Reflections on 2013-2014:
First of all, my thanks to everyone who participated in the many accomplishments of the Manitoba Down Syndrome Society in 2013-2014:
- – to the dedicated group of people who have served on the MDSS Board of Directors,
- – to an equally committed group of individuals who organize incredible events for members, or who quietly go about the business of doing a valuable job for us,
- – to our dedicated office administrator Mina Orchard,
- – and to our members who support our events.
It is hard to believe that our small volunteer organization is able to bring the mission of MDSS to life in such a big way!
I must say that, after serving as President for only a year, I have developed an even greater respect for Ken Hodges than I had before! For 11 years he somehow managed to do the President’s job while working full-time and tending to his family’s needs. On behalf of all of our members, I wish to thank Ken once again for his service in running the Society effectively for so long. We are especially grateful for Brothers and Sisters, the song Ken co-wrote and recorded for us for our 2002 National Conference. MDSS will proudly continue to play and sing our very own song. On a personal note, I am grateful for the help Ken has given me this year in his role as Past President, and I wish him the best as he steps down from the Board.
It has been a very exciting year! Sitting in the President’s chair, one gets to see the big picture of all that MDSS does in a year. Overall folks, we ROCK! What we have accomplished this year to raise awareness and to support our members has been absolutely amazing.
In the fall, all within a 6 week time span, we put on one of the best fundraising walks in the city, provided a renowned International speaker to support educators and parents from all across the province at our See Me Beautiful Conference, provided a forum for families with babies and young children to connect at our Baby Love gathering, broke bread and partied together at our annual Dinner Dance, and generated awareness in the larger community during National Down Syndrome Awareness Week. That is a lot of good work in a very short time!
As the year progressed, MDSS caught up with the technological times by launching our Facebook page. Within a couple of weeks, we had over 100 ‘Likes’ and through the course of the year we received a great deal of positive feedback. By June we had surpassed 200 ‘Likes’! MDSS also hit the Twitter world on March 21st for World Down Syndrome Day, and we have been tweeting ever since. Our website has been kept up to date and is visited by many people on a regular basis.
Although, no one let the weather gods know that spring means disappearing snow, the greening of grass, leaf buds on trees, twittering songbirds and beautiful flowers emerging from their winter rest, MDSS rang in spring in a big way on March 21st with World Down Syndrome Day. Radio interviews and social media flooding got the message out there…See the Ability! This was followed by our April Baby Love, which provided a second opportunity for our families with young children to get together. We also re-launched our Coffee & Chat Nights, with the first evening providing parents of young children an opportunity to explore questions about school with parents who had already travelled that road.
Throughout the year, MDSS was pleased to offer many social events for our young adults. Our Buddy Nights were always filled to capacity with exuberant, enthusiastic young people having great fun together singing, dancing, bowling, and/or dining out. A highlight for the group was attending Footsloose at Celebrations Dinner Theatre. Along with Buddy Night events, our Livewires Social Club continued to meet twice each month. And now MDSS is so excited to announce that we have a brand new social club for teens set to launch on June 21st. We still have a couple of openings for youth aged 13-18, so if you have not registered your son or daughter yet, please contact the office.
All of our events are made possible because of dedicated people who take the reins. Joan Kolbauer, Susan Cearns, Ruth Joseph, Andrea Sawicki, Dawn Gates and Jen Barlin made Baby Love gatherings happen; Karen Pfeifer and Maria Pereira organized our Buddy Nights; Lori Lester and Joan Kolbauer arranged our See Me Beautiful Conference; Deb Hodges and her committee orchestrated the 2013 Buddy Walk; and Karen Nicholls and Allison Armistead coordinated the Dinner Dance and other family events.
Quietly, along the way, Susan Cearns and Ruth Joseph welcomed some new babies and their families into our MDSS community by visiting them in their homes.
Laureen Brookes did a presentation on Down syndrome for nurses, and Olivia Hawrysh is planning Lunch and Learn information sessions for nurses this fall. Lori Lester did presentations for classes of students, educational assistants, and educational assistants in training. As well, Lori has been hard at work making arrangements for the 2014 See Me Beautiful Conference.
Caroline Pearce kept the MDSS website up to date.
Olivia Hawrysh, our social media guru, posted and tweeted something at least every second day on our MDSS pages.
Joyce Coady and Brandy Kowal put out several excellent newsletters.
Mina Orchard cheerfully answered phone and email questions and requests in a timely fashion, and was a terrific help to this new President!
We even got a good start at getting our storage office decluttered.
Thank you so much to all of these great people!!
The Board is so pleased to announce that we recently contracted with Giraffe Marketing to create a new logo for MDSS and redesign our website to make it more appealing to the visitor and much more user friendly. The Creative Director of Giraffe Marketing, Kyle Scheurmann, was one of the first staff members for our Livewires Social Club. Benjamin Kingdon, the CEO of the company, volunteered at Livewires. These talented young men hold individuals with Down syndrome and MDSS near and dear to their hearts, and the Board was anxious to see what they would generate for us based on our discussions, our mission statement, and their passion. We are excited about our new logo, and confident that our rebranding will generate greater positive awareness, along with revenue through corporate sponsorships and grants.
Reading this, I hope you are as pleased as I am with what has been accomplished this year!
Looking to the Future:
The MDSS board is excited for next year to begin. We expect our new website to be up and running by the end of June, complete with capability to make on-line payment for membership, donations, and other purchases.
We hope to up our awareness campaign in a big way. Look for National Down Syndrome Awareness Week and World Down Syndrome Day to make an even bigger splash than they did this year.
We want to see more Coffee and Chat Nights on topics our members tell us are important to them.
And it has been a dream of mine since forever to offer a weekend retreat for parents. How would you feel about a weekend away…where you leave the kids behind with a trusted caregiver and head out of town to a lovely, quiet spot to spend time in fellowship, fun and learning with other parents and a few facilitators? Perhaps 2015 will be the year we can make this dream a reality.
A goal for me as President is to be assured that all of the awesome opportunities we provided in the past and 2013-2014 continue into the future.
In order for this to happen, we are definitely going to need some new blood to pick up leadership roles in the not so distant future. The same MDSS volunteers have made all of the arrangements for our Family Days, Baby Love Gatherings, Buddy Nights, and the See Me Beautiful Conference for many years. At some point, these wonderful people will need a change, but they are more than happy to mentor new volunteers at any time.
So, please ask yourself this question: “Is it my time to assist the organization whose mission is dear to my heart?”
It may not be your time just now. I know that it wasn’t my time when I was first asked to join the Board in the early 1990s. Just as I knew it was my time when my son was entering the school system and I realized that I had the skill set to organize a conference that would provide the important information his teachers and educational assistants would need to maximize his learning. My selfish attempt to equip Ryan’s teachers to better serve him ended up benefitting teachers, educational assistants, administrators, clinicians, parents and ultimately students from across the province. And when I was growing weary of doing this job, Lori Lester jumped on board and took the reins from my hands. Why? Because she realized the benefits of the conference to her daughter and to all of our members, because she recognized that she had the skill set, because she knew she would be mentored, and because she believed that this was an event that we could not do without.
So, please ask yourself, “Is it my time?”
It has been my pleasure to serve as your President this past year. I have learned so much and benefitted equally.
Thank you to our long standing Board members for assisting me along the way and for reminding us of the value of the historical perspective. Thanks to our newer Board members, who bring with them enthusiasm, energy and ideas that will lead us into the future.
I wish you all a wonderful summer and I look forward to seeing and meeting all of you at Buddy Walk 2014!