A group was started in Portage la Prairie for families who have a member with a disability to come and discuss with other families, and share their issues. It's called the Family Advocacy Network. The executive and core committee is comprised of people with lived experience, and the work is done in Portage on a volunteer basis. They've been operating in the province for six years and there are 1,000 families involved. 

Julie Verwey and Tyler Robertson are leading the Portage area group. 

"Before we became the network, we met as many families as possible throughout the province, asking them to tell us what was important to them," says Robertson. "Common themes came out of these discussions. One such theme was that everyone was feeling isolated."

He's personally been with the organization for about a year and was approached this past fall to lead a group here.

"We meet once a month at the Family Resource Centre, along with Peter Thiessen, to give families a platform and a forum to share their stories and to get information as to what's available to them, and work through issues that are happening at home or in the community," says Robertson.

Robertson explains that any family with someone who has a disability in any manner is invited to join them.

"My son has autism and I have found it incredibly valuable to see what's available to me," continues Robertson. "I didn't always have everything when I first started, so I've learned a lot throughout the last year. And it's for anyone who would need support." 

He notes it's more of an open mic setup where you come as you are, and share your story. It's private and they ensure anyone present knows that the information stays there. 

"We build trust as we go along, but it's learning through learned experience. It's not so much a teaching," adds Robertson. "We had one meeting in November and then we took a break for the holidays. So, January 20th is our first meeting of the New Year and we're kicking off once a month throughout the entire year and hope to grow, expand, and be a resource for families in the area." 

He says families that turned out for their first session found it immensely valuable to talk and share with other families and see what they're going through. Robertson says he most appreciated the chance to present your own experience and listen to others, allowing each other to start to build a knowledge on how to do the best for your child or your supported individual. 

Groups are also in Morris, Elm Creek, Gimli, among others. 

"We have a Facebook page that anyone can join for free and you can sign up to the e-mail list totally for free," adds Robertson. "There's no obligation. It's just there to be a resource for you. The page is called Family Advocacy Network F.A.N. of Manitoba. It's just families talking about their lived experiences and issues that are going on in their communities. And then you can reference that and share your own stories if you want to, or rely on other families to help you along." 

He notes there are between five to ten families here in Portage who are involved.