Giving back is a strong part of what makes living and working in Waterloo Region great. We see examples of it every day – from individuals and teams volunteering time and skills to some outside-the-box fundraising events (we’re looking at you PluginKW). There’s a lot of desire to give back and an equal amount of need for help – so much so that great opportunities often go unnoticed.
Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to have time to get a tour of KidsAbility with KidsAbility Foundation staff Deborah Barton, Senior Development Manager and Elaine Tustin, Marketing Communication Officer. It’s an amazing space filled with people working to help children and youth with diverse abilities.
KidsAbility was founded in 1957 by local Rotarians and moved into its current facility on Hallmark Drive in Waterloo in 1996. “We’re very proud of that heritage with our Rotary groups who are very much still an integral part of the funding component and care,” Barton said.
Today, KidsAbility serves more than 11,000 children from five sites in Wellington County and Waterloo Region. Clients have a variety of special needs – some from birth and others as a result of accidents or illnesses. The Waterloo location is also home to a school that prepares children with special needs to be ready for kindergarten. The KidsAbility School, including a second location in Cambridge, are fully funded by the Ministry of Education. The centre also has a Teen Services area with programming to help young people develop life skills to eventually live independently.
KidsAbility provides a wide range of services including behaviour services, physiotherapy, speech and occupational therapy. Occupational therapy helps children focus on “all the jobs” of living from fine to gross motor skills helping them to become independent – things able bodied people often take for granted. It was an area that jumped out multiple times on the tour. KidsAbility offers a community Resource Centre with a wide range of books, games and toys.
The games and toys are often adapted versions to help children who lack these fine motor skills not just to interact, but play. “We can squeeze a stuffed animal’s hand to make it talk or make a noise, but some of our children can’t,” said Tustin. “We have many toys and games here that have been adapted with a button so that they have the same enjoyment as other children.”
Barton pointed out that the KidsAbility Resource Centre is not restricted to clients of KidsAbility. “If you have a child or a friend has a child that’s facing a new diagnosis, you can speak with someone about your needs. It’s especially important for those that are on the waitlist.” Anyone in the community can make use of the Resource Centre to get information, advice and even check out an adapted toy or book to use with a family member.
Towards the end of the tour, Barton mentioned that people from a local tech company were there last week to present a cheque from their annual company charity drive. A quick Twitter search later and I saw that Waterloo-based Athena Software had raised $9,143.30 for KidsAbility.
Athena Software and KidsAbility are a great fit. Founded 19 years ago, Athena is the maker of Penelope, a case management software solution used by non-profits and social service organizations around the world.
Athena has its origins in local non-profits, too. “One of their co-founders, Greg Stanley-Horn, worked for Carizon here in Waterloo Region before starting Athena Software,” said Nicole Jabbour, Senior Sales Manager at Athena. “At Athena, its rooted in our company.”
Athena’s gift to KidsAbility was the end result of its annual company fundraising drive. The company has been giving back since it was founded, but as it’s grown, leaders recognized that they needed to evolve the way they get their team involved.
“We’ve always had a charity that we’ve raised funds for,” said Debra Bakowsky, Office and Facilities Co-ordinator at Athena. “Because we’ve grown, we’ve changed the way that we choose our charity. We did something a little different that involved more people.”
Everyone at Athena is able to suggest local charities to support and the list was narrowed down by a four-person team. The final list was voted on by the entire team and last year’s selection was KidsAbility.
The company’s fundraising was a mix of fun activities that raised awareness of KidsAbility with staff. They had a bake sale and a silent auction that included items donated and even made by some of the Athena team. “We also had a lunch-and-learn that we recorded with the KidsAbility team so our team could really get to understand the impact of what they do,” Bakowsky said.
Athena Software committed to matching the donation up to $5,000 and the team was able to raise just under that amount, ending with the grand total of $9,143.30.
“We all have a passion for sustainable social impact here and around the world,” Jabbour added.
KidsAbility has a number of volunteering options available. The KidsAbility Foundation has board and committee positions available for those looking to help drive fundraising efforts or work on events. “The sky’s the limit, it just depends on what’s happening when people want to volunteer. We’re also always happy to tie a tour to it,” said Heidi Wheeler, Volunteer Services Co-ordinator.
“We really look to work alongside a team who want to create their own element of how they envision support looking,” Barton added.
One unique example is that a team from Conestoga College came in and helped with adapting toys and even motorized kids’ cars for a program called Go Baby Go!
“Time and talent, when it’s a great fit with an interest, it can meet the greatest need,” said Tustin.
You can find great opportunities with KidsAbility and other worthy organizations in our Community Giving Guide.
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While you’re finding new ways to give back, I see and hear that…Button Factory Arts presents “Friends & Lovers” on Friday, Jan. 17. The show explores the ways in which care, vulnerability and intimacy contribute to our sense of community. The 3rd Annual Winter Porch Party at Kitchener Public Library is happening on Saturday, Jan. 18 from 12 to 5 p.m. An awesome line-up of local acoustic music and singer-songwriters will perform in the Reading Lounge. Finally, Good Co. Productions has its first secret pop-up concert of the year happening. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Where? That’s the secret. RSVP now.
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Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.