Over the last 19 months or so, many of us haven’t been able to see our families, meet up with friends and, at least until September, go to school with our peers.
This was an unfortunately novel experience for most members of our community, but it is an everyday reality for kids who are living with physical disabilities.
For them, a week at summer camp is often a transformative experience but, due to COVID, those opportunities have been slim to none.
But the community – and six very enthusiastic local celebs – came together last week to help raise more than $80,000 to send nearly 40 kids to camp next year through Dancing with the Easter Seals Stars.
The annual event, which was back after a one-year hiatus due to COVID, took place last Thursday, October 7, at the Royal Venetian Mansion on Industrial Parkway South.
Among the stars who took the dancefloor with professionals Anastasia Trutneva, Kelly Stacey and Patrick Derry, co-owners of Artistica Ballroom Dance Studios, were realtor Josh Campbell, former Aurora councillor Alison Collins-Mrakas, volunteer Barb Kwapis, Auroran photographer Glenn Rodger, Sean Stephens of Treefrog, and Debra Wilson of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce.
“There have been a lot of lonely people, a lot of people stuck inside, and this initiative, this organization, is really helping people who can’t get outside [do so],” said Stephens after finishing his dance. “We’ve really felt that over the last year, we’ve all had an emotional moment, and these guys [in attendance] helped people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get outside and that is a beautiful thing.”
It costs approximately $2,100 to send a single child to Easter Seals camp for one week. While a single week might not seem like a lot, it can mean the world to campers, including 17-year-old Easter Seals Ambassador Daniella Altieri.
Born with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, Altieri told the audience that Easter Seals has been with her at every part of her journey – including an exciting chapter she is looking forward to beginning.
“Easter Seals has changed my life in such a positive way…from family camp and the opportunity to be their Ambassador,” she said. “I have grown up with Easter Seals by my side. I’m now preparing to apply for college next year and I will also be applying for an Easter Seals scholarship and will hopefully take Easter Seals with me along the journey to college.
“Easter Seals recognizes that kids [are] looking to be accepted and included. They make it happen every day for kids. To me, camp means accessibility because everything that is at camp I can do and there’s no struggles.”
This was a theme shared as well by Charlene Myke, Easter Seals’ Manager for Central Ontario.
“You haven’t seen your friends, you haven’t seen your families, and it is coming out on a night like this, it is going to a Jays game, a Leafs game, a Raptor game. It is going to your son’s soccer game, going to your granddaughter’s baseball game, our Easter Seal kids have not had any of that,” she said. “Most of them have been inside for 18 months. Most of them have compromised immune systems and they haven’t been able to see people. They haven’t had the opportunity to go to school. They haven’t had the opportunity to see their therapists. They haven’t had the opportunity to do anything. If we think we have had it tough for 18 months, we’ve got nothing on them or their families. Most of their families…somebody has had to stop working, somebody has had to stay home with the kids, because therapists can’t come into the house, personal support workers can’t come in the house. Our families have been very alone for 18 months, but the magical thing that we have is Easter Seal camp.
“It is a place where nobody judges them. It’s a place where nobody says you can’t do anything. It’s where most of them meet their friends. For some of them, it’s the only friends they have. A lot of them don’t get invited to birthday parties, they don’t get invited to sleep overs, they don’t get invited to people’s cottages, they’re very isolated, but camp gives them the opportunity to not be isolated. I chose to make tonight’s [theme] about camp because for the first time ever you probably for the first time ever know what it’s like to be an Easter Seals child because you have been isolated, you haven’t been able to see anybody, you can’t go anywhere, you haven’t gone out. You actually understand what it has been like for our families or kids.
“Tonight, you changed lives. You gave a child an opportunity they never would have had without you.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran