The True North Gala — Strong & Free
What a great honour to be invited to attend The True North Gala on October 15, 2015 for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario‘s 70th anniversary celebration at the Grand Luxe Event Boutique in Toronto. Boasting an unapologetic Canadian theme, the gala featured comedian Ron James. For 70 years, SCI Ontario has been serving people with spinal cord injuries by providing people support to reach their own goals.
At the gala, I had the privilege and pleasure to meet people many people including those with spinal cord injuries. One such enchanting person is Lee Thibeault who was in a devastating motorcycle accident near his home, where he was thrown from his bike trying to avoid a driver going the wrong way on a one-way street. He told me of his last memory lying on the ground looking at his fingers, but feeling no pain. The next thing he knew, he awoke in a hospital room with his family gathered around him. Since then, he’s been on a journey of care and recovery. He is grateful for having the chance to travel to Switzerland six times for stem cell transplant treatment as well as having state-of-the-art treatment here, including a robot walking him on a treadmill. Lee is an intelligent and athletic guy who has found ways to continue his passions in life in a modified form. He lives independently and proudly drives a truck using a hand brake. He positively beamed as he proudly showed me a photo of his truck. I loved meeting such an optimistic, proactive, kind and handsome man as Lee.
I had a nice chat with RCMP Officer Terry Russell about his work and his world travels including walking the El Camino de Santiago.
My dear friend and extreme extrovert, Fred Berktin, accompanied me as a guest on my media pass to the gala. Since he possesses a great skill of talking to strangers and bringing people out of their shells, plus a talent for taking photographs and approaching anyone for a photo, I put him to work. He gets credit for half the photographs on this blog and for introducing me to so many people at The True North Gala.
We thoroughly enjoyed cocktail hour, mingling with complete strangers and easily making friends while sipping red wine and sampling hors d’oeuvres. Naturally, we all wanted to know what brought each person to the gala. Whether they worked at SCIO or a related business and/or were affected by a spinal injury either themselves or someone near, we listened to their stories attentively.
At dinner time, we entered the hall to find Tribal Vision Drummers and Dancers performing a vigorous dance in colourful outfits featuring all that beauty, skill and precision driven by time honoured traditions.
After having a nice chat with the dancers — I had the opportunity to tell them that I attended a teepee birthing ceremony that same morning — we sat down to start dinner by digging into the delectable bread basket. Swiftly, the wine was served and the salad arrived.
Everything was delicious. I wish I had room for seconds and thirds!
The evening festivities continued, speeches were given and we celebrated the many achievements of retiring CEO, Bill Adair, over his 22 years of service. With an annual organizational budget of $2 million in 1993 and serving 790 clients, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, under Adair’s leadership, grew to its present budget of over $10 million and provides service to 2,014 clients. That’s impressive. Cheers to a well-earned retirement!
We had already sensed his gentleness and kindness when Adair greeted us at the gala doors as we entered. We immediately felt welcomed and that he would personally ensure we were well taken care of.
During the tribute to Bill Adair, who is retiring as CEO of Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Adair was presented with a portrait of himself, which he stands beside in the photo below. To the right is Bob Nigol, Chair of the Board of Directors.
The wine flowed, the entertainment and fundraising continued with a fun game of Tops ‘N Tails. We laughed and celebrated throughout the night.
Ron James was the comedic entertainment and he delivered belly laughs and twisted perspectives of Canadians. James won two Canadian Comedy Awards for Best Stand-up (2000) and Best One Person Show for his stand-up show The Road Between My Ears in 2004. It wouldn’t be complete without Tim Hortons jokes.
Spinal Cord Injury Ontario’s expertise in reaching and serving all Ontarians living with a spinal cord injury and their families is extremely beneficial to all. They honourably assist people with spinal cord injuries and other physical disabilities to achieve independence, self-reliance and full community participation allowing each person to reach their own goals.