t buy it. Don’t say, “I understand this gentleman’s passion”. Try understanding your constituents’ passion and the desires of the disability community to keep the resort they love so deeply. 

 If you’ve already signed the petition, you have our deepest gratitude. Please keep sharing with your helpful friends. If you haven’t, please go to www.change.org/WildernessDiscovery and do the same. Feel free to leave your views on the petition’s comments section, “Save Wilderness Discovery Resort For The Disabled” on Facebook, and at the bottom of the newspaper’s comments section. Thank you so much to the current and future supporters for your time, trust, and dedication.

Kevin Johnson

Save Wilderness Discovery Resort For The Disabled

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