Ellen began by sharing that as a Mom to Jacob, she used to watch him in ‘awe’. He felt people and loved them for who they were. He felt their genuine nature, their kindness, their warmth and didn’t care what they looked like or where they were from. He only cared if they were kind and because of that, he attracted the kindest people.
Jacob never judged anyone, nor should we. Rob Lowe has a great saying – “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.” If we judge others, we miss so much. Tonight, we met some very inspiring people, heroes who seem to have it all together and for the most part, they do. But they have fought, they have conquered and continue to inspire every day. It’s the invisible differences that we don’t see.
Our first guest was Samara Bleiwas, who was one of our beloved Project Give Back teachers, until life hit her hard. Samara understands the impacts of lessons learned through PGB as both a parent and teacher. Samara lives with Multiple Sclerosis. She was first diagnosed back in August 2015, after losing vision in one eye. Six years later, she is proud to say that she is as busy as ever.
Scared at first hearing her diagnosis, Samara pictured herself in a wheelchair. She was scared to drive, until her 95-year-old grandmother encouraged her to do so. Scared to ski, until a friend encouraged her, saying that if blind people ski, so could she. And so, it was Samara’s mission to turn these negatives into positives.
Samara, together with her entire family, participates in the annual MS Walk. Her team has become a top fundraiser each year. As a Mom and wife, people see Samara as an active person; what they don’t see is how she adapts to see out of one eye. They don’t see the anxiety of going for an MRI and awaiting the results and she certainly doesn’t look like she needs a handicap parking permit. The lens that we use to see and judge others needs to be adjusted. We must always remember, that we have no idea what goes on in other peoples’ lives. Think before we judge and view life through a lens of empathy.
Samara’s son, Jack was part of Project Give Back at Cedarvale Community School. He chose the MS Society for his year long Journey. Tonight, he was our Shining Star and shared his presentation with us. Now, a Grade 7 student, Jack spoke about how the MS Society is close to his heart. He explained, so eloquently, what MS is and gave detailed information of how the disease affects one’s body. He spoke about its debilitating affects and told about the charity’s many fundraisers and events; including the MS Walk, where Team Bleiwas has raised over $250,000! Jack and his siblings have also started to host their own lemonade stand and have raised $1500. It is quite apparent that Team Bleiwas will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, turning an invisible difference into a remarkable difference for many others.
Our next guest and musical performer, Jordy Benettar has overcome so much with such grace and positivity. Jordy described herself as a multi-passionate person. She has been an actor, a world debating champion, a National Ambassador and spokesperson for a cause, a world traveller, a lawyer and business owner of ‘Speak Well’. Now, she has added singer/songwriter to this impressive mix and that’s just on paper. The invisible difference is that Jordy has Juvenile Diabetes (type 1).
Jordy was first diagnosed in December 2002, after a family vacation. She went on to describe how this chronic illness does not allow her body to produce insulin. She would learn to give herself multiple needles every time she ate, and monitor her health 24/7. She spoke about long term complications of the disease and how she dealt with her lot in life. Instead of letting this illness set her back, Jordy chose to became a mentor to newly diagnosed patients. She also started a group at her University for diabetics and went on to speak at the United Nations! Today, Jordy has a rewarding career and a flourishing life. Her final message was, regardless of a disadvantage, don’t let it define you, and do not let it hold you back. She finished by singing a beautiful rendition of, ’Build Me Up Buttercup’.
The night concluded with our regular check in with Lindsay @One2GiveTo and Kindness Corner. Lindsay spoke about Beeton Cupboard, a food bank at Bathurst and St Clair, that is run through St Michael’s Church. The Pastor at the church contacted Lindsay to inform her that food insecurity is still an issue and encouraged food drop off. She also told how many of those people in line are not what you always think, so many live with their own invisible differences themselves.
The message was clear tonight! Invisible differences are part of what makes us who we are, but they don’t have to define who we are and how we live our lives. Thank you to our guests, Samara, Jack, Jordy and Lindsay for their inspiring messages and for sharing their incredible stories.