Bruce Hayens just celebrated his 70th birthday.
The guest list, however, didn’t include a typical group of sons, daughters, grandchildren and fellow retired coworkers.
Hayens has a different family. His family is from Chilliwack Society for Community Living.
Hayens has Down syndrome, and in 1954 at the age of nine, he was one of the first five children to attend CSCL. He is now the last survivor of those original five kids.
His mother, Dorothy, who died a year and a half ago at the age of 97, was one of the founding members of the society. She got together with four other families, all of which had a child with Down syndrome, and started the Upper Fraser Valley Society for Handicapped Children 61 years ago.
The society has gone through several name changes over the years, but its goal has remained the same: to provide support and services for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
Hayens has been with CSCL from day one and continues to religiously take part its programs and services today. Currently, he’s in the day care program five days a week.
“Whatever happens to him as he ages, (CSCL) has to stay because this is so critically important to him. It’s rare if he ever misses a day. This is like his job,” says executive director Brenda Gillette.
Though Hayens has been around longer than any of the staff, they never get tired of his smiling face, warm personality, and humour.
But who would? He makes strangers laugh within a minute of meeting him.
“Bruce is very funny. He has a very good imagination, a wild sense of humour, and can remember everything,” she says.
He’s into sports, and likes football and hockey the most. He reads the newspaper and TV guide every day, and marks off all the sports he wants to watch in order to plan his day. The Saskatchewan Roughriders is his favourite team.
In the ‘50s, people with Down syndrome were not expected to live past the age of about 30 or 40. Now life expectancy has increased to 60-plus.
“You look where it started and where it is now, and it’s very, very different. We are seeing these people who are living this long. It’s a real milestone,” she says.
And for Hayens specifically, Gillette says “it’s about someone who has had a really good quality of life for his entire life, and that didn’t happen before.”
When CSCL first started up, the demand for the society’s services was quite rapid.
“There were a lot of families who came out of the woodwork, and Dorothy said it was quite overwhelming,” says Gillette.
Now CSCL supports 125-150 children and youth, plus more than 300 adults. They offer everything from employment to seniors’ programs, clubs to community inclusion opportunities, home care to assisted living, and more.
“It’s not about disability, it’s about seeing each one as an individual person and seeing how we can help them,” she says.
In addition to Hayens’ 70th birthday celebration on March 6, CSCL celebrated another milestone last year with its 60th anniversary, plus Gillette is marking 40 years with the society this year.
She will be retiring at the end of the year, and she admits she’s going to miss seeing CSCL continue to grow and she’s going to miss visiting Hayens on a regular basis.
“The key is that he’s the last of his era,” says Gillette. “He and his family are pioneers in the community. His family wanted him to be part of the community, and he is a part of it. He’s a social butterfly.”