Get­ting ready to ride for Lans­downe

The Expositor (Brantford) - - NEWS - MICHELLE RUBY EXPOSITOR STAFF

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. great­north­ern­


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.

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