L.I.F.E. Toronto serves young people who have a physical disability and are making the transition into adulthood. The program provides participants with a learning environment to expand their social and professional skills while practicing the daily responsibilities of adulthood. L.I.F.E. Toronto’s goal is to bridge the gap between child and adult services by providing participants with new skills and resources. L.I.F.E. Toronto is a combination of Life Skills Workshops, Outward Bound Canada programming, weekly Social Outings, and Conductive Education.
Along with fun and adventure, participants experience some challenges. Indeed, the very purpose of the program is to help them find untapped resources within themselves and within the group, to help them discover that they are more capable than they know.
I knew 7 months ago when we decided to start fund raising for a wheelchair accessible van for Mark that it would be a huge challenge. What I didn’t expect was that it would turn out to be like a full time job, one that would not only change me but other family members as well. It is funny to look back and see a family of very shy and passive people actually going up to strangers and asking for money, merchandise, and haggling prices at flea markets all in the name of making money for Mark. Mark is a 17 year old boy with severe cerebral palsy who is wheelchair bound and requires full time care. He is non verbal and for those of us who know him best you can either tell what he wants just from experiencing his daily routine, by his smiles for yes or shaking of the head for no or sometimes you can just see it in his beautiful blue eyes. In the past two years he has had three hip surgeries and numerous treatments and appointments in Halifax, at least 9 in the past year. There hasn’t been very many months out of the past two years where we were not making a trip to the IWK. It’s heart breaking to see him go through so much. He has such a frail small body but a huge lovable personality. Once the hip surgeries were over and the chronic pain managed we decided it was time to take on the challenge of fund raising for the van. Not just because of the frequent trips to Halifax or the fact that the van we are currently driving will not see past this November’s inspection but because in February Mark will turn 18, an age when programs seem to expire as 19 is considered adulthood. The 9 trips I mentioned earlier, well those were not easy considering I had to borrow a vehicle to make the trips. I am scared to take the van I am currently driving the 22 km trip to his doctor, I certainly did not feel it could go the 400km one way trip to Halifax. So starts our journey.
One of our first fund raising ideas was selling tickets on a dozen of lobsters and 24 beverages. This was a hugely successful endeavor. Then I made up a sort of information package that I started e-mailing to everyone I could think of from local businesses to Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Gates. The information package included a flyer with Marks picture and a brief description of the purpose of the fund raiser, a letter from his occupational therapist supporting our efforts, and finally a letter from me describing in detail our situation and why we were doing the fund raising. I describe the fund raising as a full time job because it sort of took on a life of its own. We found ourselves at various malls selling tickets, gathering donated household items or clothing that we then sold off at flea markets almost every Sunday, a benefit dance, a merchandise bingo, personal donations, and even applying for any grant I could find on-line. I kept a journal of every e-mail, phone call, flea market, and a count of every book of tickets sold.
Through our personal efforts stated above and donations from clubs such as the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Royal Canadian Legion, Sydney Mines Seniors Pensioner Club and gift certificates for prizes from numerous local businesses we raised just over $12, 000. We were ecstatic to learn that we were approved for a $20,000 grant through the President Choice Children’s Charity. This was a huge piece of funding towards our goal and it definitely kept the family motivated. A huge donation of $5,000 was made by an anonymous donor. We couldn’t believe how generous people truly are. Then we won a contest through the March of Dimes and Pennzoil for $15,000 towards the retrofit (modification and conversion for wheelchair accessibility) of a vehicle. Global News Halifax picked up the story and we were on camera Nov 1st explaining our journey.
That night at the annual Rock for Dimes concert, at the Cunard Arena in Halifax, we were presented with the contest winnings. It was a trip that none of my family members that were able to attend will soon forget. Finally, an anonymous donor gave us the remainder of the funds approx $2,000 to complete our goal. What usually takes 1 to 1 ½ years to do, we have accomplished in six months. We are truly blessed to have friends, family, and strangers who supported our cause and allowed our journey to end with a new Dodge Grand Caravan modified with a wheelchair ramp. To say that having this van will change our lives is an understatement. It is crucial to have a reliable vehicle to travel back and forth to Halifax every 3 to 6 months (depending on the effect of the treatment) for Mark’s treatments. It is projected that these treatments will be ongoing for many years, if not for the rest of his life. With such health obstacles and life challenges, one realizes what’s important in life, and what I think I’ve learned the most is that we have to appreciate life. I believe it’s all about perspective; life is so short and frail. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for my family, friends and most of all my two children, Mark and Aaron. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to those who donated gifts, merchandise, money, their time and prayers. All I can say is, “Thank You, and God bless you as he has blessed me.”
I wanted to share my story, not because it was a successful journey in such a short amount of time, but because I wanted to inspire people to never give up or to be scared of a challenge… it is truly worth it in the end!