What's New

19 November 2018

Empowered Kids Ontario Announces 2018 Tribute Award Recipients

Empowered Kids Ontario recognized some of the child development and rehabilitation sector’s most outstanding individuals and organizations at the Tribute Awards Lunch during the association’s annual conference.

“By recognizing colleagues who continually raise the bar for their clients, families and organizations, we shine a light on the change makers who help us all gain greater influence for our contributions to child development,” says Penny Smiley, Chair of Empowered Kids Ontario. “On behalf of the Board of Directors, staff and our members, I congratulate all of this year’s Tribute Award recipients for all that you do. We know you’ll continue to work hard every day to achieve results, so kids with special needs and their families live their best lives.”

The Tribute Awards represent overall achievement across several categories. Recipients have distinguished themselves at the very highest level, promoting and enhancing the sector through innovations, campaigns and their dedication to kids with special needs and their families.

“To be recognized by your peers is an impressive accolade,” says Empowered Kids Ontario CEO Jennifer Churchill. “Making sure kids with special needs are empowered so they can live their best life is what drives us. In this drive we are committed to celebrating those who are best in class, who exemplify the values of belonging, connection and community, leading the way for us all.”

2018 Tribute Award of Excellence

Empowered Kids Ontario is proud to present the Tribute Award of Excellence, the association’s highest honour, to Dr. La Porta this year.

For nearly twenty-five years as CEO, Dr. LaPorta has led Thames Valley Children’s Centre through growth and transformation that brought international recognition and accreditation to the centre, and nearly tripled service to kids with special needs and their families in the region. Thames Valley Children’s Centre now offers services at 14 locations in Southwestern Ontario; the London location added a 30,000 square foot third floor to accommodate growth thanks to a successful capital campaign led by Dr. LaPorta.

Dr. LaPorta is an innovator. He established the Southwest Regional Autism Program, developed one of Canada’s first practicing pediatric clinical gait analysis labs, and in partnership with London Health Science Centre he created the Paediatric Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Program. Under his leadership Thames Valley Children’s Centre was Ontario’s first to establish a Client Advisory Committee—aligned with Dr. LaPorta’s philosophy that clients and families are at the heart of all a Children’s Treatment Centre does. He is well-known for creating an organizational culture in which staff and clients alike focus on their strengths and abilities. He is a recognized clinical authority and sought after speaker throughout Canada and beyond.

Thames Valley Children’s Centre, and the child development and rehabilitation sector, are better for his years of unwavering commitment and dedication. So are all children and youth with special needs throughout Ontario.

2018 Tribute Award: Partnership

Pathways Health Centre for Children
The Aamjiwnaang First Nation
The Walpole Island First Nation
The Kettle & Stony Point First Nation
Suncor Energy Inc.
Esso Canada
Shell Canada Ltd.
Nova Chemicals

Pathways Health Centre for Children, together with the Aamjiwnaang, Walpole Island, and Kettle & Stony Point First Nations have undertaken important work to improve service delivery for children living in First Nations communities in Lambton County.

With startup funding from local industry partners Suncor Energy Inc., Esso Canada, Shell Canada Ltd., Nova Chemicals, and Arlanxeo, these partners successfully launched programs that deliver developmental services including speech therapy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, to kids and their families in their communities.

These innovative partnerships between Pathways Health Centre for Children and the First Nations communities have led to the development of community-driven models that are increasing access to services, ensuring children and families receive service in appropriate settings, in their own language, and delivered with and by Indigenous therapists.

Positive impacts are already reported for this initiative, which offers tremendous potential to improve developmental outcomes for children in First Nations communities in the future.

Empowered Kids Ontario is pleased to recognize the deserving partners whose dedication to children and youth is at the heart of these innovative and impactful programs.

Tribute Award: Leadership

Sue Simpson, Executive Director, Waterloo Region Family Network

A role model in achieving accessibility in the Kitchener-Waterloo community, Sue is known as the heart and soul of the Waterloo Region Family Network (WRFN). Sue has helped improve the quality of life of kids with special needs and their families in the Waterloo region. As one of the parent-founders of the WRFN, Sue is a driving force behind the many ways families are supported by the organization. She was instrumental in developing a community partnership model that includes KidsAbility, ExtendAFamily, the YMCA, and SDERC—keeping the WRFN financially sustainable and also ensuring the Network is directly connected to local agencies so families can receive the best direction and support possible. Sue applies her many skills to help families and individuals become educated, connected and empowered. Under Sue’s leadership WRFN’s family membership grew 60 per cent in the last two years, and the Network currently serves 1,600 families, connects with 115 community contacts and provides a range of valued programs and services.

A mentor, parent, advisor and advocate, Sue is a resource and champion for parents in her community as well as for parent networks across the province. Her personal and professional experience gives her great insight into the lives, challenges and opportunities for people with special needs and she is regularly and frequently sought out as a trusted advisor.

Tribute Award: Advocacy

Kevin McShan, Ambassador for Access Talent, Windsor-Essex Region

For many Ontarians, finding a job can be difficult. Job candidates with a disability often find they have to compete, and also educate employers about accommodations they may need. Kevin McShan has fought that fight himself. Now he’s doing the same for others.

A natural leader, Kevin is devoting his career to promoting equality and building awareness of the untapped market of skilled individuals with disabilities. After graduating from St. Clair College where he studied Journalism, Kevin became involved in several local campaigns, created his own media consulting business, and produced the 2Man Advantage sports podcast. He served as a program development facilitator at WEareABLE, a Windsor-Essex initiative aimed at educating local business and hiring managers about the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities.

Earlier this year, Kevin was appointed by the province and by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to be Ambassador for Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities in the Windsor-Essex region, rolling out the province’s access talent strategy and the online DiscoverAbility network, a hub for employers seeking qualified job candidates. In the role of what CBC calls “talent ambassador,” Kevin educates employers about hiring people with disabilities, and is having great success matching individuals with employers. Kevin explains that these initiatives aim to place candidates with disabilities in 56,000 jobs, reducing the unemployment rate for those with disabilities by 30 per cent in companies that have 20 or more employees. His goal is to break down barriers to employment for the nine per cent, or one in seven, with a disability, ensuring their financial, personal and social independence, and the opportunity to make a contribution.

Tribute Award: Advocacy

Dear Everybody Campaign, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and Foundation

In the second year of a five-year campaign, Dear Everybody features young advocates taking a stand, letting the world know they are not defined by their disabilities.

HBKR CEO Julia Hanigsberg describes the campaign as a national movement, started by the hospital in partnership with kids and youth, to raise awareness of disability stigma and designed to change perceptions, and more importantly get people to take action to create a more equitable society.

In Canada today there are more than 400,000 children and youth up to age 24 living with a disability. The Canadian Human Rights Commission notes disability is the most cited reason for discrimination in the country—at 59 per cent. HBKR research demonstrates this reality: 53 per cent of kids with special needs have zero or one close friend, and they are two to three times more likely to be bullied than kids without a disability. Only 49 per cent of people age 25 to 63 with disabilities are employed, compared to 76 per cent of those without disabilities.

Dear Everybody gives young people a platform to raise awareness about the stigma and barriers they face every day. The campaign reaches people through displays, advertising, news stories and social media and focuses on issues including employment, bullying, friendship, education and health care.

Common misperceptions including underestimating kids with special needs when it comes to their ability to learn, and study. The campaign demonstrates how kids and youth with special needs are like everyone else.

While just in year two, the campaign has already been elevating conversation about disability stigma.