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.

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