Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Dolphin Aid and Atara

One of the many things I like about being a staff writer at SJS, is the interviews I have conducted over the past seven months that focus on the professional journey of fellow social workers, advocacy, raising awareness of issues and sharing projects with our readership. Here is another that certainly opened my eyes to a therapy I did not know existed.

When Erika Tencer approached me; without hesitation I offered an interview for her to share the story, life experience and journey of her daughter, Atara, a 17-year-old girl who she describes as generally warm, giving, task oriented and helpful. Atara also has Down syndrome.

Erika shared that when Atara was first-born, in order to make herself feel better about the birth that would turn her life around, people said (among a few staple things), “She’s got 10 fingers and 10 toes.” True, but that didn’t take away the fear of the unknown.

It didn’t take long for Erika to break through that fear and get to work empowering herself and others through Atara.

“Within her first two years, she began hippo therapy (using horses to empower her). ‘As for me, with my supportive mom’ I went to my 1st Canadian Down Syndrome Society gathering; re-encountering two girls from my high school who have daughters with Down syndrome, one of whom I’m still in touch with. It was an amazing experience, and lets you know that you’re not alone.”

In 1996, Erika heard about people with Down syndrome and a general connection with dolphins. “I thought nothing more of it.” Within the next 2 years, Atara started a reverse integrated daycare which her sister followed in 2001.

“The statistics for marriages that last are not great. They are even worse when a child with a disability is born. Their father and I fell into those statistics. For me, life turned out great. I met and married an awesome man who wanted to be with the three of us as much as he wanted to marry me.”

Provide some Background about Yourself:

In 2000, I went back to school fuelled with the need to work with others and make a change. By 2008, I had created Inspirational Awareness. During these sessions/workshops, Atara and I work together and help to break down barriers. Our aim is to sensitize students to children with special needs.

The Benefits to Community-Based Programs:

During the same period, in 2005, Atara started to participate in the Friendship Circle, which led to so many more activities, both integrated and none- integrated. The Friendship Circle is an organization that pairs up kids with special needs with teens. Atara has been involved with the Friendship Circle and its activities for about 10 years. Their mission statement states:

The Friendship Circle provides assistance and support to the families of children with special needs. In addition to helping those in need, the Friendship Circle enriches its vast network of volunteers by enabling them to reap the rewards of selfless giving.

The Friendship Circle was founded on the idea that within each person is a soul, and that soul is the same regardless of any limitations that may surround it. That regardless of whatever natural gifts we may have or lack, regardless of what obstacles and challenges we may confront, our souls are sacred and worthy of boundless love.

We believe that every human being, regardless of background or faith, deserves the gift of true friendship. Friendship has a ripple effect on the community, impacting the lives of all involved, raising the consciousness of society at large.

She loves her Friendship Circle family. Various programs are offered that focus on home visiting by volunteers, groups with a focus on hobbies, sports, cooking, holidays, karate, outings, a special summer camp and winter camp during the mid-winter break from school. She also started to participate in the Special Olympics. As far as stereotypes go within Down syndrome, she is how it dictates; she is very sociable, and loves being around people.

In 2008, she started a 2 year program for her Bat Mitzvah (the celebration of the passing from childhood to adulthood). She completed the theoretical part with everyone else, and began learning to do what many deemed to be a changing day for many members.

Atara is in a school that she’ll be in until she’s 21 years old. Within her last year at school, we’ll most probably start to get nervous about what she’ll do next. Even at 18, things in her life begin to change. Many things indirectly affect her, and directly affect how her life is dealt with by the family. “I’m sure everything will be fine. We can’t be prepared for everything, but we’ll be okay if we work as a team” states Erika.

A Unique Therapy for Youth with Special Needs:

In 2012, I heard about Dolphin Aid Canada. I immediately put us on the waiting list. They help families through payment of part of the therapy that Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center provides. Through Dolphin Aid, Sheila Botton, has walked us through what needs to be done. They made dolphin therapy a possibility for us. Now it’s our turn to make it a reality.

It’s important to me, that we work in a positive manner until life becomes difficult. At 17, she is easy to be/work with, I still have the time to be very involved, and her sister is of an age to be as well. Now, is when I feel dolphin therapy can really work for her.

Please Share the Fundraising to Date for Atara to Attend this Program:

What is being, has been and will be done in order to realize that goal: aka funding and finally the trip itself and its content:

  • At the beginning of April we had put together a script to label charity cans which have been distributed around town.
  • On April 6, we held a Pampered Chef party that raised approximately $500.
  • Before the 1st fundraiser, we started a campaign to raise money through selling toilet paper. We made over $800 through that.
  • In May, Atara and I ran some activities for 3 Classes at Roslyn School. In turn, they had a free dress day which brought us $277.
  • On June 8th, Menchies held a fundraiser to support us. 10% of every purchase was returned to Atara. An article in the West End Times was written up to support this fundraiser.
  • A wonderful, descriptive article was written up in The Concordian. In turn, the article prompted an interview with CBC radio which encouraged an interview on CJAD.
  • On July 29, Alia Adams interviewed Atara and myself in order to appear on Global TV.
  • A comedy night fundraiser was held on July 20th at the Comedy Nest.
  • On September 30th, we will have a fundraiser at Summit School.

 More Information on Dolphin Therapy:

In March 2013, Atara, was accepted into a dolphin therapy program. As someone with Down syndrome, she is stereotypically very sociable and loves being around a lot of people and as an individual, she loves large animals. She’ll be working with the Curacao Dolphin Therapy Center. I truly believe that she will thrive from it.

They customize programs to the needs of the children. The therapists work on specific areas such as speech, behaviors and motor skills. Though Atara is a global communicator and can therefore technically communicate, she is auto aggressive primarily because of frustration through not being understood. “The program is in the hands of certified and committed therapists. It complements and reinforces the traditional therapy that patients are receiving at home. Atara, Tova (her sister), Jon (her step dad) and I have been involved in her therapies (though often indirectly) since she was little. Many have been holistic therapies which we were able to get more involved with.”

The program is designed for the immediate family to be involved. Parents, brothers and sisters are usually the most important people in the child’s life and the ones who provide a great deal of the care. This is why they are closely involved in the therapy program. Experiencing CDTC’s program as a family makes it easier to put the positive results into practice after you have returned home.

“We’ll go in November. Initially we had to raise approximately $12000 in order to make it happen. Now, we still must raise between $5000-7000. Between the planned fundraisers, one we may do on August 15th and donations, we’ll be set to go.”

Fundraising info.:

This sounds like an amazing opportunity for Atara and her family. I want to thank Erika for agreeing to the interview and ask that she keep SJS updated.

The profession of social work incorporates advocacy, raising awareness of issues and social justice as part of its values. Sharing information with others, whether by word of mouth or through social media, is a great way to do this. If just one individual/family reads this and their child can benefit from the Dolphin Aid Therapy than it is worth it!

By Victoria Brewster, MSW
Staff Writer

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