Getting ready to ride for Lansdowne
Bob Caissie is modest about his contributions to Lansdowne Children’s Centre, which now top $3 million.
At the official kickoff on Friday for the Great Northern Ride, one of two events he created to raise money for Lansdowne’s Every Kid Counts Program, Caissie was most interested arranging a photo of the ride ambassador, 11-year-old Isabelle Michalski, and volunteer Andy Vellenga, who received this year’s Great Northern Riders’ Community Service Award.
For more than a dozen years, Vellenga has been volunteering his time to drive a tractor trailer full of participants’ snowmobiles across the country for the Great Northern Ride.
Caissie insisted that, this year, the name of the award, which had been called the Bob Caissie Community Care Award, be changed.
“Bob works tirelessly to ensure the ride is successful,” said Angee Turnbull, director of philanthropy at Lansdowne.
“He has seen first-hand what our staff does on a daily basis. We don’t know what we would do without him. He never takes all the credit. It’s always ‘we.’”
The 19th annual Great Northern Ride is set for Feb. 24 to March 1. Last year, the frosty fundraiser brought in $215,000, surpassing its $200,000 goal.
The money pays for support workers so children from Lansdowne with special needs can swim, dance, bowl, attend summer camps, and participate other recreational activities they might not otherwise be able to. The program receives no government funding.
“A week-long summer camp with a support worker can cost $1,000,” said Sarah Thompson, supervisor of recreational programs at Lansdowne.
“(Without the fundraising) we’d certainly have to decrease the number of kids involved, or charge fees, or scrap programs entirely.”
Isabelle’s mom, Ashley Michalski, has three children, each of whom is within the autism spectrum.
Michalski said the Every Kid Counts activities – offered for free to families because of the Great Northern Ride and the summertime Charity Motorcycle Ride, also organized by Caissie – would otherwise be out of reach for Isabelle.
Last year, through Every Kid Counts, the Grade 6 student at St. Pius School went to Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, Ont., a place where loud noises and crowds could be an issue.
“She had a great time,” said Michalski.
“She is with someone who knows how to assist in different situations. As a mom, that’s something that makes me feel comfortable.”
Looking for a way to support local youth, Caissie and a group of other Rotarians started the Great Northern Ride in 2001, when 13 snowmobilers travelled from Huntsville to Sudbury and back, raising $32,000.
The hardy riders embrace the elements. Over the years, they’ve covered almost 29,000 kilometres of snowy terrain, with participants seeing almost all of James Bay, the Abitibi River, and Timmins, Kapuskasing and Hearst in Ontario. They have travelled through Northern Quebec, including Gaspe Peninsula and Rimouski.
Last year, a record 122 riders hit the trails in Fredericton, drove through the Appalachian Mountains and through Miramichi, N.B., and Moncton, N.B., before returning to Fredericton.
This year, they’re trying something a little different. Instead of a long ride from one destination to the next, snowmobilers will be stationed in Bathurst, N.B., and ride huge loops through the centre of the province, returning each night.
Volunteers, including Vellenga, will drive five tractor-trailers full of snowmobiles and luggage to Bathurst.
“We always get well over 100 riders,” said Caissie.
“Many of the older riders’ sons have joined in.”
Participants range from age 19 to 78-year-old Keith Saunders.
Lansdowne supports children and youth with physical, developmental and communications needs, and their families. About 2,600 children a year use their services.
More than 100 children were part of the Every Kid Counts program last year.
The Great Northern Ride is supported by sponsorship and donations. Riders pay a fee to participate and also collect pledges.
Donations can be made at www. greatnorthernride.com.
Eleven-year-old Isabelle Michalski, ambassador for the annual Great Northern Ride, joins David Young (left), Angee Turnbull, Andy Vellenga and ride chair Bob Caissie for the launch of the 2019 ride on Friday. Vellenga was presented with the Great Northern Riders Community Service Award by the Rotary Club and the Lansdowne Children's Centre.