Recipient of the 2021 COMMUNITY BRAIN INJURY ASSOCIATION OF THE YEAR

Brain Injury Society of Toronto

Brain Injury Society of Toronto

Nominated For: COMMUNITY BRAIN INJURY ASSOCIATION OF THE YEAR

The Brain Injury Society of Toronto is a community non-profit supporting those living with the effects of acquired brain injury.

Membership is open to anyone. Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for people in the City of Toronto, living with the effects of acquired brain injury through education, awareness, support and advocacy.

BIST was established in 2004 by a steering committee made up of stakeholders – including people with ABI, family members and people who work in ABI support and rehabilitation in collaboration with the Ontario Brain Injury Association. Today, BIST is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors representing community stakeholders including: survivors, service providers, educators and professionals.

Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for people in the City of Toronto, living with the effects of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) through education, awareness, support, and advocacy.

We are focused on providing a safe space for persons with brain injury and their families to connect, socialize and learn. We are also invested in supporting the most marginalized in our community through our homelessness, poverty and intimate partner violence initiatives. We are an agency committed to partnerships and being a voice for change and as such we are involved in projects and committees related to ABI and the justice system, including the Toronto Police Disabilities Consultative Committee and two Focus Tables (Focus Tables are a City of Toronto, United Way Toronto and Toronto Police Service initiative that aims to reduce risk, harm, crime, victimization and improve community resiliency and wellbeing).

23 Comments
  • Prateek Mohanty says:

    BIST provides constant and impartial rehab solutions regardless of the type of your brain injury.
    The network is incredible, and I for one truly feel lucky to have been part of this family!

    Much thanks and wish u the very best.

  • Jane Martindale says:

    BIST provides people like me who have brain injuries with a chance to join with others like them. We meet in interesting places like the museum and art gallery and walk around. We go on picnics and have activities together like making art, watching movies like Concussion, bowling, Christmas and Halloween parties and listening to speakers.

  • Sincerely, Colleen Worsley says:

    Dear Awards of Excellence in Brain Injury Rehabilitation Committee Members,

    I am writing in support of the nomination for the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) for the Community Brain Injury Society of the year.
    I have volunteered with BIST for over 12 years. I have attended events, been part of committees, and held a seat on their Board for 6 years. More importantly I have worked with the members and understand the value that BIST has brought to their lives.
    Repeatedly the members of the BIST community express that only at BIST do they feel part of an accepting community without the need of explanation for their presenting challenges. They express to feel part of a caring family and live a safer existence due to the programs and supports provided within BIST. BIST translates to hope for so many.
    The few staff members at BIST do the work of a large team in terms of the development and management of programs, services, and events. I am continually amazed with their accomplishments in building a safe community for the members.
    Education, awareness, fun events, support programs, advocacy, safety and independence building are all constantly addressed by the staff and volunteers. They strive to be respectful, patient, culturally competent and kind in all they do. BIST is an essential part of the lives of so many in Toronto, and areas beyond Toronto.
    I believe BIST to be a worthy recipient of this nomination and award. They have brought significant and positive contributions to the lives of their members and the rehabilitation community.

  • Jaleesa Thomas says:

    BIST is an amazing and welcoming organization. I completed my Bachelor of Social Work practicum here and all the staff and members are so welcoming!

    BIST provides the opportunity for members to connect with their peers and community members in so many meaningful ways.

    They host a variety of workshops and events that promote and create awareness and allow others to connect and learn from each other.

    Truly an amazing and unique organization!

  • Bob Murphy says:

    The Bist organization kept programs running during Covid-19 and made a great difference during extremely difficult and life-changing circumstances. Many of my supports for brain injury were just simply abandoned, we were just discarded.
    BIST walks the walk.

  • Frank Bruno says:

    BIST is swell

  • Graham Landgraff says:

    BIST WORKS HARD WITH AND FOR INDIVIDUALS ALONGSIDE THE POPULATION AT LARGE. I WOULD NOT BE ANYWHERE NEAR MY RECOVERY WITHOUT THEM

  • Josie says:

    the best company – they are excellent and I love them!

  • Colleen Boyce says:

    As the Founding Chair of BIST, I am so proud of the incredible accomplishments achieved over the years to support the members and the brain injury community! This is all thanks to the amazing members; Melissa, Meri and the staff, the Board of Directors and the outstanding volunteers. Well done, Congratulations, and you are very deserving of this nomination and recognition.

  • Maxine Fyffe-Roberts says:

    It has been an absolute pleasure to have known and worked with Melissa for over 10 years. Melissa brings a wealth of knowledge, leadership experience and an enormous amount of positive energy to her work with the BIST community!! Congratulations Melissa and the BIST team on your nomination!

  • Laura Brydges says:

    I believe that the Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) has a super-power, and it is willingness. Not just willingness, but a compassionate willingness that is imbued with insight and focus. And this is why BIST should be recognized and celebrated.

    I am a brain injury survivor who has been a member and proponent of the hidden disability community since 2005. My first experience with BIST was in 2015, and 6 years later, I am honoured to be a co-founding participant in a unique movement that is asking the Government of Canada to adopt and promote a national Hidden Disability Symbol (hdscanada.wordpress.com).

    This movement is not something BIST was obliged to do – yet BIST reached out and offers continued support. It is also not something from which BIST will benefit — it is the brain injury community BIST serves, along with Canada’s hidden disability community, that will benefit.

    There is no doubt that this movement would not exist without BIST. And from my observation and experience, it would not exist without the open-minded and foresighted leadership of BIST’s Executive Director, Melissa Vigar, or the imitable insight and skills of Communication Manager, Meri Perra. Whether sharing a vision; seeking allies; or transforming ideas into effort, advocacy and action, BIST’s voice, experience, and insight is helping brain injury survivors in unique and exceptional ways.

    I assure you that I am not exaggerating when I tell you that BIST has taken on what I could not do myself. There is something special about BIST, its leadership, its employees, and its approach. BIST is certainly worthy of your recognition.

  • Amanda Forestieri says:

    BIST does such amazing and important work! While completing my bachelor of social work I had the opportunity to be a placement student at BIST. The entire team and community were so welcoming!

    All the staff, volunteers, and community members support each other and create a space that is safe, but most importantly it feels like a family.

    BIST runs numerous programs, events, and advocates for those living with a brain injury. BIST creates a space where individuals can connect with others, find support and bring awareness to the effects of an acquired brain injury.

    I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to work with the incredible staff and community members at BIST.

    BIST is truly an incredible organization!

  • Nina McQuigge says:

    BIST is such an important part of the ABI community, and having access to the programming has made the lives of people living with ABI richer for it. With Melissa at the helm it’s thrived, with creative approaches and insightful adjustments. She’s a wonder and a constant source of compassion.

  • Dr. Hiten Lad says:

    While all the community brain injury associations deserve praise for their hard work, I cannot think of any other group who is more deserving of recognition for its accomplishments than BIST.

    BIST has always been a leader in educating, creating awareness and helping provide support to those individuals living with a brain injury. However, over the past several years, under the leadership of their Executive Director, Melissa Vigar, BIST has not only increased its ability to support those individuals and families living with an ABI, BIST has gained international recognition for their efforts and inspired other countries to follow suit. BIST has also been helping many other regional associations in securing opportunities to better serve their members. Under the leadership of their Executive Director, BIST staff and volunteers have dedicated countless hours to create programming for those living with an ABI, raise money to introduce new services and support, and embark on a journey of finding better ways to be aware, informed and more inclusive of diversity that exists in the city it serves. BIST has partnered with many other committees and was instrumental in the redefining the training received by police officers in Toronto so that they are better aware and informed when interacting with people living with a brain injury. At at time when the COVID 19 pandemic threatened to reduced the support BIST could provide its members, BIST rose to the challenge and was able to connect with even more individuals through its programming via its virtual services.

    I simply cannot say enough about the hard work, dedication, passion and leadership that BIST staff and volunteers have shown over the several years with this past one being no exception. Below is a list of just some of BISTs accomplishments over the past year.

    1 – BIST created ABI Justice which is the first and currently only resource in Ontario that aims to decrease common barriers individuals with brain injury encounter when faced with legal matters. BIST had 1037 attendees for the training sessions and had a reach of 370,000 on social media. Consequently, BIST was asked to present at the Fifth International Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health. Also the National Association of State Head Injury administrators in the United States are using BIST’s website as a template to create their own resource. Further, BIST met with some other ABI justice professionals in the United Kingdom for this project and those individuals attended BIST’s training as well and are actively using BIST resources.

    2 – Brain Injury & The Law was found by BIST with partnership with the Brain Injury Association of North Bay and Area where they created a program to provide functional support to vulnerable persons who have ABI for increase access to justice.

    3 – Technology Tips & Tricks Video Series – BIST created instructional videos demonstrating how to use and better access and register for programs, save information as well as how to connect with other individuals digitally.

    4 – Transitional Support Initiative – BIST acquired funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and assisted 87 persons with brain injury with financial stability.

    5 – Violence Impact Program – Following securing funding support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, BIST exceeded it goal to help survivors of violence who live with cognitive challenges secure stable housing, income stability, and other crucial supports. This program received renewed funding from the Canadian Women’s Foundation and will continue its work until November 2021.

    6 – Brain Injury & Homelessness – BIST secured an Ontario Trillium Foundation 1 year Seed Grant for a Homeless Prevention Coordinator. Renewed funding to continue the program for 3 years was secured in 2021.

    7 – Financial Abuse & Fraud Prevention Toolkit – BIST produced a toolkit to educate an help prevent fraud and financial abuse of people living with cognitive challenges.

    8 – The Invisible Me Video – Melissa Vigar (Executive Director) serves as the Civilian Chair of the Toronto Service Beyond Disabilities Community Consultative Committee which aided the Toronto Police Service in developing a training tool for policer officers in identifying and learning how to interact with someone with a brain injury. Every officer in Toronto has seen this video on invisible disabilities which highlights ABI as part of their training.

    9 – BIST assisted Laura Brydges, an ABI survivor with launching an online campaign for Canada to adopt a Hidden Disability Symbol to assist in increasing the awareness.

    10 – In the winter of 2021, BIST was part of an advocacy campaign with other provincial brain injury associations asking for a benefit that would allow those on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Supports Program to afford basic internet. Acknowledging the work of BIST, their MPP, Dr. Jill Andrews, brought the motion to the house floor.

    11 – BIST hosted the 2021 Expressive Art Show feature the works of over 30 talented artists living with the effects of a brain injury from across North America. As a direct result of this show, two artists with ABI have been invited to participate in Toronto’s Dis/Play show which is is a public artwork that shines a light on disabled folks telling their own stories, woven into a multi-media display that will be projected onto exterior building walls in the streets of Toronto. The project is being led by Ophira Calof, in partnership with the ReelAbilities Film Festival of Toronto/Miles Nadal JCC, and ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021–2022.

    12 – BIST commenced 2 new Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) groups (Women & Brain Injury Support Group as well as for people living with Brain Injury who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual / Transgender, Queer & 2 Spirited (LGBTQ2S) to help facilitate a process for creating the desired life and wellness a person may want.

    13 – BIST also created a support group specifically for the South Asian community, beginning in 2021 where the facilitators speak Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati and Urdu – as far as currently known, this is the only group of its kind in Ontario.

    14 -BIST is currently working on an educational video and script to help members of the ABI community understand the use of pronouns and how that increases inclusivity amongst our community.

    I think it is important to recognize the leader that BIST has become in helping those living with a brain injury. I cannot think of another association who is more deserving of this recognition and award. Congratulations on your nomination.

  • John says:

    BIST is an organization worth recognizing – the staff work incredibly hard to ensure the people they support have access to the resources they need. Congratulations BIST on this nomination.

  • Anita O'Keeffe says:

    BIST is one of our community partners at Mohawk College. They have supported my students in the Brain Disorders Management Program and the Mental Health and Disability Management program since the time we launched these programs 5 years ago. Melissa and her staff have taken the time to host many of my students, and the students have gained valuable skills, and have enjoyed their time with BIST. Even through this pandemic, BIST made services available to the people in the community who live with brain injuries. Melissa is always willing to host my students, and we are so very fortunate to have the Melissa and the team at BIST as our partner! Congratulations to everyone at BIST for this nomination it is very well deserved!

  • Julie Osbelt says:

    BIST is very deserving of this award! They have an inclusive community that provides excellent supports for all their members. Melissa Vigar and the team are a dedicated and hardworking group that keep their members needs at the forefront of all their great work. All are invited to get involved in their education and awareness events, support programs, fun events and innovative programming. BIST is the go-to for individuals to feel part of a family within this great community. Congratulations BIST on your nomination!

  • Cassidy Bankson says:

    The Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST) is truly deserving of the 2021 Community Brain Injury Association of the Year Award as part of the 2021 Awards of Excellence in Brain Injury Rehabilitation.

    I became a member of BIST in autumn of 2017 when I joined their weekly Concussion Support Group. In the darkest days of my injury, I found refuge in their support groups. Being in a safe environment where I didn’t have to explain myself gave me hope, inspiration, and greater acceptance of my injury. Through BIST, I have made rich and meaningful friendships and found a community in which I belong.

    The staff and volunteers are incredible people – they are a thoughtful, compassionate and generous group. They balance an easy-going warmth with professionalism as they welcome and support an incredibly diverse group of high-needs people.

    BIST has incredible and dynamic programming with knowledgeable facilitators. In addition to having reliable, regular groups and events, BIST’s programs and services are constantly evolving to respond to new research on brain injury and the needs of their members. During the pandemic, BIST migrated all their programming online and found innovative ways to reach their membership using virtual platforms. For instance, early on in the pandemic they offered a special virtual painting workshop. All the materials I needed were dropped off at my home and the workshop provided an opportunity to feel creative, calm and connected with others during the lock-down. This last year BIST started a new monthly social drop-in for members of South Asian and East Indian communities living with the affects of brain injury; they offered a wellness group LGBTQ2S brain injury survivors; and also hosted a four week mindful beading workshop.

    BIST has continued to occupy a very important place in my life throughout different phases of my brain injury. As I have gradually rehabilitated, they have provided me new avenues to grow and explore my interests and strengths. By volunteering with BIST, I have been able to regain a sense of personal value and competency.

    I sincerely hope the Brain Injury Society of Toronto receives the 2021 Community Brain Injury Association of the Year. They have earned this type of recognition for their incredible work.

  • Carolyn Lemsky says:

    I can only echo the comments I have seen here. With astounding energy the BIST team takes on the most difficult issues people living with brain injury face. From domestic violence to living with ever changing technology BIST dives in with the kind of practical solutions that make a difference now. Thanks BIST team!

  • Alison Foo says:

    You won’t find more kind, caring, dedicated and helpful staff anywhere else. Of special note, Melissa and Meri have both helped me personally as a survivor. After receiving help from BIST programs, I couldn’t be more proud to be giving back to the community by serving on the BIST Board. I may be a bit biased, but even before serving on their board, I felt that BIST is truly the Best brain injury organization in Canada, if not North America.

  • Jennifer Bowler says:

    Brain Injury Society of Toronto is an exceptional organization and team of dedicated, compassionate, and passionate ABI supporters. I have known the work of this organization for several years, and each year, I am more impressed at how BIST rises to the occasion and challenge of supporting and advocating for their members. Particularly during the pandemic, BIST team members have creatively and consistently provided the much needed help to members in new and unique ways and stayed connected to community partners, even developing connections and recognition internationally! The BIST staff are leaders in the field of ABI community work and wholeheartedly deserving of this nomination and award.

  • Hedy Chandler says:

    I am writing in support of the Brain Injury Society of Toronto’s nomination for this award of excellence.

    I cannot think of a more worthy association to receive such an award. BIST has been a shining star in the Toronto and provincial network of associations, showing leadership, creativity, and inclusivity. They have attracted many grants from various funding sources, which has allowed BIST to fill significant service gaps for many individuals who live with the effects of a brain injury. These creative and needed resources have helped a much-underserved population.

    BIST has been helping individuals apply for and find housing and to complete applications for ODSP and other supports that are difficult, if not impossible, to complete without expertise; their success rate at these has been outstanding. BIST has worked in cooperation and partnership with other community-based, government-funded organizations, such as CHIRS, to offer more programs for their membership. Speaking for CHIRS, It has been a fruitful and exciting collective endeavor.

    BIST is also playing a key role as an active member of the Toronto ABI Network, which serves to benefit individuals across the acute, rehab and community spectrum.

    They have become leaders in many support areas and generous in their sharing of information, such as their successful proposals, with other associations in Ontario. They have developed into a ‘go to’ association for information and guidance for other associations. Their ability to attract grant funding is truly impressive, which speaks volumes for their expertise and credibility.

    It is without any reservations that I submit this letter of support for the selection of BIST as the association that merits this award.

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