Manuel Sousa Photography – Launching a major capital campaign on Thursday, DASCH chairman Jack Mutter (from left) and CEO Karen Fonseth accepted a million-dollar donation from Nancy, Dana and Peter Jessiman.

WinnipegFreePress 02/16/2018 by Alexandra Paul:

The Winnipeg family that owns Bison Transport has donated $1 million to kick-start a fundraising campaign for community services for adults who have special needs.

Peter Jessiman, his wife Dana and sister Nancy, made the gift official Thursday at DASCH, which stands for Direct Action in Support of Community Homes.

It’s the city’s largest private non-profit for special needs. For more than 40 years, the agency has supported children, youth and adults in residences, day programs, respite and foster care.

“This is a very special day for (our) residents, families and our entire organization. (This) gift will not only help us double all the donations made to DASCH, but it will also create a solid foundation we can build our fundraising on,” CEO Karen Fonseth said.

At the announcement, a crowd of about 50 people watched a video starring clients and showcasing the non-profit’s services.

One client, a 42-year-old woman, moved people with her heartfelt expressions of gratitude in a brief speech.

“I came here to tell you about how DASCH has helped me out,” Karen Lehr said.

She described the group home she has shared with three other clients for 18 years as “amazing.”

“They have wonderful staff. They taught me how to live on my own. I just want to say thank you for everything you’ve done for me,” Lehr said.

The event marked the start of a major capital campaign to pay for capital projects and programs. All donations will be matched with funds from the million-dollar donation.

The agency was established in 1974 in response to a movement to de-institutionalize children and adults who have intellectual and physical disabilities and integrate them into the community. As provinces closed down their government institutions, it was left to the private sector to start community-based programs.

With few or no places suitable for this institutionalized population, organizations scanned the real estate market and took out mortgages to buy and renovate homes. Provinces have typically helped out by covering operating costs.

In the 1990s, the Jessiman family was looking for options for their daughter Nancy, now in her 60s. Nancy attended Thursday’s event and appeared delighted, smiling broadly at everyone.

“We were looking for options for my sister Nancy and we’d heard of DASCH. It was a little organization at the time. They had this idea to create these homes for individuals with intellectual disabilities,” Peter Jessiman said.

His parents Duncan and Judy Jessiman set up the Jessiman Foundation, which helped to establish the DASCH Foundation with an endowment fund in 1993.

DASCH grew to be among the most widely known non-profits in the sector, and it’s believed to be the largest in the city. It employs nearly 800 staff, and houses and provides services to hundreds of people in 57 locations.