Chris Whittaker – LOFT Community Services

LOFT - Chris (483x800)

Chris’s story is an example of what’s possible when we all take a Leap of Faith Together (LOFT). “I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1989.” Having grown up in Parry Sound, Ontario, Chris experienced culture shock when he moved to Toronto to begin his university studies. “I didn’t do well during my first year and after going home for summer break, I was not accepted back into residence at UofT. I moved into a rooming house where there was no support. It wasn’t long before my health deteriorated until I was hospitalized for four months. My condition stabilized on medication and I enrolled in the Redirection through Education Program (Seneca College). The support and encouragement I received there empowered me to advocate on my own behalf to the Housing Board. When I was accepted into the supportive housing program and was shown my first apartment it was a bit overwhelming, but my family helped me to clean it up and make it my own. Twenty years later, I live in a one-bedroom apartment that is clean and comfortable.”

Chris is an active volunteer who has served as a member of the LOFT Board and was previously a personal support volunteer at CAMH. “On Tuesdays I volunteer at the Art Gallery of Ontario where I have been the Day Captain organizing the schedules of 8 other volunteers.” In 2014 he received the Ontario Volunteer Service Award for his contributions to the AGO. It’s the second time he has received this honour. Chris is also involved in the performing arts. “Two days a week I play the piano for the residents at Baycrest. I enjoy Irish dancing on Wednesday nights and I’m involved in a community theatre group. I had the male lead in the play we produced last year and look forward to providing the voice-over for our 2015 production. In our drama group everyone contributes. It’s really beautiful to see.”

I asked Chris where he finds the energy for such a busy lifestyle. He replied, “I take Monday evenings for myself. I usually stay home and relax, listening to music or watching TV. Sometimes I go out to catch the first set at a comedy club in my neighbourhood.”

Chris has come a long way since his illness was first diagnosed. I asked him if he had any suggestions that might help someone else in his situation. He told me that the most important lesson he’s learned is that “everyone has potential to build their life brick by brick. A support system is essential and then the other pieces will fall into place.”