Friday, November 28, 2014

Rick Hansen: Difference Maker in Motion visits Montreal

Linda Mahler and Wendy Singer with Rick Hansen at the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers convention

Rick Hansen: A Difference Maker in Motion
"You never know when the penny will drop"

By Wendy Singer

It is not every day that we get to meet a true Canadian hero. And when we do, it is a true privilege. After a day of meeting and greeting teachers at the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers convention on November 27, Linda Mahler and I joined hundreds of Quebec teachers to listen to Rick Hanson deliver the key note address of the convention.

After being greeted with a standing ovation, Mr. Hanson got right down to the meat of his story, which is laced with optimism, love, support, and dreams for the future. Hansen was injured in a truck accident when he was 15 years old. The diagnosis: a spinal cord injury (SCI) that paralyzed his physical functions below his waist. 

"My whole life felt like it was shattered along with my spine," shared Hansen to a captivated audience. "It hit me like a brick. I was ready to give up on the most important thing in life - hope."

After spending months in a Stryker bed that turned him every three hours, Hansen came to a realization that would change the course of his life: "I knew that if I  could start working my arms things would happen."

And so they did. Hansen tells his story with such passion that his energy is contagious. I'm certain I am not alone in saying that I had goosebumps throughout his entire presentation. It was energizing, inspiring, real.

Hansen's change of focus from stagnation to recuperation led him to his greatest obstacle: overcoming his own view of his challenges. The moment that he realized that he was still the same person, he still wanted to teach physical education to kids, and that "it's not about your legs, it's about your heart" was a pivotal one. 

As Hansen wheeled himself across the stage with varying degrees of strength that matched the tempo of his thoughts, he rolled his audience right along with him, providing inspirational nugget after inspirational nugget.

"This chair is not a symbol of disability, it's my chariot."

"It's not what happens to you, it's what you do with it."

Hansen's family and teachers never let him off the hook. They continuously inspired him to remove the handicap he was putting on himself. In turn, he encourage every teacher in the room to continue encouraging their students to follow their dreams.

Best known for his Man in Motion World Tour - a 26-month trek that logged more than 40,000 km through 34 countries and raised $26 million for SCI research and quality of life initiatives, Hansen was one of the final torchbearers in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and was profiled and spoke during the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Paralympics.

Like Terry Fox, who was a close friend of his, Hansen is an international hero. His Tour taught him that no matter what, you never give up. It taught him how to shift attitudinal barriers that don't need to be there, and that shifting views is possible. As he learnt as he was carried up the Great Wall of China (which now has a wheelchair access ramp), "there are no barriers, no walls that can't be climbed."

Married with three daughters, Hansen is busy with the Rick Hansen Foundation ( which focuses on improving the quality of life for people living with SCI and other disabilities; addressing conservation and preservation of the world’s resources; creating a fully inclusive society, where every person can contribute in meaningful ways to their community. 

The Rick Hansen School Program is a comprehensive set of resources for administrators, teachers and students designed to increase disability awareness, accessibility and inclusion, and empower young people to make a difference in their school, community and the world.

Teachers and administrators say that the Program decreases bullying, improves student attitudes and perceptions of people with disabilities, and results in student initiatives to improve classrooms, schools and communities. To learn more, visit

Hansen's presentation is full of genuine emotion and humour. From anecdotes of his acceptance as the first person in a wheelchair into the Phys Ed program at the University of British Columbia to bungee jumping with Rick Mercer, he made us feel like we were sitting in his living room on a casual afternoon.

Hansen continues to grow and inspire. He has moved from supporting SCI to finding a cure. "The World Health Organizations states that there are 1.3 billion people living with disabilities. We need to live while we dream for cures. We need role models and leaders to lead the way." This Man in Motion is all that, in every sense of the word, and more. He is a Difference Maker.

Visit for more information.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hannibal The Musical: I Can Dream Theatre Group

Hannibal is magical with the I Can Dream Theatre Group 

By Wendy Singer

I am a theatre buff, and look forward to theatre nights with great excitement. But nothing compares to the anticipation of the yearly production of the I Can Dream Theatre Group's musical comedy.

Now with it's third production under its belt, it is safe to say that the I Can Dream troupe has  developed a loyal following. A following of community members that can't wait to be entertained by this group, that cheers from their seats during performances, and that starts the countdown of days until the next production the moment the curtain falls on the current show!

As Inspirations's Coordinator of Educational Outreach Linda Mahler exclaimed after bringing two friends to this year's musical comedy Hannibal the Musical: "It only takes one show to become a fan of I Can Dream."

This year's production included 20 cast members, five of which were new to the troupe. All have different abilities, be they singing, dancing and acting, and have various special needs from autism to Down syndrome. And once again, the triple threat of Ada Masciarelli (Writer and Director), Michele Matthews (Musical Director and Choreographer), and Tricia Bartley (Production Manager) provided outstanding direction to all cast members, ensuring that all actors had the opportunity to shine on stage.

The cast of I Can Dream's Hannibal The Musical. (Photo credit, Katherine Meyendorff)
In a mere six months, the trio of Masciarelli, Matthews and Bartley brought the cast together to spoof the disreputable Hannibal Lecter, who was masterfully and comically played by the talented Andrew Raymond Perez.

The scripts of I Can Dream Theatre are known for their comical twists and turns that reunite us with pop culture, from characters from the Brady Bunch to Gilligan's Island. Their plots unwind while intertwined with musical numbers that get the crowd moving and cheering in their seats.

All numbers were fantastic. We were particularly excited to see Maxwell Po (playing Adam Cartwright) leading the number I Saw Her Standing There with a beautiful voice and great dance moves. Max had joined us at Inspirations just two days earlier to help us distribute our Fall / Winter edition. He was relaxed and excited about the show, but didn't let the cat out of the bag and tell us what a talented performer he is!

Maxwell Po and cast.

Steven Atme, long time friend of ours at Inspirations, played Father de Bricissart and Fred Lecter, father of brothers Hannibal and Harry Lecter (wonderfully played by Gabriel Fadda). In the role of Fred Lecter, Atme presented a captivating monologue that explored his character's feelings after his wife left him and his sons. It was intense, moving, and had more than one audience member in tears. But what followed blew the roof off of the show! Atme and Paul Baloukas (nailing the role of cowboy Ben Cartwright - hillbilly accent and all), performed a resounding rendition of The Prayer. This performance is not to be missed as they mingled English with Italian in their perfectly pitched operatic tones. The audience ate the performance up, breaking into applause half way through the number. Treat yourself to a watch of this video at It has already gone viral with 130 shares and counting on Facebook alone! Is a visit to the Ellen Show the next step for these two prodigies?

Paul Baloukas and Steven Atme singing The Prayer.

Backstage with some cast members. (Photo credit, Katherine Meyendorff)
Congratulations to the entire cast, crew, directorial team and The Dreamers Band for an exceptional production. Hannibal the Musical not only gave people with special needs a platform to develop their abilities and entertain, it subtly addressed the issues of difference.

Ainslie MacDonald (playing Jan Brady) and Kelsey-Love Armstrong (playing Marsha Brady)
(Photo credit, Katherine Meyendorff)
Steven Atme, Paul Baloukas, Jamal Thomas, and Maxwell Po.

Auditions for next year's production will take place in December. Contact I Can Dream at Connect with them at I Can Dream Theatre Group-Montreal on Facebook, @icandreamMTL on Twitter, and their website:

Check out I Can Dream's Happy video at

ps. Rumour has it that Michele Matthews has already begun choreography for next year's show. Stay tuned for details!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The C.A.R.E. Centre hypnotizes for funds

The C.A.R.E. Centre hypnotizes for funds

C.A.R.E. Program Director Olivia Quesnel, with C.A.R.E. client Donna, and hypnotist Ariel Sherker.

By Wendy Singer

On Sunday, November 2, we attended a stage hypnosis show and fundraiser for The C.A.R.E. Centre at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium in Cote Saint-Luc.

A grassroots group founded by parents, the C.A.R.E. Centre is a day-centre for adults with physical disabilities. Located at Marymount Adult Education Centre, English Montreal School Board (EMSB) in Cote Saint-Luc, they offer recreational and educational activities to adults over 21 with physical disabilities. Services are provided in English.

C.A.R.E. has been in existence as a non-profit organization for the past 16 years with the help of the EMSB, SACA and the SOC. Clients are offered a wide range of recreational and educational actives from arts and crafts to music, current events, baking, yoga and meditation, outings, and more. Their high client-to-staff ratio allows them to offer individual help with activities, which enables clients to participate to the fullest of their abilities.

C.A.R.E. also helps clients contact the necessary resources to help them live full and enriching lives, from adapted equipment, wheelchair repair, to housing information. The nature of the centre enables staff and clients to really get to know each other and form  special bonds and long lasting friendships. It is a place to learn, to socialize, to communicate and have fun.
Many of the C.A.R.E. clients were out on November 2 to support the organization. The crowd was warmed up with a hilarious opening comedy act by local comic Dan Laxer.

Comedian Dan Laxer performs at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium in Cote Saint-Luc

And then..the talented Montreal hypnotist Ariel Sherker took to the stage with a group of volunteers who were eager to be hypnotized, and subsequently become the highlights of this afternoon show.
Volunteers with Ariel Sherker at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium 
Through an intricate and gentle hypnotic procedure, Ariel gradually focused on four of her volunteers who were deeply hypnotized. Under hypnosis, these volunteers had fun freely expressing themselves. From dancing various styles of dance to Elvis impersonation, to fly swatting, these four people were ready to accept any suggestion that Ariel put forward. This, of course, provided excellent entertainment for the spectators! Deeper than the laughs, it was quite fascinating to see how hypnosis can reach parts of the brain that we so rarely access.

The four volunteers who went the deepest into hypnosis are captured dancing, with hypnotist Ariel Sherker

Congratulations to the organizers for a wonderful event, raising funds for an important Centre. For information about the C.A.R.E. Centre, visit or call 514-383-7200 #6205. For information about hypnosis visit