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07 March 2019

Lorraine Sunstrum-Mann: Building Capacity

By Berton Woodward

The way Lorraine Sunstrum-Mann sees it she hasn’t been working tirelessly for the past seven years just to build a gleaming new home for Grandview Children’s Centre in the suburbs east of Toronto. Certainly that project has been central to this hard-driving former emergency-room nurse’s tenure as CEO of Grandview Kids. But what really motivates her, she says, is something broader.

“It’s more than a new facility,” says Lorraine. “It’s about creating a place where families can come together and feel safe and have these experiences around others who deeply understand what they are going through. At Grandview, we have 10,000 families a year who need us, and it’s really important to me that those families are having good days.”

Almost as soon as she joined in October 2011, Lorraine picked up and ran with the need for a new building. Headquartered in Oshawa, Ontario, Grandview dates to 1953, and its current location was supposed to cater to 400 or so children, not 10,000. So Lorraine embarked on an intense campaign of personal persistence to gain government funding and a location. “I know Queen’s Park very well now,” she laughs. “It was important to be relentless and I think they forgave me for that.” Internally, she worked hard to raise professional standards, expand the pool of volunteers and, in the community, “show Grandview to be a very happy place – that kids are kids.”

Today, she is ready for liftoff. The Government of Ontario has pledged $31 million for the centre, and the Town of Ajax, near Oshawa, has provided the land. The new facility is expected to open in 2021 or 2022.

So it’s hardly surprising that when it came time to choose Lorraine for Empowered Kids Ontario’s Tribute Award of Excellence for 2018, three area MPPs from both the Liberal and Conservative parties provided letters of support, as well as the mayor of Ajax. Perhaps most telling, though, was the submission of Grandview’s medical director, Dr. Carolyn Hunt, who canvassed staff and families for their thoughts. “Some of the words I was given to describe Lorraine include visionary, generous, kind, engaging and dynamic,” she said, adding: “She has brought fun and energy to our world, and encouraged us to bring joy to our work every day.”

That will be evident in the new building, where the plans include an exploration trail into the neighbouring forest and – for those on wheels – an elevated pathway out of the building and through the canopy, about two storeys up. There will be the core spaces for physio, occupational therapy, speech therapy and other services, plus a large gymnasium, cutting-edge technology and lots of para sports and activities including tennis, bocce ball, yoga and taekwondo. Now Lorraine is part of a group pursuing a $20 million fundraising goal for the facility, bolstered by a $5 million lead donation from developer Jerry Coughlan, whose name will go on the building, as well as major sums from the Region of Durham and Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart charity.

Lorraine notes that before turning to nursing and hospital administration, she started in developmental education for children with disabilities. “It took me nearly 25 years to make my way back, and I feel a little bit like it’s full circle,” she says. “My experiences along the way have really helped me understand how to support families.”