In 2013 I received a phone call that changed my life.
The call was to inform me that I would be the Provincial Ambassador for Easter Seals Ontario in the coming year. At 11 years old, I didn’t fully comprehend what this would mean. This was a position that my mom had pushed me to apply for because she believed in my ability far more than I did. I was a shy kid, who struggled making friends. Growing up with cerebral palsy, I never let my disability get in my way. I was always pushing my limits. I had lots to say, but often let stigma and societal ideas influence my self-esteem. This would be the first time I’d be able to control my own story.
The first event of any Ambassador term is the Rogers Conn Smythe Dinner. This gala hosts nearly 700 guests. Guests who would be staring right at me while I made my first-ever speech. As excited as I was for this night, I was twice as terrified. The idea of looking into a crowd that big had frightened me for months. When the night finally came, I had tears streaming down my face as I watched the motion of my lungs in a bathroom mirror backstage. Five minutes later, my heart was pounding and I sat on stage and heard Jerry Dee mispronounce my name. It was time. I will never forget the way I felt, as with every word I spoke my fear melted away. I was invincible.
I knew that with every individual I spoke to, I was making a positive impact for others like me. My story brought me the privilege of being a voice for those that had none. I learned countless lessons.
Over the next year, I had the opportunity to travel the province, speaking to people about my experience living with cerebral palsy, and what Easter Seals meant to me. Events included celebrity hockey tournaments, golf games, Dancing with Easter Seals Stars, and my personal favourite, the annual Telethon. At each of them, I felt my confidence grow as my fear of public speaking began to lose its power over me. I loved being able to speak with people from all walks of life, especially those who are able bodied, and shift their perspective on what it means to have a disability. It didn’t hurt that I was getting loads of praise and incredible unique experiences everywhere I went. One of my favourites was at that first Conn Smythe Dinner. Olympic hockey player Natalie Spooner hung her gold medal from Sochi 2014 around my neck. None of my classmates could say that they’d worn an Olympic gold medal!
Although they were incredible, none of those experiences could top the emotional fulfilment that my time as Ambassador brought me. I knew that with every individual I spoke to, I was making a positive impact for others like me. My story brought me the privilege of being a voice for those that had none. I learned countless lessons. Most importantly, that education is the antidote to ignorance. This is a lesson I have brought with me into all facets of who I am today. In the nine years since my term, I have worked to bring advocacy into everything I do. I credit my Ambassadorship for so much of who I am; my compassion, my independence, and most of all my confidence.
Find out more about Easter Seals Ontario Regional and Provincial Ambassador opportunities.
This is what led me to my summer home, Camp Woodeden. Growing up, the idea of being away from home tied my stomach in knots. I could never imagine leaving home for ten whole days. All of that changed when I met my Easter Seals community. I was surrounded by people who attended camp every summer and swore it was the best week of their year. I knew nothing
about this Woodeden place, but I suddenly knew I had to be there. 2015 was the beginning of 6 consecutive summers in my favourite place in the world. In my time there, I became a more independent, more resilient and more care-free version of myself. As the song says, Woodeden’s in my heart always.
The goal of the program is to allow young disabled people to build confidence and leadership skills while sharing their experience and advocating for others and creating awareness for the incredible work that Easter Seals does. For me, it opened a world of confidence, and I fully believe it can do the same for you!
Throughout my life, Easter Seals has consistently supported my development, and the Ambassador program is no different. In the space of a year, that shy little girl with a tear stained face grew into a young woman who lit up at the opportunity to try new things and meet new people. The same can be said for countless others who held the role before and after I did. The goal of the program is to allow young disabled people to build confidence and leadership skills while sharing their experience and advocating for others and creating awareness for the incredible work that Easter Seals does. For me, it opened a world of confidence, and I fully believe it can do the same for you!