Raffle just the ticket for OSNS centre

Chance to win Harley Davidson motorcycle also provides help to child development in the Okanagan Similkameen

Three-year-old Carter Bifford tries this 2013 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle on for size at the Copper Mug where it was on display recently. The bike is one of a pair of two-wheelers being raffled off in the annual OSNS Child Development Centre fundraiser which is a key component in keeping the facility up and running and able to help children like Carter.

Three-year-old Carter Bifford tries this 2013 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail motorcycle on for size at the Copper Mug where it was on display recently. The bike is one of a pair of two-wheelers being raffled off in the annual OSNS Child Development Centre fundraiser which is a key component in keeping the facility up and running and able to help children like Carter.

At first glance, the former Slack Alice’s Show Pub and the Okanagan Similkameen Neurological Society Child Development Centre seemed like strange bedfellows.

Not the case.

For many years the two entities worked closely on the annual motorcycle raffle which has long been a staple of the OSNS budgetary diet.

However, prior to the pub burning down just over a year ago, its owner decided to sever the relationship, at which point OSNS executive director Judy Sentes began her search for help elsewhere.

She didn’t have to look far.

True to form, area businesses and organizations were quick to rally and fill the void which is continuing to pay big dividends

Last year, for the first time, the draw for the new Harley Davidson motorcycle was part of the Peach City Beach Cruise and will be back at the 2013 Peach City Beach Cruise .

“We’ve just have so much support from so many different people, organizations and businesses to get us through this,” said Sentes this week as the raffle for the 2013 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail  motorcycle and 2012 Yamaha scooter swung into full gear. “Slacks was definitely a major contributor to our sales, and when it wasn’t out, it was always on the stage at Slack’s so it had presence. And if it’s out of site it’s out of mind, so it’s very important that the bike maintain a visibility.”

She credits the willingness of pubs like the Copper Mug and Barley Mill along with the city’s auto dealerships and the South Okanagan Events Centre for keeping the two wheeler in the public eye.

The new groups join with the ranks of the Okanagan Motorcycle Riders Association, who have long been the backbone of the raffle and whose members continue to spend countless hours to make it the success it has become.

The draw date this year for the Harley is June 23 with the announcement of the early-bird winner of the scooter scheduled for May 12.

Combined value of the two bikes is about $30,000 which, if tickets sell out, will mean in excess of $25,000 to the centre.

That money, along with funds raised in the annual telethon (over $50,000) and the Evergreen Ball ($25,000) goes to help make up the annual $300,000 budget shortfall.

According to the executive director, in spite of the region’s reputation as a retirement mecca, the increasing number of children the centre is seeing and growing waiting list, there are plenty of young families here.

“We are all about vulnerable children and our numbers of children with special needs are not diminishing,” said Sentes. “It’s emotionally charged, it’s physically charged and it’s a multi-faceted problem that we continually try to solve.

“If those early-intervention services can be accessed in those formative years — birth to school age — the difference it makes is that only 10 per cent go on to use those services life long and that’s huge. To us we use the language of investment, and those children are our future and if you invest in them the return is many times over.”

She added without help, special needs children almost always put an increased strain on the resources of the school districts when they enter the mainstream education system.

Sentes also has some hard evidence for the value of the centre’s services in the form of three of its alumni.

That includes Amanda Lewis, who despite severe physical challenges, still attended college and eventually became a spokesperson for Agur Lake Camp Society.

Another was swimmer Andrew Cooke who has cerebral palsy but has gone on to become a regular member of the KISU swim team and represented Canada in international competition.

The third person is one of her favourites, the talented and very popular young musician and singer Beamer Wigley, who was a premature baby.

“Preemies have to be monitored closely and they develop more slowly, which is why early intervention is so important,” said Sentes. “He was a client at the OSNS, but who would have thought that now, at age 10, he could rule the world.

“He commands the stage, he sang the national anthem for us at Ironman this year, he was on stage at the PNE and is very comfortable on stage and has a talent beyond question.

“So when you ask how do the children do, that’s how the children do.”

Heather Xenis is someone who has seen first hand the difference early intervention has made with her own son Carter, who is now three years old.

She first noticed at the age of one he did not appear to be at the level of other children his age when it came to mastering his speech skills.

“At the time he wasn’t talking and now he talks a lot, it’s really made a huge difference,” said his mom. “I think for us, because his issues weren’t severe and not related to anything specific, just the therapists making us aware of how you are supposed to talk and answer him helped us a lot.”

After two years she now sees a very confident youngster with strong social skills who is not afraid to face new adventures in life.

“It’s like night and day,” she said. “He has friends, he likes to go to pre-school, so this has been an incredibly worthwhile program.”

For more information about the various programs offered by the centre and fundraising efforts, visit http://osns.org/.