Our History

Introducing KidsAbility: 65 Years of Empowering Children and Youth

In 1957, a beacon of hope shone upon our community as we welcomed the K-W Rotary Children’s Centre, marking the beginning of a brighter future for children and youth with special needs.

The journey leading to this momentous occasion traces back to the 1920s when our local Rotarians made a dedicated commitment to serving children with special needs. Over those formative years spanning from 1922 to 1957, the Rotary Club members orchestrated medical clinics, arranged transportation for children to Toronto hospitals when local care was unavailable, and tirelessly fundraised to acquire essential equipment and cover medical expenses.

From Local Commitment to Lasting Impact

Recognizing the growing need for a local, permanent facility, these dedicated Rotarians laid the foundation for what would later become KidsAbility. The North Waterloo Society for Crippled Children was established to oversee the formation and operation of this organization.

From its inception, KidsAbility primarily focused on children with physical disabilities, known at the time as the Kitchener Cerebral Palsy School Board. As our community expanded, and the needs of our children evolved, KidsAbility transformed to meet those needs.

Expanding Services, Changing Lives

We added sites, including two classrooms in Cambridge, along with locations in Guelph, Fergus, and Waterloo. Our services expanded to encompass a diverse range of offerings such as social work, autism services, family support groups, augmentative communication, feeding clinics, therapeutic recreation, sibling support, and developmental pediatrics, all tailored to better meet the complex needs of our children and youth.

In the 1990s, the demand for our services grew, prompting the establishment of the KidsAbility Foundation. This foundation’s primary focus was to raise vital funds and awareness, ensuring that KidsAbility could serve as many children as possible. These funds empowered KidsAbility to attract top talent, offer innovative programs, and provide specialized equipment and technology.

A Celebration of Progress and Partnership

As we reflect on more than six decades of service to our community, we celebrate the countless stories of progress made possible through the enduring partnership of KidsAbility, KidsAbility Foundation, and KidsAbility School Authority. We express our heartfelt gratitude to Rotary, our dedicated staff, volunteers, supportive community partners, generous funders, and compassionate donors.

We will continue to grow, innovate, and unlock our own potential to ensure that we can help those we serve reach theirs.

Explore the Journey in “60 Years of Potential Realized”

Take a look back on 60 Years of Potential Realized, a book created in 2017 to honor six decades of continued service to our community. Join us in celebrating a legacy of empowerment and a future filled with boundless possibilities.

60 Years of Potential Realized

1952

The Mobile Cerebral Palsy Clinic comes to Kitchener-Waterloo and introduces the benefits of therapy for children with cerebral palsy. Rotarians ask the question: How can we provide this service locally?

1954

A therapist is hired, and treatment takes place at K-W Hospital. The following year, Howard Hawkins calls for a permanent building to house a treatment center and facilities that could provide local children with physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

1955

The Rotary Club of Kitchener-Waterloo forms the North Waterloo Society for Crippled Children as an incorporated body in September 1955. The founding members of this new society are Dr. Don Bastedo, Roy Brown, Russell Buie, Walter Hatch, Howard Hawkins, Dr. Stonewall Jackson Hawkins, Morris Hay, Miles Hudspeth, John Martin, Wilson Martin, Arthur Snider and Carl Weber. Known as the Kitchener Cerebral Palsy School Board, it begins the school year with just six students located inside K-W Hospital.

1957

Property is purchased at 828 King Street West in Kitchener for $25,000 that will host a custom-built facility to provide local children with therapy, eliminating the need to travel to Toronto for regular appointments. The center is designed by local Rotarian and architect Carl Rieder and built by Dunker Construction for $106,000. The cornerstone is laid by the Lieutenant-Governor, Louis Breithaupt, and Clay Hall, President of the Rotary Club of Kitchener-Waterloo.

1958

March 24 the K-W Rotary Children’s Centre celebrates its grand opening in Kitchener. Dr. Glenn McFadden serves as the first medical director, Norah Barrett the first head therapist and Roy Brown the first administrator.

1960

As the region grows, the K-W Rotary Children’s Centre expands to serve children from Cambridge and Guelph in addition to Kitchener and Waterloo. Services are extended to children with communication challenges and other disorders.

1963

The first addition is built to the Centre that includes two school classrooms and a therapy pool. Ted Witzel spearheads the fundraising drive to make the addition that cost $110,000 possible.

1968

It is evident that the Centre has to expand again to meet the needs of the community. Plans are made to add a large classroom, four speech therapy offices and a library/meeting room. Again, Ted Witzel leads the fundraising campaign with a goal of $125,000.

1970

Plans are underway to meet the growing needs of the Centre. An addition to create a second floor over the existing one-story building is completed at a cost of $150,000 and funded entirely by the Rotary Clubs of Kitchener and Waterloo. This new space provides much needed room to accommodate the growth of occupational therapy and speech-language pathology. The expansion also provides an area for a social worker and psychological testing. Since the last addition in 1963, the caseload has doubled.

1972   

Increasing demands for speech therapy in Cambridge prompts the opening of a speech clinic so that children living south of the 401 do not have to travel to the crowded Centre in Kitchener. The speech clinic is set up in rented space in Grandview Medical Centre in Cambridge.

1977   

The K-W Rotary Children’s Centre serves 557 children on the active caseload supported by 42 staff, a 12-person medical panel, 100 volunteers, 25 Rotarians from Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge on the Board, with a budget of $550,000.

1980

Roy Brown, the long-time serving executive director of the K-W Rotary Children’s Centre, retires in December. Roy served as the Centre’s first administrator and was celebrated with a friendly “roast” by the staff to acknowledge his tremendous contributions over the years.

1984

Funded by Rotarians, a larger and more permanent site opens in Cambridge at 1425 Bishop Street. Within three years of opening, the new site sees 165 children.

1986

In 1986, the Board of Directors realizes that the current facilities can no longer accommodate the ever-growing number of children and families that come through the doors each year. Planning begins for a new facility that will be able to serve more children.

1994

The ground is officially broken on April 15 on the property of the Centre’s future site in Waterloo.

1995   

The K-W Rotary Children’s Centre completes construction of a 54,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility in Waterloo to replace the smaller facility in Kitchener. This facility opens in September following a successful $8 million capital campaign supported by the government, local Rotary clubs, corporations and many private supporters.

1996   

In the fall, Cambridge services move into the newly constructed Cambridge Family YMCA on Hespeler Road. Our co-location partnership provides enhanced facilities for our children and families and is the first and only partnership of its kind in Canada.

1999   

Following continued growth, a Guelph-based service team becomes a reality through pilot funding from the Ministry of Health, and a partnership through the City of Guelph. The caseload grows that year from just 17 children in September to 90 children by April 2000. The pilot proves to be a success and permanent funding is granted in 2000.

In November, the Board approved a new referral policy that makes it possible for a family, caregiver or community agency to refer a child for service. Up until now, referrals had to be made by a doctor. Referrals jumped significantly as a result of this change from 978 referrals the year prior to 1,229. This change improves access to services and supports the goal of early intervention.

2000   

A Fergus site is established through the support of the Rotary Club of Fergus-Elora. KidsAbility Foundation assumes the primary responsibility of fundraising on behalf of KidsAbility. Previously, they had been tasked with managing the endowment fund arising from bequests.

2003   

May 30, the organization is officially renamed KidsAbility™ Centre for Child Development to more accurately reflect its mission, vision and purpose, and to respect Rotary International’s request that “Rotary” no longer be used in the name.

In September, KidsAbility renews its strong partnership with the Cambridge YMCA opening an expanded site. A new classroom is added that allows KidsAbility School to increase enrollment from 62 to 81 children.

2005   

KidsAbility’s Guelph site moves to a newly renovated 5,000-square-foot site at the West End Community Centre

2006   

The first annual Kids Can’t Wait Radiothon raises $108,000 over two days through the support of 96.7 CHYM FM.

2008   

December 12, KidsAbility and the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine Waterloo Regional Campus at McMaster University celebrate a historic partnership. The new partnership provides medical students with training in family medicine and pediatrics and gives them an opportunity to learn about children with special needs and their families.

2011

To better serve children and families in Kitchener, in June, KidsAbility opens a new 5,200-square-foot site inside The Family Centre located at 65 Hanson Avenue in Kitchener.

2012   

KidsAbility, alongside 11 other children’s treatment centres, implements leading-edge technology known as GoldCare. Thanks to a one-time grant of $2.5 million from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, this new system allows for multidisciplinary teams to conduct a team assessment, develop an integrated plan of care, share important information, view clinical notes and monitor each child’s and family’s progress.

2013

In March, KidsAbility is awarded Exemplary Standing through Accreditation Canada, the highest accreditation possible, recognizing our commitment to excellence in governance, leadership and client services.

After 27 years at the helm, KidsAbility bids farewell to chief executive officer, Stephen Swatridge, and welcomes Linda Kenny in April.

Through an increase in funding from the province, KidsAbility launches Spark!. This program provides brief and rapid intervention to children with mild to moderate needs who otherwise may age out of the system. This program helps to move 293 children off the waiting list.

2014

On March 23, KidsAbility is honoured to host the President of Rotary International, Gary C. K. Huang, and his wife. KidsAbility officially opens our new Centre for Autism in Kitchener on March 31. This purpose-built space is designed specifically for children with autism and welcomes community partners Waterloo Region Family Network, Autism Services Waterloo Region, Facile and Extend-a-Family. On November 10, KidsAbility celebrates the opening of its newest dedicated autism site benefiting our children and families in Cambridge.

Located on Langs Drive, the new facility is custom-built to meet the needs of our complex children.

A pilot program to provide speech services for our complex clients in Guelph launches in partnership with WeeTalk.

2015

Families are joined in January by members of the Rotary Club of Fergus-Elora, staff, volunteers and community partners to cut the ribbon a new custom-built space to better serve the over 100 children who benefit from services offered by KidsAbility in Fergus.

Stay and Play, a program developed in Guelph-Wellington through a partnership with KidsAbility and St. Joe’s, expands across Ontario in December.

2016

Go Baby Go! launches at KidsAbility thanks to funding through KidsAbility Foundation. Staff Sarah Brown and Janice Gregson begin to modify loanable toy ride-on cars for children with crawling and walking problems, empowering them to be part of the action.

KidsAbility’s Resource Centre launches a new online equipment-lending program. Equipment can now be borrowed and tracked electronically.

KidsAbility leads the way with a new program “Partnering 4 Change in Child Care” (P4C) after receiving funding from the Region of Waterloo for a one-year pilot project. P4C helps facilitate inclusive education by working in partnership with educators in the classroom to provide OT services to support every student.

2017

As part of the new Ontario Autism Program, KidsAbility, in partnership with the Children’s Treatment Centre of Simcoe York, launches a new Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnostic and Assessment team and partners with the Canadian Mental Health Association of Waterloo-Wellington to enhance capacity of CMHA’s existing ASD team.

60 Years of Potential Realized is celebrated throughout the community with an art show, events and reception at Whistle Bear. It was also marked with a tree planting dedication to commemorate the over 60,000 children and youth with special needs who have been given the skills and support that they need to realize their potential.

In October, the grand opening celebration of KidsAbility’s new Cambridge Hub brought together our early years, school and autism teams,community partners, donors, families, and dignitaries, as we cut the ribbon on our newest site.

2018

Behaviour Consults begin to provide a multi-disciplinary approach to support KidsAbility teams with advice, resource development, strategies and recommendations for working with clients with behaviour challenges.

KidsAbility grows in Guelph with the grand opening of the new Guelph Hub. By bringing all of the teams under one roof, we are stronger together.