Tara was like many expectant mothers today. She regularly posted photos about her pregnancy to social media, eagerly anticipating the birth of her baby. They would name her Reid, but call her by her nickname, Pip.
Within a few days of her daughter’s arrival, Tara and her husband got the news that Pip was born with Down Syndrome,congenital cataracts and numerous heart defects.
They were in total shock since there was no indication during her pregnancy.
Tara went dark on social media and from the world around her.
“I was grieving the child that she was supposed to be and who I thought I wanted her to be,” says Tara while speaking with me on the phone.
One night while laying Pip in her crib, Tara crouched down sobbing on the floor beside her.
“I couldn’t remember how long I was there, it could have been minutes or hours.”
She looked up to see a sign that she had painted and hung above the crib which read, ‘Life is more beautiful because you are here.’
Tara got up and returned to her computer to post her raw feelings through a blog, announcing that her daughter had Down Syndrome.
That same night, she received replies from around the world from other parents of special needs children.
The days and weeks that followed, Tara continued to post and gather a bigger circle of support around her. Social media had become her therapy and listening ear.
She named her page, The Happy Soul Project and it now has over 26,000 followers on Instagram, and over 32,000 on Facebook.
“I gathered an army to support us,” says Tara. “We’ve been uplifted by people worldwide.”
By creating the blog, Tara and her family learned to focus on the magic that is in Pip. At five years old, she has undergone 20 operations but does so with humour, grace and always a sense of playfulness.
Tara’s posts focus on their family life including videos of their morning routine, going for walks and talking with one another, bedtime stories and family outings.
All with the aim of making Pip front and centre while showing the normalcy and fun in raising a child with special needs.
Some of the other projects that Tara is spearheading include the #differentisbeautiful campaign featuring children with special needs. In addition, there is the Happy Soul Project shop which is managed by adults with special needs, a school program, a Queen’s University Club with hundreds of students and community events.
“I wanted to somehow make a dent in the universe,” she says. “Initially I did the blog for me, but now it’s become my purpose to help others.”
Photography: Genevieve Simon
Jana is a teacher, a mother and the creator of a successful non-for-profit group.
She provides a solution to the challenges that the homeless face, when they get their period, through The Period Purse.
With her army of volunteers, they collect tampons and pads along with wellness items, packed in purses, and deliver them to homeless shelters across Ontario.
The Period Purse started in a very organic and modern way.
In 2017 Jana had menstrual items that she wanted to donate to people experiencing homelessness, but nothing to put them in. She posted a request to a local Facebook group looking for a purse.
Before she knew it, she had dozens dropped off on her back porch. By the end of the month, she collected over 300 purses.
With the attention she received on social media, only a week later she appeared on CBC Radio’s popular radio show, Metro Morning.
She never ran a business before and the rapid growth that The Period Purse received in a short amount of time was overwhelming to her.
“I didn’t think it would explode the way that it did,” she says.
It’s a massive effort, but with its overwhelming response and simple method of spreading kindness, she told me that it would be hard for her to stop now.
I met Jana at a west Toronto church where dozens of volunteers were sorting, organizing and stuffing purses.
A motivational note like this one, “You are strong, you are powerful. What you are going through today doesn’t have to be your forever” is included in each bag.
Jana did not plan on The Period Purse becoming a full-time operation, on top of her career as a teacher. Currently there are 8 chapters across Ontario and in Toronto alone she helps 12 shelters, servicing 530 women and transgender men.
Running it involves managing donations, recruiting and organizing volunteers including school groups, maintaining the website, posting to social media, corresponding with the chapters, as well as storing and delivering product.
“There were things like governance and accounting that I did not know and had to learn quickly,” she says. “I asked a lot of questions, set-up a Board of Directors and struck a partnership with some large corporations.”
Even with a lack of staff and only so many hours in a day, Jana is focused on growth and helping more individuals so that no one is left behind.
“It’s important for people to know that someone is listening to them and cares.”
Her advice for anyone looking to start something similar would be to, “delegate, take breaks and holidays, and take all of the help that you can get.”
The Period Purse has launched the Support A Menstruator program. To find out more, visit www.theperiodpurse.com
photo: Emily D Photography
Lucinda has an interesting hobby. It’s been called stunt climbing, thrill seeking and urban exploring.
We met at a New York City joint called, The Adventure Café. A cute little spot in the East Village, perfectly named for our talk.
“We’re all confined by barriers,” she says. “I’m going outside of the box turning the urban jungle into my jungle.”
With her camera in hand, she has climbed and roamed dozens of abandoned and forbidden landmarks around the world.
Notre Dame in Paris, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, hidden sewer passages in Berlin, and Kings Reach Tower in London to name a few.
This is not considered to be a safe sideline, but the rewards far outnumber the anxiety that she feels when she reaches her goal.
Lucinda has stood on the eagles at the top of the Chrysler Building twice and scaled the Manhattan Bridge, all while being mindful of not getting spotted by security helicopters.
And summiting to the top of the great pyramid in Giza meant averting jail time. With views of sandy desert and the lights of Cairo in the distance, the descent was like a gradual reintroduction into the world below.
She is part of a unique group of adventurers who climb famous bridges, roam tunnels beneath our feet and perch themselves on buildings high above the streets and sidewalks.
At 12 years of age she had her first taste of adventure at a local quarry. Soon after she was climbing large bridges.
“The first time was the hardest,” she says. “But it taught me that I could do something more dangerous the next time.”
The more she did, the more rewarding it became for her. Although she does not urge others to do what she does, she encourages everyone to look and explore life outside of their comfort zone.
“Camping on rooftops is a great way to connect with your city, where the city lights become your stars.”
She wants people to look at their environment differently.
Going to the end of the subway platform and looking down the tracks to imagine what else is there, or visiting the roof of your office building.
Lucinda feels that by doing these micro adventures, people will get a more personal connection to their surroundings.
“Turn fear or curiosity into excitement and appreciate the views and feelings that come with it.”
And maybe the next time, you will venture down, up or in.
Lucinda Grange will be showing in a new exhibition, “Almost Green” at the Lyle O. Reitzel Gallery in New York City. It opens at the end of June 2018.
Britney and her cousin Mikey are both 24 years old and have been close their entire lives.
Mikey has spent his life in and out of hospitals. He was born with serious heart defects, Down syndrome, and has experienced severe seizures, which have caused his condition to worsen over time.
There were many times, more than she would like to remember, that Britney and her family were faced with the reality that Mikey may not come home from the hospital.
“My aunt, uncle and cousins live on an emotional roller coaster,” she says. “I see the heartbreak firsthand that so many families experience.”
Thanks to nurses along with his mother, father and brothers, Mikey now receives full-time care and the love of his family at home.
Witnessing what comes with having a seriously ill child and the toll that it takes on a family, Britney channelled her energy into helping other children and their families.
In 2015, she began fundraising for two Toronto charities that were close to her heart, The Hospital for Sick Children and Ronald McDonald House. Mikey spent much of his life at Sick Kids, as did his family.
She called her campaign, LivingstrongMD, incorporating Mikey’s initials into the name.
“What Mikey is doing is living strong, he is really the resilient one,” she says. “I wanted to name it for how we all look at him.”
In her first year, she raised $8,000, and the following year $9,000. In 2017, she collected $10,000.
Her goal is to establish LivingstrongMD as a charity, and raise $20,000 by this Christmas.
The money has been used to purchase items for the Sick Kids “Sponsor A Family” program, SickKids VS campaign, and to give toys to children on Christmas morning and to stock new ones in the pre-operative care units.
Knowing that her campaign has allowed children to play, and made life a little easier for their families, brings joy to Britney.
Since her campaign began, she was also able to pay for 20 families to stay at Ronald McDonald House each year during the holidays. A home away from home for families to stay close to their children who are receiving care in a hospital.
Britney’s aunt has told her how proud Mikey is of everything that she has done.
Britney appreciates all of the support that she has received to do her good deeds through the strength that she receives from her cousin.
She says, “there are days that are rough, but hope is all we need, and I will never stop believing in that for Mikey.”
Meet Cindy. On September 10, 2001 she was in New York City with her husband for a getaway weekend.
Dave was there for work, and at five months pregnant, Cindy accompanied him.
On the morning of September 11th, she kissed her husband goodbye as he left their Times Square hotel room, to attend a meeting downtown.
Cindy was catching a flight that afternoon to return home to her toddler son, and planned on spending the morning in SOHO, a trendy neighbourhood in the lower part of the island.
In the taxi ride downtown she could see smoke, billowing in the air, in the distance.
She got out of the car and entered a drugstore that had a radio playing the news. The White House had been evacuated, and planes flew into the Pentagon as well as both World Trade Center buildings, located just down the street from where she was standing.
More and more people poured on to the streets in sheer panic and fear. Cindy made her way back to her hotel, to wait for her husband.
He did not return that day.
The next morning, Times Square was so quiet that it felt surreal to her. This is an area of midtown known for it’s brightly lit signs, along with hoards of pedestrians and traffic.
She received a call from one of her husband’s co-workers back home. With cell towers located on top of the World Trade Center buildings, sending and receiving phone calls was a challenge.
He told her that he received an email from Dave, the day before, telling him that he was on the 105th floor of the World Trade Centre and to get help.
His building was the second to go down.
It has now been nearly 17 years since that horrific day that changed the lives of so many around the world.
The following January, Cindy gave birth to a boy, naming him after his father.
On the anniversary of 9/11, she has returned to New York every year with her boys to join other families for a memorial service, or volunteer back home for the National Day Of Service.
“Every year that passed”, she says, “I was seeing New York heal as I was healing.”
She became involved with organizations like The Victims Of Crime and Canadian Coalition Against Terrorism.
In her husband’s honour, she established The David Barkway Memorial Scholarship, with funds raised from an annual golf tournament, one of Dave’s favourite activities.
Initiatives like this have helped Cindy and her family to find happiness and peace.
“It’s a process that comes one day at a time,” she says. “But, I can still see that there are a lot of good things in this life.”
Leanne is a lawyer and life coach.
She consults her male and female clients on separation, divorce, child support, and criminal charges.
When Leanne was 19 years old, her mother passed away. Her parents were divorced at the time, and Leanne was left to manage the household on her own.
Going to school, working, and raising her younger brother, she received finances from her father, but little emotional support.
Following law school, she rose to become an Assistant Crown Attorney, specializing in domestic violence.
She got married and had 2 children, but was in an emotionally abusive relationship, and divorced 10 years later.
By day, Leanne was a tireless advocate for women. By night, she was stressed, lonely and suffering from low self-esteem.
The support that she would provide to her clients was lacking in her own life, and Leanne recognized that she was not going in a positive direction.
She found help in professional therapy and life coaching.
“Finding the right therapist turned my life around,” she says. “I started to believe in myself again and this made me want to help others rediscover who they are and empower themselves.”
Being a family lawyer, Leanne is a coach by nature, and she realized that having this as a professional skill could help her clients as well.
Many women are lost when their marriage falls apart. Not only does she help with their divorce settlements, but she also helps in rebuilding their lives.
Some women have been out of the workforce for many years and need guidance in designing a resume, or dating again and creating an on-line profile.
“Once I opened my own practice, I could focus on helping women overcome the stigma associated with divorce,” she says.
Part of her message is in telling women that it’s okay to fall, pick yourself up and rebuild.
“It’s a slow process,” she says. “But once you see change start to happen, you feel better and stronger.”
Even with her own life, she realizes that she has grown so much from the bad.
“Everyone is dealt cards in life,” she says. “To fulfill your potential you have to deal with them, and believe in yourself.”
Anastasia is 103 years old. She was born in Ukraine during World War I.
When she was twelve, she moved to Canada with her mother and three younger siblings.
She still remembers the harrowing boat ride over the Atlantic Ocean.
“I remember it being so windy and dark with the ship making loud noises that scared me,” she says. “The sea was so rough and the boat went up and down with water splashing everywhere.”
She thought that she would die.
When they arrived, they were reunited with her father who had settled outside of Winnipeg. Anastasia began living a normal childhood in Canada that included going to school. But, this would be short lived.
An aunt, who lived on a farm a few hours away, had suddenly died when Anastasia was 14 years old. Her mother sent her to live with her uncle, and help care for him and his five young children, one of which was a newborn baby.
Barely a teenager, she left school to clean their house, cook all meals and care for the family and animals.
“I didn’t know anything,” she remembers. “The first time I baked bread, my uncle told me it was like a rock.” But she recalled watching her mother bake it many times, “and so I just kept trying until I got it right.”
The following year her uncle remarried and Anastasia was able to move back to live with her family. But, she never returned to school.
Years later, she married and moved to Toronto to begin a new life. She volunteered with the Ukrainian community, raising funds to build St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Church on Bathurst Street, among many other initiatives.
She rose to become President of the Ukrainian Canadian Council and traveled extensively in this role.
When asked what she credits her longevity to, her answer is simple. “Waking up every morning with a goal, kept my brain alive and active, and it gave me a purpose.”
Her strong faith also guided her through every experience.
“I don’t know how I didn’t go crazy,” she says. “God gave me life, and I just knew that everything that I went through, was meant for me to do.”
Emmanuel is a motivational speaker, award-winning illustrator and blogger from Toronto. For many years, he suffered with severe depression.
“In 2000, I felt depressed, withdrawn, and burnt out,” he says. “And, just before Christmas that year, my father suddenly passed away as well as my grandfather.”
These events triggered a dark period in his life that persisted for many years.
He experienced low points of self-esteem as well as a loss of purpose. Some days he could not even get up, because his limbs felt as though they were made of lead.
One day, while he was lying on the couch, the movie “Groundhog Day” came on the television. There was a scene where the lead character, played by Bill Murray, was lying hopelessly in bed.
“I connected to this fictional character who was trying to break out of his loop.”
This was the moment where he connected the power of cinema to helping his condition and transforming his mind.
In 2015, following years of depressive, and sometimes suicidal feelings, Emmanuel was formally diagnosed with clinical depression. He was referred to a 15-week group therapy course called, cognitive behavioural therapy at the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.
Along with finally receiving the proper treatment, he also credits movies for saving his life.
He created the brand, Motivatorman, where he writes a weekly movie blog and offers other resources for managing depression. He has been featured in The Washington Post, and New York Times on the ways that cinema can be used to heal.
He is also an acclaimed speaker to corporations, associations and government groups on ways that they can use movies to develop a leadership mindset and promote teamwork.
“I want people to know that they are not alone and there is always an answer, even if you can’t see it right now,” he says. “You can develop an indestructible optimism, and you can do it through Hollywood movies.”
Like the characters that inspire him on the screen, perhaps the story of Emmanuel and his journey will also be made into a Hollywood movie, one day.
Alexandra is a 26 year-old woman who loves to perform. From the time that she was a little girl holding a turkey baster for a microphone, she has loved the applause of the audience.
For most of her young life, Alexandra was bullied and alone.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends at school,” she says. “No one wanted anything to do with me and I felt very isolated from everyone.”
She grew up deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other.
This did not pose a problem for her until Grade 4 when she moved to a new school.
“When I changed schools, it was the first time that people looked at me differently,” she says. “It was the first time in my life that I felt insecure.”
Before that time, she was an outgoing, funny girl with braids and a big smile. Her hearing aid was visible, but no one acknowledged it at school.
“When I moved to my new school, my hearing aid became what all of the kids focused on,” she said. “And it got worse in high school.”
Alexandra was able to turn to a few teachers who encouraged her to pursue her passions and not focus on the negative. She joined the drama club and was cast as a lead in the school’s production of “The Odd Couple”.
At graduation she was given an Award of Achievement as well as other distinctions.
“Having my accomplishments get noticed made me feel good and I began to stop doubting myself,” she says. “I realized that the people who ignored me had their opinions and I shouldn’t let that affect who I am.”
She began writing a blog where she writes inspiring and motivating articles that she hopes will help others.
“What I hope is that people will realize that you shouldn’t feel ashamed or let a person’s opinion define who you are,” she says. “They don’t know you or what you are capable of.”
Jason was assigned to be Tory’s “Buddy” when she arrived as a new hire at his workplace. On her first day, he was to take her on a tour, answer any questions she may have, and just be a buddy.
The two became friends, friendship turned to love, they eventually got married, and had a beautiful daughter named, Kate.
In the summer of 2016, Tory was diagnosed with breast cancer. They visited The Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital for daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy treatments.
The process was gruelling. Each visit lasted for hours. There was a lot of waiting – for blood work, meeting with the nurse, treatments, and finally to get medication at the pharmacy.
At many of the appointments, Tory and Jason would discuss the ways to make patients feel more comfortable at their appointments.
They thought that having a volunteer meet new patients would be a good way to make them feel more comfortable and at-ease. Also having a bed, rather than a chair, so patients can rest.
Tory wanted to start fundraising for these initiatives. Even as her health deteriorated, they made a commitment to make this plan a reality.
Then in March of 2017, Tory was gone. With the heartbreak of her passing, Jason stayed committed to their idea.
“We set out to improve the comfort of cancer patients,” said Jason. “I made it my mission to help people who were in similar situations.”
The Tory Day Fund was born. Jason and his team of friends and family held events and fundraisers, raising over $128,000 in one year. “I fostered a community, and the community took care of me,” he said.
Comfortable beds for chemotherapy patients have now been funded, and a Patient Buddy Service is in operation at the Odette Cancer Centre. A volunteer greets new patients on their first visit, gives them tips to make their time more comfortable and is available to help them for the duration of their stay.
Tory’s dream is a reality.
Because when you’re new to a place, a buddy can help make you feel a little more comfortable.