New Leaf Link (NeLL) has been operating in South Frontenac Township since 2009, but the story of NeLL begins much earlier. It is my personal story of trying to figure out how to help Nicolas. It’s been a long journey, but all along the way we’ve been accompanied by family and friends who have helped us grow and reach out to others.

Nicolas was born in the 1980s and he was first diagnosed with autism in Japan at age 4, at a time before early interventions and autism services were readily available. Once Nicolas entered high school I realized there would be few prospects for him, especially in rural Kingston, yet the country life was therapeutic for both of us. And so the seeds for NeLL were sewn.

Headshot image in black and white of Dr. Howard Smith.

Dr. Howard A. Smith (founding Director of NeLL) came into our lives as Nicolas was transitioning into high school. Without Howard’s support throughout the years until his passing in 2015, New Leaf Link would not exist, or be as vibrant as it has become today.


nells first logo oak leaf artwork

NeLL’s first logo is an organic metaphor that was inspired by Nicolas’ love of the natural world. An oak leaf was the model for the logo.

 close up picture of nicolas We knew that Nicolas wasn’t the only person facing life with few prospects once high school was done. Nicolas graduated in 2007, but in 2006 I had already begun talking with other parents, friends, and colleagues about how we might provide services beyond school in our home community.
 four people standing around shetland pony The first 4 participants at NeLL were graduates of Sydenham High School: Amy, Joel, Nicolas, and Stefan. And so the first classes, in Equestrian and Arts, were launched from Glenburnie in cooperation with a friend and fellow Queen’s graduate (Dr. Margaret Meban), one teacher (Joanna Lyon) and volunteers Linda Alford and Margot Gallagher.

What became clear during those first NeLL classes was that my hopes and dreams for Nicolas were not so very different from those of any parent. We all want our children to have opportunities, connections, and feel a sense of belonging within a community. Those hopes and dreams became the roots of the friendship project that has grown into the NeLL of today.

group of nell activity photos with particpants doing artwork and one image of participant next to horse

1. Opportunity
NeLL has always offered opportunities for building friendships and lifelong learning. We view ourselves as a Community of Learners where Participants, Instructor-Mentors, Volunteers, and Guests are engaged in activities that stimulate learning and a sense of belonging. NeLL is a place where friendships are fostered and maintained while building up a shared repertoire of experiences, whether it’s in Drama, Puppets, Music, Visual Arts, Cooking, Gym, or Community Outings.

group of nell activity photos first one of participants viewing coloured light show in dark room, second group watching and listening to a person playing guitar, last group image of NeLL participants in costume for a play

2. Connecting
A central educational aim running through all classes at NeLL is to connect with others. Volunteers, Educational Supporters, and Instructor-Mentors are aware of the need to help participants gain maximum benefit from social opportunities (with other participants, with people on site, and in the community). Teachable moments are recognized and applied to initiate and deepen social exchanges and help build strong relationships.

group of nell activity photos featuring food, art, outdoor visit and riding a horse

3. Community
Over the years NeLL has also benefitted from the presence of Queen’s Practicum Students; and while we were based in Sydenham, we enjoyed having Co-op Students join us periodically from the local high school.

group of nell activity photos featuring two participants working on a laptop, second two participants enjoying a meal at a table, last participants using puppets to play with young child

Connections are also made with the Broader Community during outings. We’ve been exploring the surrounding area by bus, train and boat visiting the McPherson House in Napanee, going to Brockville, Rockport and Upper Canada Village. We’ve visited Wolf Island, the Agnes Etherington Art gallery, the Geology Museum at Queen’s, Westport, and the Fish Hatchery near Sharbot Lake.

group of nell activity photos, first in a school bus on a ferry, second participants inside large boat taking a tour, last particpating in meal preparation at upper canada village

What we do at NeLL dovetails with what we learned from the Blue Zones project on the keys to health: eat wisely, move naturally, and be socially connected.

group of nell activity photos, first two females showing artwork, second three male participants enjoying lunch, last particpants doing art project

It’s been a long journey, but each step of the way we’ve been accompanied by family and friends who have helped us grow and reach out to others. I’m both thrilled and honoured that NeLL, in turn, continues to reach out to others in a community that we continue to build one friendship at a time.

new leaf link logo of a multicoloured oak leaf over a multicoloured background

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Written inquiries should be directed to:
Dr. Karin G. Steiner, Director
New Leaf Link
PO Box 9
Hartington, ON
K0H 1W0