Last Sunday, on May 1st 2011, Children’s Aid Foundation launched the new Ignite the Spark Fund, a charitable fund that aims to support Canadian socially disadvantaged children in having access to dance, music, visual arts, sports and other programs. Six Canadian celebrities who are actively involved in Children’s Aid Foundation projects were honored by the Ignite the Spark Fund as “Sparks” – inspirational Canadians who give back to community and who help other Canadians to discover their potential. The event took place at Liberty Grand in Toronto, and the celebrities honored as Sparks were featured in a dazzling fashion show.
The six Spark celebrities are Arlene Dickinson, marketing professional and CEO of Venture Communications; Debra McGrath, actress; her husband of 22 years Colin Mochrie, actor; Tré Armstrong, dancer, choreographer, actress, “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” show judge; Andrea Martin, actress; Nick Ugoalah, sportsman. Children and professional models also participated at the event and in the fashion show. Arlene Dickinson, Debra McGrath, Colin Mochrie, Tré Armstrong and Andrea Martin also participated in The Heart Truth Fashion Show that was held in Toronto on March 24th this year (days before Toronto Fashion Week), and which takes place in our city annually.
The master and mistress of ceremonies at this event were Toronto TV stars Anne Mroczkowski and Leslie Roberts, co-anchors of the News Hour at 6 on Global Toronto.
The featured fashion designers who provided the outfits for the fashion show during the event were Carolina Herrera, J. Mendel, Lanvin, Jil Sander. Some of the sponsors of the event were Telus, Flare Canada fashion magazine, National Post newspaper, Town Shoes, Manulife, CIBC, and many others.
I had the pleasure of being invited to cover this fabulous event by Tré Armstrong’s Public Relations representative, and of course I did not miss the opportunity to be there.
IGNITE THE SPARK FUND
There are other $75,000 Canadian children being served by child welfare organizations, but only 2% have access to dance, music, visual arts, athletics and other enrichment programs through the Children’s Aid Foundation. Most of these disadvantaged children have traumatic beginnings to their lives, and they need help overcoming their circumstances. Opportunities to explore personal interests are essential to a normal childhood. Self-discovery is vital to the growth and development of all children, and even more so for “children in care”. How else can they determine what life has to offer, where to place their energies, and where they might find their passions?
The Children’s Aid Foundation currently provides funding for enrichment programs in nine cities across Canada – Toronto, Ottawa (Ontario), Montréal (Québec), Halifax (Nova Scotia), Winnipeg (Manitoba), Regina (Saskatchewan), Edmonton, Calgary (Alberta), Vancouver (British Columbia), but this is just the tip of the iceberg. It isn’t enough to reach all children throughout the country. Founded by Andrea Weissman-Daniels and her husband Mark Daniels, in association with the Children’s Aid Foundation, the Ignite the Spark Fund’s goal is to provide additional funds for programs in many more cities across Canada. Currently, expansion efforts are made in Kingston (Ontario), Québec City (Québec), Moncton, Charlottetown, St. John’s (Atlantic provinces), Saskatoon (Saskatchewan), Fort McMurray (Alberta), Victoria, Kelowna, Penticton (British Columbia).
What is most unique about the Ignite the Spark Fund is the flexibility for each child to enroll in any activity they have an interest in. Caseworkers, in consultation with the child, the child’s guardian, parent or foster family apply for funds that can be used in any artistic or athletic activity of choice that will offer the emotional or physical expression needed for the child’s healthy development. If an activity proves not to be enjoyable for a child, they can try a different one, all the while learning more about their strengths, skills and passions. Many children served by child welfare organizations remain in the system for a number of years before either having issues at home resolved or finding new loving homes. It is the vision of the Ignite the Spark Fund to continue to support them in their activity through these years, as they mature and develop their skills and identity. This includes specialty clothing, supplies and equipment where needed.
Arlene’s unique spark is her ability to look beyond the limitations of “now”. Whether it was the economic limitations of her childhood, the trials surrounding becoming a divorced single mother of four young children, or taking on the glass ceiling, Arlene has continued to approach every challenge in her life with a faith in her abilities and determination to rise above it all, resulting in her becoming one of the most powerful women in our country. But what is also most remarkable, is the humility and grace she has never lost in the process. For at-risk children, to believe that they have the personal power to make life better is not a natural thought. It is something they have to find within themselves and it comes from having had the opportunities to see themselves excel. Children’s Aid Foundation honors Arlene Dickinson as a Spark for being a glowing example of what hope can do to transform a life.
Having been a bit of a loner as young man, the shy half of this dynamic duo, Colin, found his voice and direction in life after receiving his first laugh in a high school play. For Debra, the expressive force behind the couple, her love for performance was always evident and easy to identify by teachers and mentors. Their individual career pursuits lead them, not so surprisingly, into each other’s arms where they’ve continued to build a life together with love, laughter and a son named Luke. As worthy of recognition as these two successful Canadian comic actor/writers are, it is the most recent chapter of their personal lives however, that makes their story most inspirational. Having recently become godparents to a former foster child, Colin and Debra have embraced their roles of real life Spark Igniters. You only have to hear them speak about their various activities with their godchild to know how powerful the experience is for everyone. Children’s Aid Foundation honors Colin Mochrie and Debra McGrath as Sparks for being living examples of the difference we can make by just opening our hearts.
Tré embodies the true definition of what happens when a spark is ignited in a young person. Although having lived as a child in a home full of a mother’s love, the physically aggressive behavior of her father created an environment of anxiety and dysfunction. Despite this destructive influence on Tré, her innate love for dance and music revealed itself and was noticed by her mother. The simple act of being put into dance classes ignited was has tuned out to be a powerful life force for Tré, propelling her into not only a career she loves, but fueling a fire within her to help other challenged young people find their own inner creative spark. Children’s Aid Foundation honors Tré Armstrong as a Spark for the passion with which she embraced her gift and for using it to create opportunities for a new generation of young people.
Andrea is of course best known for the laughter she brings to all of our hearts through her abundant musical and comedic talents. Having achieved international acclaim and success is reason enough to single her out as an inspirational talent, but it is the origins of her talent and the journey of self-discovery that are celebrated today. As a young Armenian child, Andrea’s exotic qualities made it difficult for her to blend in with the other children in her community. This lack of acceptance, so familiar to the at-risk children, would have continued to undermine Andrea’s confidence had it not been for her introduction to the magical world of children’s theater. Because of her opportunity to escape into the walls of a place where different was the norm and imagination the greatest skill, Andrea was able to not only flourish in those early years, but to embrace her unique qualities. The result of course is a lifetime celebrating all of her originality whether as a comedienne, actress, musical theater performer… or mother. Children’s Aid Foundation honors Andrea Martin as a Spark for her embracing of all that makes her different and the example this projects to all children who struggle to fit in, in the hope it will bring them happiness.
Nick’s extraordinary life story is a shining illustration of the power of thought. Most people never experience even half of the loss and anguish Nick did as a young boy and teen. To then rise to the ranks of a gold medal wrestling champion and subsequent newly crowned Chie of his Nigerian village, is nothing short of exceptional. However, it’s when you speak to Nick personally, that you see where his special spark lies; it lives in his optimism and conviction in seeing only the best in life. Children’s Aid Foundation honors Nick Ugoalah as a Spark for his courage as a young man to ask for help when no one could see the truth; for his ability to focus on what would bring him joy and success and not harp on the darkness of his past.
CELEBRITIES ON THE RUNWAY
|Debra McGrath and Colin Mochrie|
MODELS ON THE RUNWAY
The material for this article was kindly provided by Children's Aid Foundation.
Photo credit: Victoria West