Easter Seals had to cancel many of their summer events because of Covid-19
The smiling faces of campers and their mentors at Easter Seals’ annual summer camp is normally a staple. This year, however, the organization’s summer camp and many other initiatives have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin Collins, the President of Easter Seals Ontario, says the organization has provided him with a framework for who he is today. Kevin was born with a physical disability called cerebral palsy. This disability affects a person’s motor functions and the ability to form a proper posture. He was known as the local “Timmy” in his neighbourhood. Easter Seals give the name “Timmy” or “Tammy” to a nominee boy or girl each year. That designated person would represent Easter Seals and make public appearances. They would also be on the charity’s website and literature. Kevin joined Easter Seals as a volunteer in his pre and post secondary school years to gain confidence and meet people who support him. As the President of the organization, Collins says his goal is “if I can give one child the same experience and opportunities I received as a child…then it will be an amazing day.”
Easter Seals Ontario’s Programs and Events
Easter Seals has many locations around the province, including Toronto, Peterborough, Windsor, Sault St. Marie and Sudbury. The organization also owns two summer camps. Camp Merrywood is located in Perth, Ontario and Camp Woodeden, located in London, Ontario. The camps allow children and youth with physical disabilities a chance to experience various activities and have fun.
During this crisis the summer camps have been closed. Each year the Easter Seals camps get about 700 children including recurring children. Some activities include sailing, swimming, white water rafting, sledge hockey, wheelchair basketball, a high ropes course, drama class, archery, painting, rock wall climbing, creative activities and more.Frank Squizzato, Volunteer Director of Easter Seals, says it’s very unfortunate to not have children go to camp this year. These are some ways that help children to boost their confidence and give them motivation.
However, this year Easter Seals has provided the children and their families a virtual camp. It allows children to connect with other fellow campers, councillors and supports to participate in online activities. There’s virtual campfires, guest speakers (such as Michael “Pinball” Clemons), arts & crafts, sing-alongs, and more. The virtual camp is free of cost. The campers just have to register online and receive a private password which allows them to safely go online. The objective of this project is to maintain the same environment for the children and families, which means keeping the children busy and socializing with other campers, just like at camp.
Easter Seals also hosts a telethon every year. It has five locations, the biggest being in Toronto. The telethon is a platform to help spread awareness to the general public about the important cause which is children with physical disabilities. It’s a way to help the children and their families by fundraising money for mobility and accessibility equipment. According to Kevin, “Easter Seals strives to act as an effective voice for the needs and interests of children and youth with physical disabilities within our communities. Spreading a message of inclusion in everyday life is essential to improving the quality of life for the children and families we serve.”
However, because of the pandemic the telethons have either been cancelled or postponed depending on its location. The organization always tries to have a goal set for the telethon. This year Easter Seals goal was to raise $605K, but under the circumstances they were unable to reach their goal. According to Kevin Collins the organization raised $3,991,093 in 2018 and $4,306,794 in 2019.
Ever since the pandemic spread, the cancellation of the camps and telethons has affected Easter Seals and its families. “The pandemic has really impacted us in so many ways. We are not able to implement or execute any of our fundraising events. Donations from other sources are also down, so our overall revenue has been drastically reduced,” says Kevin Collins.
Families who have children with disabilities are feeling a little overwhelmed. On a normal day it’s challenging on them, but now with the crisis there’s added pressure. “Families are also very scared due to the possibility of the child developing the sickness so they are almost trapped at home,” says Frank Squizzato.
To help the children and their families during this pandemic, the organization is aiming to provide as many utilities as they can based on the funds they have available. Some equipment the organization offers are wheelchairs that can be operated manually and by power. Other gears that are supplied are standers, commodes, walkers, bath chairs and various lifts.
Under the circumstances the organization is still trying its best to raise money to fund families. According to Kevin, funds are currently being raised by a Direct Mail program, which is sending donations right to Easter Seals as they are unable to host any event for fundraising. They are leaning heavily on the funds from two successful events they had in January and February. “The funds are being used to provide accessibility and mobility equipment, and pay for our new virtual camping programs,” says Kevin. He is still however, working with his team on making plans to offset the funding they missed by not having events this summer.
Frank Squizzato says the organization understands the urgency of the situation and is committed to giving back to the community they love. Kevin Collins and his team are trying their best to keep up the spirit of Easter Seals during these hard times. “My main goals and responsibilities during this crisis are to maintain contact with as many of our donors, supporters and volunteers, thanking them and reassuring that the need for support has never been greater,” says Collins.
Easter Seals will continue to work hard to ensure that they do everything to help raise awareness and try to make funds that will support the children and their families. Kevin Collin says they are trying to adjust to the circumstances by making plans that will help everyone in the community. “We are working towards the celebration of our 100th anniversary set for 2022 and we know working together as one, we remain strong.”