Friday, July 7, 2017

The Caravela Blind and Partially Sighted Dragon Boat Team

The Caravela Blind and Partially Sighted Dragon Boat Team:
Defined by athletic ability, not physical disability

Team Caravela in action!

By Randy Pinsky

Picture this: walking across an unbalanced dock and joining 19 other paddlers in an unstable boat, aiming to paddle in sync, water splashing on your face, trying to hear your coach’s bellowed calls over the many distractions around you… all with limited to no vision.

This sounds impossible. But it’s quite the opposite for Team Caravela.

In fact, that’s what they have been doing every week on the Lachine Canal since the start of the dragon boat season in May. Under the expert leadership of Coach Ira Lax and Captains Annie Gouveia and Josh Simmonds, the team, sponsored by the MAB-Mackay Foundation in Montreal, Quebec, strives to perfect their technique and stamina in preparation for various competitions.
Getting ready for a race.
Team Caravela participants are not new to the sport. As the first dragon boat team in Quebec to include blind and partially-sighted paddlers, Caravela has garnered quite respectable rankings in its four years as a community team. They most recently paddled in the McAuslan Cup (June 17) where they beat sighted teams in their division (gleefully referred to as ‘sighties’), attaining their personal best time of 55 seconds for a 200m race. Sighted paddler sub Angela Lowson remarks: “The thing that struck me is how competitive these paddlers are.” Indeed, they are not here just for fun. The Caravela paddlers are intent on improving their performance and timings.
Team Caravela
Captain Simmonds salutes his team for being results-oriented and keen on incorporating feedback.

Born with retinitis pigmentosa, Simmonds has more vision than most paddlers on the team, and readily admits it takes a lot of courage to be blind and paddle on an unstable boat. “I couldn’t do it,” he shares. Having limited vision by day and night blindness after dusk may challenge some, but not Simmonds, who is a member of the 22Dragons Senior Mixed and Senior Men’s teams, as well as the prestigious Club Crew.

Being blind from birth has also never stopped Ioana Gandrabur who boasts four music degrees, speaks six languages, and is an internationally renowned guitarist. She enjoys being part of something bigger than herself, and notes how there are few options in the athletic world for those visually impaired. “Limited vision can be a benefit in races as we’re not affected by mind games, like ‘they’re gaining on us!’ like the other teams are,” she quipped.

Coach Ira Lax and Captain Josh Simmonds
Coach Lax leads the team with quiet authority, making no allowances from what he expects from them. In his second year coaching Caravela, he led the movement for them to don the same jerseys as his other high performing teams, Verdun Impact and Force. The intention was to not have any distinction between Verdun paddlers. Simmonds concurred with this decision: “You are not a ‘vision impaired paddler’. You are a paddler who happens to be vision impaired.”

Lax encourages his team members to have a ‘vision’. “They’re here
Captains Annie Gouveia and Josh Simmonds
for a purpose - to see themselves as athletes –  a new reality for many,” he states.

Competing in a technical sport such as dragon boating takes a lot of commitment and grit. The team paddles in all types of weather, and contends with challenges such as wobbly docks and carelessly strewn-about life vests. A sport that is both physically and mentally demanding, Team Caravela uses minor adaptations such as auditory cues and being physically positioned by the coach rather than visual demonstrations.

Caravela is gearing up for the Montreal Challenge dragon boat competition to take place at the Olympic Basin on July 8 and 9, 2017. Come out and cheer them on! As noted by Lax: “If they can do something as bizarre as dragon boating, they can do anything.”

Paddles Up, Caravela!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Leaders on Wheels give back

The Leaders on Wheels give back 
to the Montreal Children's Hospital

By Wendy Singer

The Leaders on Wheels (the Mackay Satellite class at Westmount High School of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB)), are committed to giving back to their community. Over the past four years, this class of eight students in wheelchairs has donated over $6,000.00 to the Montreal Children's Hospital (MCH). They are passionate about giving back to the hospital that provided them with excellent care. 

Thanks to an EMSB Entrepreneurial grant, the Leaders were provided with seed money to bake brownies, make a spice rub, and their uniquely delicious BBQ sauce, which they sell year-round. The profits of their sales are donated to the MCH. 

The Leaders presented their cheque in the amount of $2,124.75 to Angelica Maselli, Tribute Program co-ordinator at the MCH Foundation. Leaders on Wheels teacher Rose Sondola requested that the funds be used to purchase one piece of equipment.
The Leaders on Wheels staff and students donate to the MCH.
The Leaders are not only great in the kitchen. They also are fabulous at promoting their products. Watch their promotional video for their spice rub here. 
Teacher Rose Sondola with graduating student Brian at the MCH.

If you are in need of brownies, spice rubs or BBQ sauce, you now know who to call!

Congratulations to the Leaders on Wheels students and staff. We all learn how to support our communities through your example. And now, it is time to take a break from your hard work and enjoy the  summer!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Jackson-Jay Foundation raises funds for autism

Jackson-Jay Foundation: 
Improving quality of life for those with autism 

By Valentina Basilicata

Andre Lessard, President and Founder of Jackson-Jay Foundation
 with his wife Maude Bourassa. (Photo credit, 
Alain Bellier)
Father and entrepreneur André Lessard and his team proudly celebrated the official launch of the Jackson-Jay Foundation on June 1, 2017. Named after his five-year-old autistic son, the foundation’s mission is to offer financial support to adults living with autism. Dozens of friends and family members, as well as numerous Quebec celebrities from the sports and arts community, including Jonathan Roy, Paul Byron, Kim St-Pierre and Joey Scarpellino, joined him for a dinner-cocktail fundraiser at Restaurant Le 20 in Laval. 

In a recent press release, Lessard highlighted: “In North America, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism.  We want to ensure a better quality of life once they are adults and for their future.”  
DJ P-O (Pierre-Olivier Leboeuf) was one of the DJ`s at the event, with his proud father Jean-Pierre. 
(Photo credit, Alain Bellier)
An emotional Lessard kicked off the festive evening by unveiling a big project his foundation aims to undertake: the development of residential communities for semi-autonomous autistic adults aged 18 and over. The communities will be made up of multiple quadruplexes, each with four units for rent. After five years, the tenant is given the option to purchase the unit, allowing “the individual to acquire a guaranteed financial asset,” according Lessard. 

The Red Carpet (Photo credit, Alain Bellier)

Within the community, centrally located, non-residential buildings will house restaurants, sport complexes and more, allowing a common space for the occupants to socialize and even take life-skills classes in the evenings. Dedicated specialists and therapists will be onsite for support and to help residents. The foundation will team with local businesses and corporations to guarantee jobs for the residents, although job opportunities will also be available within the complex. The goal of these unique neighbourhoods is to ease the burden placed on parents caring for adults with autism by creating an environment where their grown children can live independently while being well cared for.

“It’s not just one community we are planning on building, its many,” says Lessard, adding that although he cannot yet reveal the locations, they will be popping up throughout the country, including Quebec and Ontario. “We’re working with national corporate partners right now.” 

 The foundation will organize two to three events a year to raise the funds necessary to support the cause so dear to Lessard’s heart. He and his wife, Maude, learned their son was autistic when he was two years old. They have been proactive in getting him early intervention.  Two years ago, they held a private fundraiser that brought in $90,000 to help pay for Jackson-Jay’s therapies at the Miriam Foundation’s Gold Centre. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Making 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 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 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:!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

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, or visit the box office.

Enjoy the banquet! BRAVO Summit School!!