Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Making it Matter

MAKING EDUCATION MATTER WITH MAKE IT MATTER!
The FunFair Spring Gala, May 6, 2017 in support of Inspirations and St. Gabriel Elementary School




What happens when a group of young professionals with deep hearts and powerful minds put their resources together to create change? They Make every student Matter! And that's exactly what the dynamic duo of Deborah Athanosopoulos and Olivia Sheehy-Gennerali, and their team are doing.

Make it Matter is a new non-profit organization that funds project specific initiatives that support quality education for all learners. Their vision lies in their conviction that all learners, no matter their economic, social backgrounds, or challenges, are entitled to academic resources that will enhance their educational experience. The unique concept of MIM allows them to serve as the liaison between the Montreal community and the classrooms, where they are committed to creating a support system for administrators, educators, parents, and learners,  in need of financial assistance to ensure the success of every child's education. 

Both Deborah and Olivia have a drive to create change in their communities. And it is inspiring to see these young adults put their energy into taking charge to implement change the lives of students. 


A McGill University graduate, Deborah is always searching for new ways to inspire and be inspired. She is currently earning her Masters degree in Education. A philanthropist at heart, she believes that every child should have access to the best academic resources. "My passion for fundraising has led me to realizing a life-long dream of starting a non-profit organization. It's never too soon to try and make a difference," she states.
Co-Founders of Make it Matter Olivia and Deborah


Olivia recently achieved a Bachelors in Community, Public Affairs and Policy studies with a minor in First Peoples. She currently works with the Federal Government at Passport Canada. Next Fall,  she will begin a Graduate Diploma program at Concordia in Community Economic Development. "This program will enable me to focus on Make It Matter while allowing me to deeply develop my passion for Indigenous social justice through providing and working thoroughly on Teacher toolkits for educating, be it for teachers, educators, or corporate leaders," she shares. 

So how does this work? Every year, MIM will select at least two projects to fund that can range from classroom materials to support. Their website welcomes applicants and sponsors alike. If MIM does not specifically have the funds for a particular project, MIM is where they can go to find a suitable sponsor.

We at Inspirations are honoured to have been selected as one of Make it Matter's first grant recipients, alongside St. Gabriel Elementary School, English Montreal School Board. Funds raised will help us create a resource guide for parents that will compliment our database of special needs resources. It will go along way to helping us reach more families, teachers and caregivers. Funds given to St. Gabriel will be allocated to their Home Reading Program and Creative Arts Program.


MIM's first event is sure to be a fun one! The FunFair Spring Gala will take place on Saturday, May 6 at Kandy Art Gallery, located at 5629 Ferrier in Montreal. Hosted by prominent radio station 94.7, the event will include lively entertainment, funfair attractions, open bar, appetizers, dessert buffet, and raffle prizes. It is a great opportunity to get to know Deb, Olivia and the MIM team.



Please join us at the event! Meet the team. Get to know them, tell them about your ideas. Perhaps you'll be next year's fundraising recipient! For tickets or information, contact Olivia or visit www.makitmattertoday.org for information about their initiatives.

Thanks to Make it Matter for choosing Inspirations!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Inspirations welcomes Jay Jones-Doyle as Team Inspirations Ambassador


Jay Jones-Doyle: Ambassador, Team Inspirations

After months of planning and anticipation,Team Inspirations is ready to walk and run at the Scotia Bank Charity Challenge this weekend. Our team is 35 members strong. Some are English Montreal School Board employees, some are lovers of Inspirations. Some come from the Lester B. Pearson School Board, while others are from Laval. We've covered the island, and are not only raising funds for Inspirations, we're spreading the word about Inspirations, the work that we do to support people with special needs, and sensitizing the public to the importance of inclusion. Inspirations is the hub of special needs news in the Greater Montreal and surrounding areas, providing a voice to people with special needs and a valuable platform for collaboration and sharing of resources. 

We are proud to welcome Jay Jones-Doyle as our Team Ambassador. Jay is a columnist for Inspirations, sharing insightful life messages with each edition that inform, encourage, and inspire people with and without limitations. His contributions are a highlight of each edition. So, it was fitting that he was chosen to be Ambassador to Team Inspirations, and we are honoured that he accepted our invitation.

Jay has never been one to let barriers get in the way of his dreams and success, and is an example to many. His C.V. proves just how accomplished he already is.


Jay is the co-founder and VP Product Development of the innovative Legal Lighthouse Inc. He is also a coach, and the President of Confidence Driven Coaching, the Chief Financial Officer of the Centre for International Sustainable Development Law, and worked with the UN’s Business and Biodiversity program. Jay holds two advanced degrees and was named one of Quebec’s top three graduate students of 2011 as well as Concordia’s Outstanding Student of the Year. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Concordia University Alumni Association, is an accomplished motivational speaker, a championship-winning junior hockey coach, the proud father of a 12-year-old boy, and has cerebral palsy. In addition, he is an all around terrific guy!

Jay on a canoe trip in Northen Ontario where he canoed down the majority of the French River (~75k)
This is not Jay's first adventure on the race track. A few year's back, he participated in an adapted version of the Spartan Race! (check out our Fall 2015/ Winter 2016 edition to read about that). Walking 5k won't be as great a challenge for Jay, but he's up for the adventure nonetheless!

Jay will be with us at the start line as we walk our 5k on Saturday, and available to chat or for interviews after the event at the Inspirations tent in the family section on site. 

We welcome you to come out to Parc Jean Drapeau and cheer us on, meet our team, pick up your copy of Inspirations! The 10k runs begin at 9:00 a.m. The 5k begins at 11:00. The 21k is on Sunday.


Ready, set, GO Team Inspirations, GO!






Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Zumba-ing for Inspirations!

Zumba-ing for Inspirations!

By Randy Pinsky

A hardy group of Zumba-ers braved Montreal’s recent snowstorm to participate in ‘ZUMBA for a Cause’; an Inspirations fundraiser. In partnership with Concordia University’s PERFORM Centre, participants enjoyed upbeat rhythms and challenging dance routines led by experienced instructor, Tanja.


Why Zumba, you may ask? Well, Team Inspirations is gearing up for the upcoming Scotia Bank Charity Challenge! With team members walking or running the various route options, the fundraiser put some extra pep in their preparation.


With the generous support of the PERFORM Center, we raised funds for special needs programming as well as Inspirations’ ambitious next projects. Paramount in our mind is a refurbished, updated, and highly substantiated Resource guide to
accompany our Database of
Special Needs Resources.


Our intention is to create a step-by-step guide for equipping parents on their journey from diagnosis to transition, and everything in between. 

In assisting others to navigate what can often be a complex system, parents are empowered and better prepared for the next step in their families’ lives. Such a resource effectively responds to a pronounced need, and will serve to alleviate much of the anxiety and ‘unknowns’ many grapple with.

There's still time to join Team Inspirations! Contact Randy Pinsky at randyinspirations@gmail.com for information.

If you would like to make a donation, click here!


Thanks to Eleni Giannakis for designing our event flyers!




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What’s next?
Transition planning for young adults

By Randy Pinsky

For parents of children with special needs, the question of ‘what’s next’ is constantly on their mind, but never as paramount as when their child ‘ages out’ of the school system.

What options are available for parents? And how can they best prepare themselves and their young adults so that the transition is as seamless and beneficial as possible?

Manulife Securities and Inspirations Newspaper joined forces to co-host Why and How to Begin Transition Planning at the English Montreal School Board on March 1, 2017. Attendees had the opportunity to mingle with exhibitors representing Ometz Supported Employment Services, the Gold Center, Big Blue Hug, and Team Inspirations for the upcoming Scotia Bank Charity Challenge!

The event featured speakers representing various aspects of the transition planning spectrum. Following a welcome by Inspirations’ Wendy Singer and Manulife’s Marla Vineberg, Nathan Leibowitz, senior investment advisor at Manulife Securities, described how financial planning is critical for long-term security and care. One main way is through the federally instated Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP).

Nathan Leibowitz, Lenore Vosberg, Darrah Virgo at the EMSB on March 1.






By applying to be curators, guardians can manage their young adult’s (over the age of 18) financial affairs and benefit from government matching savings plans, as well as tax credits and deductions on specialized expenses. With the proper financial planning, Leibowitz emphasized, parents can have the “peace of mind” knowing their child’s long-term needs will be covered.

Linda Mastroianni speaks at the EMSB on March 1.
President and founder of Speaking Autism Linda Mastroianni shared how her personal experience inspired her to assist others navigate what can be a daunting system. She emphasized the need to build a ‘transition team’ with the various actors integral to the young adult’s life. This collaboration is critical for evaluating options and strategizing for long and short term goals, adapting and revising as necessary.  Most importantly, however, is for the individual to be at the center of the planning, sharing their own visions for the future.

Mastroianni was followed by Lenore Vosberg, founder and director of the Centre for the Arts in Human Development. A creative arts therapy, educational and research center for adults with developmental disabilities at Concordia University, it recently celebrated its 20the anniversary with ‘A Night at the Oscar’. Vosberg noted the dramatic changes many have witnessed in student behavior, interpersonal relations, and most importantly, self-confidence over the years.

The event culminated with a personal testimony by Darrah Virgo, mother of a 28-year-old son with autism. She related how changes develop upon reaching eighteen years of age, be it specialized services or access to grants, necessitating parents to apply for curatorship. Although she noted more resources are needed, she has been grateful for the respite care and Special Olympics programs that are so integral to her son’s sense of purpose.










The audience left feeling empowered and better equipped for this eventual step in transition planning. It is through being aware of the available options that one can best navigate the system, and assist young adults to choose the most meaningful path for their future.

Thank you to Marla Vineberg, Linda Mahler, all of our speakers and exhibitors, and to all that attended!

Join us on Friday, March 17 as we raise funds for Team Inspirations, Scotia Bank Charity Challenge! If you can't make it but would like to donate to Inspirations, we welcome your contribution. You can make a secure online donation right here: 
https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?SID=(!SolicitationID)&LangPref=en-CA&EID=207482




Thursday, February 2, 2017

Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month 

February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month  (JDAIM), and there are some terrific events planned to mark the occasion.

North American Jewish communities have been celebrating JDAIM since 2009, embracing the opportunity to celebrate their commitment to removing barriers. It's purpose is to unite Jewish communities worldwide to raise awareness and champion the rights of all to be included and to participate in all aspects of life like anyone else.

JDAIM has a Facebook page where you can see what's going on across North America. But you needn't look further than Montreal to participate. And once you see the events planned, you'll understand why there is the whole month of February is dedicated to the celebration.

Here's what Montreal has planned. The events are open to everyone! (event compilation courtesy of Federation CJA)

Temple Emanu-El Beth Sholom
Shabbat Programming with Devid Lepofsky, an attorney who has spent his career advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in Canada, both as a professional and as a volunteer. A lawyer and avid disability rights advocate, Lepofsky is blind and the father of a child with disabilities.
 Friday February 3 and Saturday February 4
Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, 4100 Sherbrooke Street West. Click here for more information, and to register.

Federation CJA, The Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA & the Centre for Research on Children and Families
Fatherhood and masculine caregiving through the lens of caregiving fathers of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities: A social work perspective
Thursday February 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, 5400 Westbury
Speaker: Aline Bogossian, MSW, PhD(c)

Adath Israel
My Hero Brother – Special pre-premiere film screening
This film is a remarkable story of a group of young people with Down syndrome that embark on a demanding trek through the Indian Himalayas with their siblings. Tuesday February 14 at 7:00 p.m.
Adath Israel, 223 Harrow

Federation CJA, The Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA & the Centre for Research on Children and Families
Parenting Children with Neurodisabilities: Context and Lived Experience
Thursday February 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, 5400 Westbury
Speaker: Lucyna Lach, MSW, PhD

Federation CJA, The Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA & the Centre for Research on Children and Families
Light at the End of the Tunnel: Experiences of Hope among Parents of Children with Neurodisabilities
Thursday February 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, 5400 Westbury
Speaker: Sacha Bailey, MSW, PhD(c)

Agence Ometz
Support Worker Training Program—Specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disabilities
Monday February 20 to Thursday June 22

Agence Ometz
Supported Employment Services for Job Seekers with a mental health diagnosis, an intellectual challenge, a learning disability or an autism spectrum disorder
Date: Ongoing

Segal Centre for Performing Arts
Accessible Theatre for all
Date: Ongoing 
Segal Centre for Performing Arts, 5170 Côte-Saint-Catherine

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Would you like to join us for a fun day on April 22 to celebrate Inspirations and our special community? Contact Randy Pinsky for information on how to get started!







Friday, January 6, 2017

Outta Here shines at Wildside Festival

OUTTA HERE shines at the Wildside Festival

By Wendy Singer

What happens when five students from Mountain Top School break out of their comfort zone to embark on an adventure? You will have to get to the Centaur Theatre Company's Wildside Festival to find out!
The cast of Outta Here take their bows at the Wildside Festival.


The Summit School Performing Arts is known for its stellar productions, developed and written with Director and Media Arts Teacher Jesse Heffring, Dara Murphy, and the student actors. They presented their production Outta Here at Concordia's D. B. Clarke Theatre in the spring to rave reviews. 

Summit School in St. Laurent serves 600 students with developmental disabilities from every cultural and socioeconomic background. Its “student first” philosophy allows each youth a chance to reach their full potential.

When the Wildside Festival's co-curator, Johanna Nutter saw Outta Here, she was impressed, referring to it as a "master class in authenticity". Nutter and Roy Surette, artistic and executive director of the Centaur Theatre Company and co-curator of the Wildside, saw the show's potential and were motivated to share it with a greater audience.

Johanna Nutter and Roy Surette at opening night.

The Wildside Festival has a mandate to be daring, and this year it's about people daring to be themselves. "This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Wildside Festival," shared Surette yesterday on opening night. "This year our theme is diversity."

"The Wildside Festival is like a big banquet," added Nutter. "You have to sample all seven shows featured from January 5 to 15 to experience the full meal." Opening night provided two succulent appetizers, with Nisha Coleman's Best of the Fringe Festival's outstanding one-woman performance 
Self-Exile followed by Outta Here.

I was fortunate to have seen Outta Here in the spring, and was excited to see it again last night. It was simply amazing on several levels. 

Outta Here is an entertaining, well crafted piece of theatre. As we journey with the five lead students, we are privy to their beautiful, touching, humorous personalities. They are poised and animated as they weave through pointed dialogue and fun musical numbers with the full cast. The dances feature interesting and engaging choreography (particularly the restaurant and exam scenes!). The clever and catchy set design, coupled with excellent lighting make for an engaging theatrical experience.

In addition, Outta Here is packed with meaning and delivers an important message. By the end of the show, the actors voices are ringing with joy in our ears. They have taught us that they are living as any other student does, just trying to do their best, and how important it is for the greater public to know and respect that.

And what better a venue to educate and entertain  audiences beyond the special needs community than at the Wildside Festival. This is the golden opportunity that Heffring has been hoping for. "We want to share our students stories and abilities with a greater audience. These are young people who don't get the opportunity to play in the 'big game', or win awards or achieve academically. For them, this performance is their winning touchdown, their homerun, their standing ovation."

Cassandra MacIsaac played
Erica to perfection. 

Heffring recently produced Being Rachel, a moving documentary film about the making of Rachel at Risk. a previous Summit School performance. This documentary is yet another tool to bring these students', and ultimately the stories of so many other students with varying abilities to light. 

The Wildside Festival's initiative to share Outta Here with their loyal theatre-going community, and films like Being Rachel and Merrill Matthews' The Making of a Dream (based on the making of an I Can Dream Theatre performance), are creating the paradigm shift that is so much needed to make our communities more understanding and inclusive of the immense contributions that all of our students have to offer.

Self-Exile proved to be a tremendous opening for the Wildside Fest. In this show, Nisha Coleman asks the question, "Is it better to be loved for who you are not, than to be rejected for who you are?" The actor masterfully captivates her audience right from the top of the show with her humorous and compelling exploration of alienation, mental health, and identity. Directly on point with this year's Wildside themes of daring and diversity, Coleman finds joy after years of mental distress. It is nothing short of riveting to watch how she moves through the stages of life to get to where she can just be herself. Self-Exile plays at various times through to January 15.

Outta Here runs tonight, January 6, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, January 7 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For tickets call 514-288-3161 or online at www.centaurtheatre.com, or visit the box office.

Enjoy the banquet! BRAVO Summit School!!




Monday, December 12, 2016

Cross-country consultations 

for an accessible Canada 

By Randy Pinsky

Recently, Montrealers packed the Palais des Congrès to discuss gaps in the system for those with a disability as part of a cross-country consultation for a national law of accessibility. Stakeholders with physical, hearing, visual, as well as intellectual disabilities, reinforced the need to be considered in all aspects of this planned legislation in order to have a truly ‘inclusive’ Canada.

Armed with powerful testimonies, individuals representing various interest groups expressed concerns and suggested areas requiring attention. From the need for more accessible housing and equal employment opportunities, to services for people with special needs and signing interpreters at health centers, this truly was an active community coming together, determined to be heard.

And heard they were! Stéphane Lauzon, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Persons with Disabilities, introduced the parameters of the consultation for this historical law of accessibility, ending with, “à vous, la parole!”

But how did this whole discussion come about? The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities (Canada’s first minister for this clientele) and a former Paralympian, was charged with the task of creating a law of accessibility with nation-wide applicability. (See our feature article about The Honourable Qualtrough in the Fall 2016 / Winter 2017 edition of Inspirations.) How ‘accessibility’ was to be defined and implemented necessitated public input and contributions.  

A cross-Canada public consultation tour was launched in September 2016, and will continue until February 2017. Its mission is to identify challenges in daily life and areas in need of improvement, as well as contest misconceptions about disability (and ability!). According to the official website, “the government of Canada is committed to eliminating systemic barriers and delivering equality of opportunity to all Canadians” in order to create a inclusive society.
The Honorable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.


While a number of motions for accessibility exist (such as wheelchair-accessible buses), these are often viewed as mere tokens as opposed to truly meaningful actions. Participants argued that the system is slow to change, and operates in a reactive manner with the onus being on the individual with disability; a process Qualtrough terms as “exhausting, expansive and unfairly burdensome”. She continued: “When systems and spaces are accessible, every Canadian wins. Barriers are bad for business”.

As reinforced in the consultation, change is long overdue. Our neighbours to the South have had the Americans with Disabilities Act since 1990, and while some provinces have accessibility legislation, they are recent or still in the process of adoption.

For an accessibility legislation to be truly effective, those directly impacted must be involved at all aspects of the decision-making process. Such a sentiment was echoed in the Montreal consultation by a community leader for the hearing-impaired who stated: “We talk about accessibility and equality but when decisions are made, they are made by hearing people, not us. We are only consulted after they have been agreed upon”. Other speakers with physical challenges reinforced the irony of being expected to approve resolutions made by able-bodied individuals. 



Over 150 individuals representing various interest groups attended the Montreal public consultation on the planned law for accessibility at Palais des Congrès, November 16, 2016. 
Photo credit: Government of Canada Source: http://www.quebec-accessible.ca/


In order for adaptations to occur and for difference to be celebrated, the public needs to be sensitized to the daily reality of those with alternative abilities. Disability activist Aimee Louw (representing Paul Tshuma, an accessibility consultant) expressed the need for those with disabilities to be central to such public education campaigns. Stereotypes and misconceptions can only be contested if the public mindset is challenged; something she feels must be “led by us, ourselves”.

All of these sentiments reiterate the fact that accessibility must be viewed differently; “not [merely] as a series of boxes to check off to show we’ve done the minimum required, but an integral part of everything we do”, as stated in the official discussion guide.
No longer can accommodations be elective and upon demand. Accessibility and access to needed services blends into the realm of human rights, as powerfully described by the mother of a boy with autism.

Often described as an ‘invisible disability’, early intervention for autism is critical to have the best possible chance of a fulfilling life, yet diagnosis in the public system can take up to two years. The lack of resources and services is encumbered by the fact that there is no federally mandated protection. As the mother expressed, “If this is not done at the federal level, what impetus is there to have anything at the provincial?” The recently launched Center for Innovation in Autism, See Things My Way, directly combats these diagnostic delays, and has made significant inroads in reducing wait time.

So what does an ‘accessible Canada’ mean to You? Legislators would do well to heed one participant’s comment; “We talk about dying with dignity, but what about living with it?” In order for this federally mandated legislation to lead to truly inclusive societies, the stakeholders present at the consultations must be placed at the centre of this historical move.