Kate Sharl Foundation helps send Cree boy with autism to camp
7-year-old Brent Hester of Waskaganish, Que., connects with other kids at AOK summer day camp
For seven year-old Brent Hester of Waskaganish, Que., summer 2015 has the makings of the best one yet, because he got to spend time and play with other children who are much like himself — active, energetic and living with autism.
With the help of the Kate Sharl Foundation, a charity that offers financial assistance for Cree children living with special needs in Eeyou Istchee, Brent got the chance to attend AOK Summer Camp, run by Autism Ontario near Toronto.
His mom Candice Diamond says Brent made friends with the group of children he was with at the day camp, learned how to sing and become more open to conversation.
"Brent was always shy here in Waskaganish," she said.
"But after some time at the camp, we noticed that he started introducing himself to people. At a restaurant, he'd be saying to people 'Hi, I'm Brent.'"
Diamond says she started to notice changes in Brent's behaviour.
"He wanted to leave us as soon as we'd arrive at the camp, and in the mornings he'd be up early, knowing that he'd be going to camp."
Before arriving at the camp, the family wondered about the wisdom of what they were doing.
"It was very scary," said Diamond, who says Brent has a habit of running off to explore.
"My mom got so worried, that she was telling me, 'We should disguise ourselves, and watch him from a distance at the restaurant.'"
Diamond and Floyd Hester, Brent's dad, had to fundraise to cover the cost of travelling to the camp. The family also got help from the Kate Sharl Foundation to cover the tuition.
Kate Sharl was born with special needs in Oujé-Bougoumou. Her parents, Harry Sharl and Anouk Raphael, struggled to pay for some of her basic needs for her condition, where she needed a special van to get her to her treatments.
She died about seven years ago, and after a year passed, the Kate Sharl Foundation was born.
"The memory of Kate Sharl is why the foundation was created," said Judy Nakogee, one of the co-founders of the Foundation.
Nakogee also works for the Cree Nation Government as a special needs advisor and offered support to the family in the year before Kate died.
"Because we know some of our children need to be helped in any way possible, where some need to get special help because they need to learn sign language as they were born deaf, or some need to have their parents learn how others cope or become teachers to their own children, that is why we work hard for this foundation."
Brent's parents are hoping to send him to the AOK camp again next summer.
"This experience has been a plus for my son," said Diamond.
"One memorable moment that I will say that will stick with me for a very long time is he met a girl there, and after a while, they were holding hands," she said.
"It was so sweet and touching, and I was feeling it that my boy met a true friend in that little girl."
The Color Run, a fundraiser for the Kate Sharl Foundation, will be held Aug. 15 in Montreal. For more information contact Connie at 514-636-8501, or Judy at: 418-770-4545.