Thursday, 29 January 2015

Taking Steps in Leeds Grenville for Autism Awareness

This past November while I was putting the finishing touches on my annual Trees for Children, children's mental health fundraiser- I met Dee Gordon, a mom from Etobicoke, On. Being the social media maven that I am, it's no surprise that we met over a hashtag on Twitter; that hashtag was "Autism".

Dee had retweeted and and commented on a few of my tweets, then one of her posts caught my eye. She was walking (WALKING!) in January from Toronto to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, On. to collect signatures on a petition for a pan national strategy for Autism. I chatted with her via Twitter, learned that her son Jacob had autism and what a struggle it had been for her over the years. I also learned what a loving and intelligent boy Jacob was and that his mom Dee, was one determined and courageous woman. 

I invited Dee and Jacob to my Trees event, asking her if she would share her story and help spread awareness. Without hesitation, Dee jumped at the chance. We had never met in person and she was so eager to help my local cause- I was in awe of this woman's passion for the cause, from the beginning. 

The day of the event, Dee and her son Jacob woke very early and drove to Maitland, where we were hosting the event at the picturesque Maplehurst Manor. I remember watching her and Jacob from across the room, talking to Brockville Police Chief Fraser and just thinking to myself how this woman was determined to journey out in January and walk over 500km to raise awareness for a cause that is so close to my heart and that of many others. It was then, that I was humbled by this woman, who had made a trip down to my event to share her story.

When speeches came- there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Senator Munson had been gracious to join us and discuss his years of dedication and work with special needs, MPP Lisa McLeod spoke of defeating an opponent but keeping her work alive and championing for more autism awareness and funding. We were also joined by our local MP Gord Brown and MPP Steve Clark, who have been tremendous supporters of Trees for Children since the beginning and who have, since then, continued to support various autism events and work done in the local community. MP Patrick Brown had lent his support by donating rare memorabilia items to our silent auction in order to help raise more money.

 We also had local Backpack Editor and autism mom, Laura Wright break down the stigma attached to being a special needs parent and what many people who deal with this daily do not speak about. Dee Gordon then took the podium and spoke so raw of raising her son, Jacob. The struggles of him being in his 13th school since kindergarten because there were not enough resources to give her son the opportunities he needed and he deserved. Dee spoke with such heart and passion, that every single person in that room was moved and truly felt, if even for a moment- what it must be like to live the reality that is autism. 

Dee and I kept in touch after my event, she headed out for her walk on January 16th, in the very frigid Canadian temperatures. On her journey, Dee changed her route to encompass Leeds Grenville (specifically Gananoque) where she had new friends and supporters. Our local MP Gord Brown had generously ensured Dee had free accommodations along her trip. He wanted to ensure that she was able to rest and bring awareness to a cause so dear to our area, without bringing more financial burden to a woman who has already given so much to help her son. 

We welcomed Dee to Gananoque at the Holiday Inn Express, where she was greeted by MP Brown, MPP Steve Clark (who also started Dee's walk with her at Queens Park), Gananoque Mayor, Ericka Demchuk and Leeds and the Thousand Islands Councillor John Paul Jackson. Among the dignitaries were also supporters of autism awareness and local group Friends for Autism.

Dee continued from Gananoque on her walk. She posted daily about her journey, the people she met and the stories she collected. One after the other- people opened up to her about their challenges and struggles with Autism. They reached out over social media and in person to encourage and let Dee know that she was walking for each one of them and the significance that meant. 

Today, at 12:30- Dee Gordon made it to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario.The symbolism of her walk has touched people across our province and likely our country as well. She has made countless speeches, discussing the statistics of autism, her personal journey and where she feels we need to go next to help many others who struggle to cope and provide their loved ones with proper care. Dee Gordon never gave up along her walk. She faced intolerable temperatures, weather and even her own health concerns and continued on because in her own words "This is what it is like with Autism. Every day is a challenge". My congratulations and respect to Dee, she is a complete gem and will likely never know the real impact this has had on so many families. THANK YOU.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Art Battle Canada brushes up the city

The winter months in Ontario can really put a damper on our spirits and respective social lives. It is sometimes tough to become motivated to go out in the blustery cold or tread through the feet of snow. Trendy heels turn to clunky boots, extra layers and more overall planning is needed to execute a successful night on the town! In a city that is often referred to as "retirement geared", it can sometimes take a bit of creativity to find new and exciting things to do. 

That's why, when I received a Facebook invite to attend an upcoming "Art Battle" being held at the St. Lawrence  College Art Gallery, I was very excited! Wait, what's an "Art Battle"? I had never been too, or even heard of this type of event (although I do consider myself a fan of the arts and supporter of the local artistic community). 

I knew I  had some research to do, so I checked out Art Battle Canada , where I learned the event is live competitive painting. Painters create the best work they can across three rounds of public painting. The audience then vote for the winners of each round, and the single winner of each event. A National Championship is held at the end of each season, with competitors representing cities across Canada. As it turns out- this was a big thing- and it was coming to our city of Brockville! 

When I arrived- loyal friend and media junkie Jan Murray in tow- this is what was set up. Immediately I felt like I was in another city. This was so forward thinking and fresh. Not that I don't love Brockville, I do- that's why I choose to live here and tirelessly promote it- but this was something I wouldn't have expected. Quickly, the Marianne van Silfhout Gallery filled up with eager patrons. I had introduced myself to the social media correspondent who was covering the event with a live tweet session- which as you know, I love!  Music started to play, a spirits bar was set up and people were connecting- I was completely in my element. 

The event organizer- Jesse McMahon did an incredible job with the Art Battle. She tapped into the artistic community and brought something to our city that was exhilarating and new. Jesse brought together artists and those who appreciate their work, of all ages and walks of life. We have an abundance of incredibly talented artists in our community and surrounding area. Whether they are painters, writers, sculptors, musicians- supporting their work is incredibly important. Having a vibrant artistic community benefits our residents, economy, tourism efforts and overall quality of life! 

 If you missed the first Art Battle Canada, fear not- there is another one set to take place on February 20th, which will also be held at the gallery. Tickets are selling fast- whether you are an art lover or just looking for a fun night out, make sure you go and see this incredible initiative! 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2014- a year in review!

With 2014 having come to a close and the new year freshly upon us, I have found myself reflecting on the year gone by. With my last blog entry in October (and a short one at that!) I admit, it has been a busy one. Although I enjoyed the last year, I already feel this year is a time for bigger goals, personal growth and change. There were many great events that we attended, organized and also some quiet family moments in 2014 and below is just a small snippet.

This past summer,  I organized and held a motorcycle show in benefit of the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Brockville General Hospital. It was well received in the community, raised just under $1000 and shows signs of growing in the years to come. The local motorcycle community was a huge help and I look forward to working with them again this year, to broaden the event and make it an even bigger success!

 Our family also enjoyed a beautiful summer in the 1000 Islands, packed with picnics, trips to parks and many bike rides along the Brock Trail. Our city is stunning all year round but truly shines during the summer months. There is never a lack of parks to frequent or active ways to enjoy family time. 

Late summer also saw my fiance, Nick declare his run for Brockville City Council. He was unsuccessful in winning a seat this term but remains positive and ambitious for the next election. For a first run, it was exciting and a learning experience for our entire family. We had wonderful support from our local politicians, family and friends and can only see a successful future.  

Fall in the 1000 Islands is also a beautiful time of year. Although we do many hikes along the 1000 Islands Parkway, Mac Johnston Conservation area and Limerick Forest, we like to to travel to the Gatineau Hills and take in the breathtaking views. The hills offer a change in scenery and a more vigorous hiking challenge.

As always, we try to show our community support when we can. This year, we attended MP Gord Brown's Hockey Night in Leeds Grenville, in support of the United Way. It was a great family event - especially since our girls love hockey!

With winter wrapping up, I hosted my second annual Trees for Children fundraising event. This year we raised $2500 and expanded our list of guest speakers. We welcomed Senator Jim Munson, MP Gord Brown, MP Patrick Brown lent his support, MPP Steve Clark, MPP Lisa McLeod, Autism Advocate and parent Dee Gordon, Friends for Autism and local editor, keynote speaker and autism activist and parent, Laura Wright. The event was held at the elegant Maplehurst Manor and Carriage House and was very well attended and supported. It was a success all around and I cant wait to see what the future brings for this event. 

As I review 2014, I realized it was an incredible year for my family and I. We are fortunate to live in such a convenient and beautiful location. With only a week in with 2015, there have been some big changes personally and professionally. I already feel a shift in goals and anticipate what the year will bring. There are many great events happening in and around our community- I encourage each and every one of you to get out and get involved. Make 2015 a great year!