COVID-19 restrictions forced a subdued first-anniversary celebration for the Vancouver Island Down Syndrome Society (VIDSS) on Nov. 3, 2020.
The founding members of the fledgling Comox Valley-based non-profit society are hopeful the new year brings with it an expansion of the group’s reach.
“It started with the three of us mothers. We had a vision that we wanted to facilitate more support for families on the Island,” said Michelle Hicker, the president and co-founder of VIDSS. “We are kind of a point of contact for anybody with a child or a newborn baby with Down syndrome. Even if it’s a pre-natal diagnosis… where do they go for information? Who can they look for, for support? That’s where we come in.”
The founding board team consists of Hicker, Natasha Newton (secretary), and Jessica Darroch (treasurer).
The board is hoping to expand the VIDSS reach across Vancouver Island, and is in search of directors in other communities - particularly Duncan, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Campbell River, and the North Island. Anyone interested in becoming involved in such a capacity is asked to email the society at firstname.lastname@example.org
“I figure if we go Island-wide, we would have a little more clout than if we just stay in the Comox Valley,” said Hicker. “Because the lack of support for families is not just a local issue. There is a lack of support everywhere on the Island.”
The objectives of VIDSS include peer support for parents and caregivers, as well as developing support services, projects, educational and employment opportunities for people with Down syndrome.
Long-term goals include addressing the shortcomings in the education system for students with Down syndrome. Hicker recognized a gap in the system when speaking to a life skills program teacher at Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School in Courtenay.
“I had asked her what I could do to prepare my son, Danny, for the program, and she said one of the biggest challenges that she has is that the kids coming from elementary school are not prepared for that program,” said Hicker. “They aren’t at that particular level of learning yet, and I am seeing that with Danny now - behaviour-wise, academic-wise, pretty much everything.
“One of the developments we would like to see is to start that life skills program at a much younger age. Our goal is to have a life skills program in at least one elementary school in every district on the Island.”
Hicker said they were just getting things rolling when COVID put a halt to the society’s progression.
“We had our first fundraiser, a spring plant sale, in March (of 2020),” she said. “[It was] an extremely successful event with orders from as far south as Nanaimo and north to Port McNeill.”
Shortly thereafter, COVID restrictions kicked in.
“We had several events organized in the summer and fall, however then COVID reared its ugly head and needless to say, some of the events never actually made it to fruition,” said Hicker.
Fortunately, the plant sale was an order process, with delivery to homes, meaning the same fundraiser can take place this year.
“We intend to hold another spring plant fundraiser this year with the hopes of reaching even more communities on the Island,” said Hicker.
The plants include hanging baskets, succulents, tomato starters, vegetable trays, and other items for the garden. For more information about the spring plant sale, go to vidss.ca
The pandemic has created a slew of other challenges.
“It has been challenging to maintain important social and sports activities for our special needs groups (Island-wide),” said Hicker. “There is less, and in some cases, no support available now for our Down syndrome community with many facilities shutting their doors.
“For some groups it is vital to maintain some level of continuity of service (while adhering to COVID safety protocols), such as one-on-one coaching at recreation facilities. When services return in full, priority should be put on re-establishing access to community-based supports that are developmentally beneficial and necessary for the special needs community.”
There are 45,000 Canadians living with Down syndrome, according to the Canadian Down Syndrome Society.