New program offers respite for exhausted parents
It's been a long time since Heather Patterson saw her husband Dave smiling.
But after a romantic dinner and night away at the Delta Burnaby Hotel in June, they were both beaming.
Sure, said Heather, it was like the honeymoon they'd never had.
But more importantly, for the first time in 11 years they were both able to relax and just enjoy each other's company without the stress and demands of raising a child with special needs.
The Patterson's 11-year-old son, John, has autism. He's high-functioning but is prone to bursts of severe anxiety.
The family's days are built around regimented routine to limit the opportunity for John to melt down into fits of screaming and yelling.
"It's physically and mentally exhausting," said Heather. "When John goes to bed, we're exhausted."
But a new program initiated by Tourism Burnaby and the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI), in conjunction with local businesses like the Delta Burnaby Hotel and Conference Centre, is offering a ray of respite for parents of special needs kids, like the Pattersons.
The Respitality program gives them a night away from their daily demands and stresses with dinner at a Burnaby restaurant, a night's accommodation in a luxury hotel suite and breakfast the next morning. The cost of arranging care for their child is also covered.
The Pattersons were the first to benefit.
"It was a huge deal for us," said Heather of their night away, in June. "It gave us time together as a couple that we haven't had in years."
Which is exactly the intent of the program, said Richard Faucher, the executive director of BACI.
"For parents of a child with a disability, a night out is often more than just a wonderful experience, it's a lifeline," said Faucher. "It offers a break from the everyday demands they experience, and enables them to re-energize for the challenges they will continue to face."
Sebastien Theriault, the director of sale and marketing at the Delta, said it was important for his hotel to participate.
"It's a local cause," he said. "We have a good feeling playing a role in the community."
Nancy Small, of Tourism Burnaby, said she hopes Burnaby's hospitality industry will step up so more families can enjoy a break. Currently they're targeting one Respitality night a month.
"With so many families who could benefit from this program, we're hoping that those in the Burnaby hospitality sector will help us make a difference in their lives," she said.
It certainly did for the Pattersons. Heather saw her husband smile.
"It's hard to smile sometimes," she said. "But seeing him smile, it's contagious."