December 24, 2012
Adopt-a-School: When toys are not enough
By Gillian Shaw
It was a toy delivery caravan that came up short when we reached a little boy who needed something we couldn’t give him.
It was shortly before schools broke for Christmas holidays and we were on a tour of schools with London Drugs, which had donated a truckload of toys for The Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund Adopt-a-School initiative.
As we carried in boxes of toys and children’s goods — everything from Lego to the Littlest Pet Shop — it was clear that for many kids in those inner-city schools, the presents from London Drugs would be the only ones they’d have for Christmas.
At one school, Surrey’s Bridgeview elementary, staff were trying to put together hampers for close to a third of the families at the school who otherwise wouldn’t have enough to get through the holidays.
“If it weren’t for London Drugs, there wouldn’t be any toys in those hampers,” said principal Andrew Shook. “We were only able to get them food.”
At another school, Coquitlam’s CABE secondary, the stacks of baby toys, equipment, blankets and other goodies were only the first step in London Drugs’ plan for the teen moms there.
Jackie Hogue, London Drugs’ general manager for human resources, will be back in the new year to help coach the young women in resume and interviewing skills, encouraging them to pursue their dreams of post-secondary education, and offering them a chance to work with the retail chain.
“They are as capable as anyone else,” she said of the moms, whose babies are cared for in a day care at the school. “The exciting thing is what better life lesson are they learning but how to work hard; they’ve got to care for a child and they’ve chosen to get their education.
“That shows me they are dedicated to excellence and dedicated to juggling and multitasking,” she said as the moms crowded around, not only to see the toys being unloaded from the truck, but also to talk to Hogue — asking questions about her career in HR and sharing their dreams.
But now the little boy.
He was at another Surrey school and for reasons that will be obvious once you’ve heard his story we won’t be using his name or the school he attends.
He doesn’t need toys to play with this Christmas; he needs a walker to help him get around.
He has cerebral palsy. All his young life, his mother has encouraged him to be as independent as he can be.
It helped his self-esteem, it encouraged his confidence. In fact, his mother says that even now at the age of eight he hardly sees the differences between himself and able-bodied kids.
But it has hurt him when it comes to getting help.
He has been deemed too independent to qualify for funding for a wheelchair and a walker, both of which he needs.
“I spent eight years making him as independent as possible,” said his mom. “But because he is more independent than the next kid in a wheelchair they wouldn’t cover it.
“I cried when they said he didn’t qualify.”
His mom is single; the boy’s father wasn’t interested in staying involved in his son’s life and hasn’t seen him since the boy was three months old. The boy’s mom thinks the father’s parents don’t even know they have a grandson.
The mom works in a cafe she owns with her mother and while they work every day, she doesn’t make the kind of money that stretches to cover a wheelchair that costs $3,000 and a walker that’s another $1,200.
“They said he could apply in another two or three years but because there is such a need and only so much money, they said there is just not enough money for him to get something and to have another kid who needs it more not get anything,” she said.
“It is really frustrating. I thought, ‘What kind of province are we living in?’”
The boy can take some steps on his own, at times as many as 50, his mother says with some pride. But his legs are wobbly, he loses balance and he needs his walker to get around school and a wheelchair if there is any distance to be covered — even a couple of blocks on a school trip.
When we met the boy, he was pushing an old and failing walker that fit him when he was five years old. He shoved it aside when he got where he was going and sat on the floor, using his hands to scoot himself around.
He smiled a lot, he talked about toys he dreamed of getting, he helped a little girl as she played and he gently steered her hands away when she reached out to clutch at his face.
His mom wants to tell his story. It hurts and worries her to see her son turned down for the equipment he needs to live the best life he can despite having cerebral palsy.
But she has remained silent. And that too is for her son.
“When he was turned down, I wanted to tell everyone but then I worried about what that would do for my son,” she said. “I don’t want to see him labelled. It would be plastering him and his disability and his self-esteem all over Vancouver and I didn’t want to do that to him.
“He is a very proud kid.”
And so I can’t tell you who this little boy is. But I can tell you, as I told his mom, that she must be very proud of him.