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FRIEND-RAISER: PALS is the first and only elementary and secondary school in B.C. dedicated to children and adolescents with autism. Founded by a tireless group of moms desperately searching for schooling options for their children on the autism spectrum, PALS Autism School was born. Converting a former post office in East Vancouver into a place of learning, the school would welcome its first 10 students back in July 2007.
In a mere dozen years the independent school has expanded its programs and services, offering year-round after-school care, adult learning, recreational opportunities, employment training and a social enterprise to offer individuals with autism employment opportunities and independence. 2019 also marked another major milestone — a forever home for PALS.
On March 1, the school moved into a much larger facility — a heritage building at Queens Park in New Westminster — to better deliver its services and lessen the waiting times of families desperately looking to enrol their child at PALS.
To further fund the growing endeavour, the organization hosted its flagship fundraiser. Led by PALS board chair Katy Harandi, one of the founders and parent of a child on the autism spectrum, some 400 supporters filed into the Vancouver Convention Centre for the organization’s 12th annual benefit, a Big Fun Greek Gala-themed party. A qualified success, the affair drew business and community leaders, philanthropists and parents who showed their love for the little-school-that-could, emptying their wallets and designer purses netting $375,000 for PALS.
In addition to contributing to the record haul, attendees also heard from federal MP Don Davies, a vocal advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities. A parent of a child with special needs, Davies introduced a bill designating April 23 as Canadian Autism Awareness Week to shed light on those who are on the autism spectrum, those who tirelessly support them, and the enormous challenges faced by parents of children with autism.
Autism is the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in Canada. Today, one in 66 children have autism in Canada, a third of them are non-verbal.
Ovarian Cancer Canada’s Love Her Gala
WORDS TO LOVE BY: Ovarian Cancer Canada presented its annual LOVE HER gala, a nationwide fundraising effort that celebrates women and raises awareness of an insidious cancer often overlooked and under-diagnosed. Each year, some 2,800 Canadian women will be diagnosed with the cancer, joining 17,000 other Canadian women living with the disease. With no reliable screening test and generally late detection, ovarian cancer is the most fatal women’s cancer in the country. Half of those diagnosed with the cancer reportedly die within five years.
A stylish group once again made the scene strutting into the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel for the night of hilarity, cocktails, fundraising and fashion show. The cross-country celebrations arrived in Vancouver, one of three stops that include Calgary and Toronto on the cross-country tour. Fronted by four-time chair Franci Stratton and newcomer Ella Jotie, and hosted by Global TV weather broadcaster Kasia Bodurka, the West Coast edition would raise $225,000 for vital ovarian cancer research.
Before the main runway event featuring spring designs from Marlyn’s, tradition saw the presentation of the Virginia Greene Award, named after the well-known Vancouver business leader who succumbed to the disease.
Recognizing leadership, commitment and support of others, this year’s award was presented to family members Lisa Konishi and Christine Coletta. Over the past few decades, their family has lived amid the tribulations that come with the hereditary tendency of the ovarian cancer gene. Konishi’s mother, sister and aunt all fought and lost their battle with ovarian cancer.
Being a large, resilient family, Konishi led the charge to encourage and ensure every member received genetic testing. The family came together and worked with their medical teams to develop an appropriate plan for prevention (which could include an ovariectomy and mastectomy). From this work with her family, Konishi became a passionate advocate for the cause, supporting other women with ovarian cancer and calling for greater research.
“This disease is very personal for me and my family, our shared journey has taught us what a difference early detection can make as well as how our support can inspire others by raising awareness and taking steps to prevent the disease” Konishi said, addressing the predominantly female crowd.
Konishi also inspired her cousin Christine Coletta, owner of Okanagan Crush Pad and Haywire Winery, to jump in and become an active supporter.
“Our family realizes the dramatic advances that research has led to and that more funding can make a big difference for generations to come, so we are pleased to be able to support this worthy cause financially and to raise awareness,” Coletta explained.