Gunnar Sewell was born in Rhodesia, back when it existed, in 1963. His professional background is in language instruction. In his late 20s Gunnar became extremely depressed and started suffering from panic attacks, later to be diagnosed as hypomania.  After losing his job he went onto ODSP.  Gunnar’s dream is to start or work for an existing foundation that develops extracurricular programs for that help children under the age of 7 develop healthy self-esteem through dynamic activities, small class sizes, art, and being kind to one another.


I am Mark Sussmann, and I am currently on ODSP. My goal is to continue to focus on my post-secondary education, so I can support myself. My goal for others is that while they are on OW/ODSP that they be treated with respect and dignity, and be enabled to make positive changes in their lives.


I’m Stacey Bowen, I’m receiving OW, My current goal is to finish my 3 year part time program of Assaulted Woman and Youth Advocacy Counseling at George Brown College. I plan to help the Youth of Tomorrow to achieve their goals of today using Advocacy, Direct Response of Change, Guidance and Commitment to bring back some hope and belief of self.


My name is Paul Fitzgerald and I’m from Brantford, Ontario. I have been receiving OW for 3 years, waiting for a decision on ODSP. Since starting with People’s Blueprint I got involved locally with the Brantford Roundtable on Poverty. I also attended Tamarack – An institution for Community Engagement. My goal is to bring awareness and changes to poverty issues.


I am Teisha James, a single mother of two, and currently on OW. I am desperately looking for a way out, or a way to improve the services provided by Ontario Works and Disability programs. My goals besides getting off OW include completing university and someday owning my own home for my daughters to live in. I would also like to get my husband into the country as a landed immigrant. With his help i can achieve my goal of finishing university and owning a home. I would love to see better funding and opportunities available for others in my situation.


Johnathan Higgins, 37 , lives in Sudbury Ontario and has been receiving ODSP for the past 10 years. He is passionate about issues surrounding poverty, youth homelessness as well as issues affecting people living with mental illness. He enjoys reading, writing and loves animals. Currently he is enrolled in college studying to be a personal support worker.


I am originally from Espanola, ON.  I was educated in Sudbury at the elementary, secondary and university levels.  I have worked and lived in three provinces.  The members of the panel really helped me realize that I could achieve whatever I set out to do.  For that I am forever grateful.


Melissa is a single mom who went back to school, and has recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree from York University. She now currently works in the social services field.


I am Maya Shariffe. I am well educated and have worked hard all my life; also I am proud of the relationship I continue to have with the People’s Blueprint. I, as well marvel at each person’s ability to contribute in light of what is not expected of them.  However due to the stigma attached to anyone who receives social assistance, I am reluctant to provide people with my personal moniker.  This stigma has reinforced many employers’, in my opinion, to discriminate against me despite my many skills, being multilingual and having great work experience in several areas. I look at the media, which daily depicts or rolls out research to say negative things or produce nefarious findings about persons who struggle in a poverty existence as a social assistance recipient. I would like to see this change.  I am a person who is educated, always able and willing to work.  However, I too have to face poverty just like those who receive social assistance.


My name is Dylan Goff. I live in Hamilton and I’ve been living on ODSP (formerly Family Benefits) – and some earned income – for the past 20 years, as a result of having a mental illness.  I believe that fundamental change is needed to help those of us reliant on assistance to reach our full potential so that we too can contribute to society to the fullest possible extent.  I believe that this change must be holistic – a change that will ensure everyone can afford all of the basic necessities of life: enough nutritious food, safe and clean housing and adequate clothing and a change that also recognizes the human need for adequate recreation, socialization and personal development.


My name is Sima Dini and I’ve been receiving OW on and off since coming to Canada as a refugee 6 years ago. Throughout this journey, with all the ups and downs, I’ve gained many experiences and forged a perspective, which I’m hoping to help others that have to walk the same path. As an optimist, I believe we can use these experiences, mine and others as well, to make a brighter future for all of us, since I believe we are all connected, whether we know and acknowledge it or not. I’m grateful for living in a great country Canada, but together we can make it even greater. My other purpose of life is to create awareness about my homeland, Iran, hoping in a not very far future, no one has to leave his or her home to an uncertain future.


My name is Michelle, and I live in Cambridge.  I dropped out of school more than 10yrs ago. I have lived in poverty and suffered from depression and addiction most of my adult life. Luckily after participating in the People’s Blueprint I found the courage, and was given the validity to go out in to the community that once shunned me. I talked to many people on assistance and all they want is a second chance. A chance to learn, to grow, or simply to eat better:  in essence, to live better. I attended some confidence courses and I have been accepted into the Social Service Worker Diploma Courses at Conestoga College. None of this would be possible if I wasn’t given that second glance by those who started the Blueprint or a second chance by those who hold the regions purse strings. “Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice”.


My name is Nancy McLean. I am 52 years old and a grandmother of two. I have been on ODSP since the year 2000,when I had a spinal cord operation from which I am lucky to be able to walk and lucky to be alive. I have been volunteering with the homeless and trying to do a part of making someone’s day a bit brighter for around five years. Last year I had the great opportunity to be one of the researchers for the People’s Blueprint Panel. I have purpose in my life. I get up and usually have lots of things to do, for which I am very grateful. I have helped people and made a difference to their day to day lives. I have been given self pride for my efforts. That is the biggest gift I can receive. The best advice I could give to anybody who has got a problem with depression is to become involved in your community. It is truly wonderful and it doesn’t come in pill form. You will meet other people, receive fantastic opportunities. Please try my prescription for mental hurts. It works and it is free!


My name is Danielle I have been on Social Assistance (O.D.S.P)for about eighteen years. I have enjoyed being part of the People’s Blue Print Panel as I discovered that we all want to make a difference and change Social Assistance Programs so that everyone can lead a better quality of life and make their dreams come true. I believe that everyone has the right to tell their story and if we listen to each other we can make a difference no matter what our challenges are. Let’s work together so that life is not such a struggle but rather a journey to be savored each step of the way.


Opal lives in Toronto. She presently works at Foodshare Toronto as a community food animator, and hopes to increase access to food for all communities.


Asem is an immigrant to Canada since 2008. His community experience includes volunteering with Lyndhurst Spinal Cord Injury Institute, Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, The 519 Church Street Community Centre, and  Daily Bread Food Bank, where he also worked as an Agency Relations Associate. Asem is also a Training Facilitator with the Among Friends Project and is interested in creating safer spaces and doing anti-oppression work for the LGBTQ communities.


Robin lives in Thunder Bay. Her work experience includes working at Confederation College as a Student Success Specialist, helping students with visual impairments. For Robin, working with the panel strengthened her belief that there will be a time when there will be no more need to fight for accessibility, and maybe even a time when the word “poverty” will no longer be found in our vocabulary.


Sarah lives in Kitchener, and has been involved with the Employment and Income Support Community Advisory Committee in the Kitchener-Waterloo area for the last three years. She is also creating a video on addiction and mental health.

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