Arkells reach out to meet teen who months ago didn't have friends, felt lonely

Arkells reach out to meet teen who months ago didn't have friends, felt lonely

It was only a few months ago that a Brantford mother was asking people to send her daughter with special needs birthday cards in an attempt to make her feel less lonely. Her mother didn't expect however, that one card would come from the band Arkells — along with an invitation to their Hamilton show, and an opportunity to meet the band.

Saturday's concert dubbed, "The Rally" at Hamilton's Tim Horton's Field, is the biggest show to date for the Arkells and 17-year-old Kaitlin Coghlin will be there with her mom and thousands of other fans. 

But before that, she got to meet band members Friday afternoon at their sound check. 

Coghlin's mother, Nicole Callander, has gotten in the habit of filming her daughter open the roughly 20 cards a day. What's inside the cards is a surprise to both.

The front of this card had "Arkells" written on it, but Callander didn't know if it was the band or just someone coincidentally with that last name. 

"It is the band," said Callander. "They've invited you to be their guest," she exclaimed. "They are the best band ever."

Arkells frontman, Max Kerman, told CBC News he heard about Coghlin's story and wanted to reach out.

"Even receiving a card from somebody is special these days and so an invitation to do something a little out of the ordinary for her and her family we thought is something we could offer," said Kerman.

Kerman says he was tagged in the video of the two opening the card and started to cry.

"They're so sweet just to see Kaitlin's reaction and how excited her mom was," he said.

Coghlin's mother is excited about the experience because she says this is her "perk."

Kerman says he realizes there's a lot of work involved for parents of children with special needs.

"They deserve a lot of credit for their work," said the singer.

It's not the teen's first concert, but it's the first one that she'll be on the floor for. "She'll be able to dance away," said her mother.

A simple request

It all started back in January when Callander was appealing to people to mail the Brantford teen birthday cards. 

It was the one thing Callander thought would make her daughter feel loved when she turns 18 next month because she didn't have friends to invite to her birthday party. 

The caring mother posted a video to Facebook with the intention to reach family and friends.

The cards Callander thought, would also work as a distraction because Coghlin has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that limits her social interaction and will keep her in high school until age 21.

Callander's goal has been to find ways to make up for the milestones that other teens her age are celebrating. 

This week Coghlin's peers finished grade 12, but this week her attention has been diverted to her rocking weekend with Arkells.

"I think this concert would be way better than a grad party," said the mother who's a fan of the band and an even bigger advocate for her daughter's happiness in the video.

Once the message got out, the mailbox became fuller and fuller. Callander says she even started to feel sorry for their mail carrier.

As of this week, the teen has opened over 2,000 cards from 35 countries, all 10 provinces, one territory, and 33 U.S. States.

"That's what surprised us the most, how many we've received from around the world," said Callander.

They're getting about 30 cards a day in their mailbox. They open about 20 cards a day and there's around 1,500 cards waiting to be opened.

She's even got a card from Justin Trudeau and singer Bif Naked.

Callander was originally worried the cards would stop coming, but joked that her daughter will be opening cards until she's 50.

Not only has she gotten cards and presents, she's also gained confidence according to Callander. She says people have been commenting on the Facebook videos the teen is in, saying she's gained confidence over the months.

"She has so many new friends. I think every week we've been out now," said Callander.

She says her daughter now even feels like a celebrity and Kerman agrees.

"She's a bit of a celebrity now," he said. "I've just been witnessing all the people that have been reaching out and just seeing how happy she is. I'm glad we'll get to meet face-to-face, not just on the Internet."

His advice for other children feeling lonely because they don't have friends is to get out there.

"I know it can be scary, but just put yourself out there. There's a lot of goodness around you even if you don't see it immediately," said Kerman.

Kindness in return

Along with where the cards are coming from, Callander says she was also surprised at how many messages she was getting from other parents who have children that don't feel like they matter either

"I think that's what touches the most," said Callander.

The family is now giving back not only to show their appreciation, but to help other kids currently struggling from loneliness.

Callander is planning an "unbirthday" party for kids who either don't get invited to parties, or don't have other kids coming to their birthdays.

"We were really heartbroken that we're receiving all of this kindness and these kids are not receiving any of this kindness, so to give back for what Kaitlin's received, we're hosting an unbirthday," said Callander.

"There are kids that have special needs and there are some kids that are bullied that are coming."

It's being held July 8 at Mohawk Park in Brantford from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.