Minds chief retiring after decade at the helm

Mr Keh (in maroon shirt) at the reunion dinner with (from left) Ms Yap, Mr Low Boon Chin, Mr Keh's wife Geok Lian and daughter Yu Jia, Mr Tham, Ms Lim Bee Hong and Mr Benny Sun.
Mr Keh (in maroon shirt) at the reunion dinner with (from left) Ms Yap, Mr Low Boon Chin, Mr Keh's wife Geok Lian and daughter Yu Jia, Mr Tham, Ms Lim Bee Hong and Mr Benny Sun.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

The steamboat pot for the reunion dinner last Friday was almost tipping over with fishballs and prawns, and the conversation was light at Mr Keh Eng Song's home.

As he had done for the last four years, the chief executive of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) was hosting the five residents - two women and three men - of a community group home in Jalan Bukit Merah run by Minds.

The residents have nobody with whom to celebrate the festive occasion. They live in a group home converted from Housing Board flats - an arrangement that enables a small group of intellectually disabled people to look out for one another as they have no immediate family.

In the midst of jovial banter, Mr Keh slipped in news that he would be leaving the organisation in May, after a decade of helming it.

"This will be the last reunion dinner I have with you all as Minds CEO. I won't be able to see you all as often because you have strict visiting hours," Mr Keh told the group. There was an immediate hush.

"I feel sad and don't know what to say," said Ms Yap Moi Moi, 41, who stays in the home and works as a waitress.

Mr Tham Kar Soon, 35, who is also from the home and works at McDonald's, said: "We are a big family and we will miss him because he likes to talk to us and tell us jokes."

Mr Keh turns 62 this year and is looking forward to a holiday and dedicating more time to volunteer work, while Minds searches for a new chief.

Under his watch, it has grown to become one of the largest voluntary welfare organisations in Singapore, serving 2,400 clients and running four special schools, three employment development centres, eight day training and development centres and one residential facility.

Mr Keh had years of experience working for companies such as Hyflux, PSA and SIA Engineering, but grew tired of the corporate world.

After joining Minds, he rapidly expanded the number of its day centres from three to the current eight, and grew a series of social enterprises. In 2014, Minds' performing arts group became the first disability group to be part of the National Day Parade's military tattoo. The last project that Mr Keh hopes to see through before he leaves is a disability clinic, the first of its kind here.

"Disability medicine is lacking in Singapore. Some of our clients cannot properly express how they feel when they are sick, and so they may not receive the correct diagnosis from the doctor," he said.

The clinic, to be launched in March, will be located at Kembangan - Chai Chee Community Hub. From there, they can be referred to other specialists for treatment.

Mr Keh said his vision for Minds is to be the authority that people go to regarding intellectual and developmental disability. He said: "We have 55 years of history and experience, and we hope to harness that to improve quality of life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Minds chief retiring after decade at the helm'. Print Edition | Subscribe