A fearless performer and a para Pan Am Games swimmer are just some of the inspiring children Judy Sentes has seen pass through the doors of OSNS over her 20 years.
After years of tireless efforts of raising funds for the Okanagan Similkameen Neurological Society Child Development Centre, the executive director said this Sunday’s OSNS Share-A-Smile telethon will be her last, and she hopes the biggest so far. The telethon, hosted by Mike Roberts, runs from noon to 9 p.m. on Shaw TV.
“The friendships, the partnerships have been truly phenomenal. The generosity people have continues to overwhelm me. They hear about the need and they respond,” said Sentes. “These children are our future and it really is important that we give them all of the support and intervention we can so that they can be the best they can be.”
This will be the 33rd anniversary for the telethon raising funds for the OSNS. Sentes recalls when she first started they were raising $85,000, she said now they raise upwards of $300,000. A huge amount for one of the smallest independently run child development centres in the province to raise. Sentes said out of all the provincial centres, OSNS raises the most money per capita. While the centre is small, the area it covers is not. They help kids from Summerland to Osoyoos across to Princeton and up to Tulameen.
“If the fundraising is not successful the only option we have is to reduce services, that is why this weekend is so critical,” said Sentes.
“There is no way I could do what has been accomplished by myself. We have such great partnerships with the communities. Penticton has such a historical philanthropic attitude.”
There is no doubt of the centre’s success since it opened its doors in 1978. Sentes said she is still amazed when she runs into the successful young adults that she remembers as toddlers.
Beamer Wigley is one of those. As a baby he was diagnosed with a developmental delay in his speech. Just last summer the nine-year-old stood before a crowd at the PNE in Vancouver singing and playing his guitar, winning first place in his category at the Star Showdown. Wigley worked with an OSNS speech therapist as a toddler to help him get past his issues.
“I tell you when we watch him up there on stage now he is a very well-spoken child and when you talk to him it is like talking to a much older person. I feel quite confident that without their help and intervention it wouldn’t have moved along as quickly as it did,” said Beamer’s mother Heather Wigley. “When you see him up there singing and performing you would never know this was the same little boy.”
Accomplished Penticton swimmer Andrew Cooke’s parents feel much the same way about the OSNS. He was diagnosed at eight months old with cerebral palsy and began attending OSNS shortly after to work on his physical abilities. Now in his early 20s, he competed at the 2011 Para Pan-American games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“We were advised at one time there was a potential he would never walk,” said his father, Craig Cooke. “Our goal was to have him develop into a very prominent part of the community. We had no idea he would turn out to be this international athlete.”
Andrew attended the Canadian Olympic trials last June and he is looking forward to competing in the Can-Am games in the U.S. in the spring. His goal is to be a paralympian for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
It has been stories like these that have kept Sentes working for so long. She expects her position will be filled sometime in 2013, although she has agreed to stay on and help in the transition.
“It’s time, new people bring fresh ideas, fresh strategies. It has been a difficult decision for me because I have been there so long. I truly am going to miss all the families, their courage and strength as they partner with OSNS in the services we deliver. It is just amazing to me all the accomplishments that have been made.”
Donations will be accepted by phone during Sunday’s telethon by calling 250-492-0295 or 1-866-492-0295 or on their website www.osns.org. The IGA Marketplace in Penticton and Summerland will be collecting donations at their tills until Saturday and the Shell gas station on Government Street will be donating two cents on every litre of gas they sell on Saturday and Sunday. OSNS staff will also be at Cherry Lane shopping centre on Friday with Chatters Salon who will be offering haircuts for a $10 donation.