Meet Keirra MacLeod and AJ Kleiman, our 2016 Provincial Easter Seals Ambassadors. They will spend the year representing Easter Seals and raising awareness for kids with physical disabilities across Ontario.
Keirra MacLeod likes to help people. Not just kids, like her, who have physical disabilities, but all types of people, because as she puts it, “Everyone in the world matters.”
From Trenton, Ontario, Keirra was born with cerebral palsy (CP). She uses a walker and wheelchair to help her get around at school and home, and has some difficulty with her fine motor and development skills, as well as with her vision. She says, “I am in pain a lot, which sets me back from doing things. It also affects my social life. My disability makes it hard for me to make friends, because all they see is a wheelchair, a visible disability, so they think that I can’t do things.”
These challenges haven’t stopped Keirra from pursuing her dreams. Having spent four months in hospitals, and after 10 surgeries, Keirra hopes to become a nurse one day. “I’ve seen first hand how much nurses and doctors help people, and I want to be able to give back the way that they do,” says Keirra. If a career in nursing doesn’t work out, Keirra has a few back up plans; she’d also like to pursue a future in teaching, or as a vocalist.
Aside from her family, music is one of Keirra’s biggest loves. She plays the bass drum, the piano and the flute, but her favourite activity is singing. “Music helps me express my emotions and passion. I like to sing all types of music because all music is healing.”
Currently 12 years old and in grade 7, Keirra’s favourite subject, besides music of course, is gym. “Because of my disability, for so long I was not included in gym classes, but now that I am able to participate more, I have really enjoyed my experiences.” Her favourite unit is soccer, followed by dodgeball. “Soccer helps me build strength in my legs, and I’ve seen the results!”
Keirra lives with her mother, dad and three brothers. She takes her role as an Easter Seals Ambassador seriously. “As a regional ambassador I saw the power that sharing my experiences had on both kids and adults. Being a Provincial Ambassador, I believe that I’ll be able to reach more people and help kids with physical disabilities and their families understand that they’re not alone, while also raising money for Easter Seals Ontario, which is a charity that has helped me a lot.”
As the 2016 Provincial Easter Seals Ambassador Keirra wants the Ontario public to know that kids with physical disabilities are like every other kid. “We are no different. We deserve to be treated no different and kids with physical disabilities bring colour to the world. They make it a brighter place to live.”
In the coming year she looks forward to, “working with AJ to raise a lot of money for Easter Seals Ontario, because I know where the money goes. To help kids like me succeed.”
At 11 years old, AJ Kleiman believes he has found his calling. As Hour of Code is his preferred subject in school, AJ enjoys computer coding, graphic designing and programming and would like to pursue a career as a Developer with Roblox, the company that makes his favourite computer game.
He is currently a member of four teams in the community of Roblox Developers, where AJ considers his multiple roles as real work, making contributions to each team’s efforts to develop a new game. He has also launched a couple of games that he created in Roblox himself. He really likes it when other kids enjoy the games he created online. AJ also likes to travel and hopes to one day visit the Roblox head office in California and meet the company’s CEO.
Exceptionally social, this grade six student is popular with neighbours and kids of all ages at school. In Markham, where AJ resides with his parents, kids in the neighbourhood often knock on their door asking for AJ to join them in their game or hang out in the park. AJ’s family has also noticed recently that when the phone is ringing, it’s usually for AJ. AJ has three teenage siblings, Chantal, Jenai and Michael. In his spare time, he likes to watch movies with his mom and dad and hang out with his big brother.
When AJ was born, he was rushed to Sick Kids Hospital and found to have multiple fractures. He was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a condition that causes his bones to be very brittle and fracture easily. In fact, AJ endures several broken bones each year; so many that his parents have lost count.
“My condition means I have to be more cautious than other people. I have to be really careful on smooth floors and stairs because if I slip and fall, I have a 50/50 chance of breaking a bone,” says AJ. “And, I can’t really participate in contact sports – I have to make sure anything I do is in a safe environment.”
Anytime he has a fracture, he must use a wheelchair or walker for mobility, but otherwise he is able to walk on his own. However, AJ has limitations on how far he can walk as he can tire quickly even with a mobility device. At school, he is required to use a mobility device for safety. However, this doesn’t limit his ability to play with his friends and take part in various physical activities.
AJ is a big fan of Easter Seals camp, where he enjoys participating in activities such as fishing, sailing and camping out on the island.
“At Easter Seals camp I feel like a normal kid because I’m included and I’m like everyone else,” says AJ. “I like it better than other camps because I can do all the activities which are not available in other camps, gain lots of friends, and the counsellors are really nice and help me if I need it.”
In the coming year, AJ is looking forward to “having interesting experiences and meeting new people and especially people who have helped Easter Seals”.
“I want to help Easter Seals because Easter Seals has helped me. I’d also like to help Easter Seals raise more money so they can help more kids.”
As the 2016 Provincial Easter Seals Ambassador, AJ’s message is: “Kids with physical disabilities are not that different from other kids.”