Spirit of Giving


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Change Makers – Sonja

This article is a series of three, written by Tom Mason for the Fall 2013/Winter 2014 issue of Izaak Magazine – an in-depth, behind the scenes, all-access publication highlighting the incredible, everyday happenings at the IWK Health Centre. A stay at the hospital can be tough, but for some exceptional young people, it’s also a time to grow , gain strength and learn about who they are. 

Sonja Weilgart-Whitehead

Sonja Weilgart-Whitehead

At the age of 18, Sonja Weilgart-Whitehead is already an old hand at talking to the media. The Herring Cove teenager was just 15 when she spearheaded a media campaign that focused attention on evacuation policies at Halifax Schools – a campaign that changed those policies for students with mobility issues.

Sonja has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that comes with significant mobility challenges. “My high school had an evacuation policy that said they couldn’t carry disabled persons out of the building because it would risk injuring the person responsible for carrying the,” she says. “Instead, we were supposed to go to a designated safe area and wait for the fire department.” But the designated safe room in Sonja’s high school was located right above a propane tank, with furniture blocking the only window that rescue personnel could use to access it. “I know that if my school ever wet up in flames, I was going to be toast.”

I was a situation that Sonja had no intention of ignoring. She and her mother contacted the media and began a series of interviews to shed light on the topic. The campaign immediately caught the attention of Nova Scotia cabinet ministers Ramona Jennex and Marilyn Moore who offered her an apology and set out to change the school policy. “They changed it for everyone in the province,” she says. “It means a lot, even though I was almost ready to graduate. With the old policy, it was like they were saying my life wasn’t as valued as the other students.”

Sonja is used to overcoming challenges. Her first extended stay at the IWK began the day she was born, when she was 18 months old. She’s made many trips to the hospital since then. “Over the last six years I’ve been getting a lot better because of a phenomenal surgery that the IWK gave me. Now I can walk without tangling by feet, without being crumpled over. I can swim a lot better too. It’s forever changed by life.”

Today, Sonja is studying for her Bachelor of Arts (honours) degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, and received the Robbie and Jean Shaw Scholarship. She plans to go on to become a lawyer advocating for people with disabilities. She chose the university because of its unique program for physically challenged students – a program that includes 24/7 attendant services and full wheelchair accessibility. She is also nationally-classified para-swimmer on the Carleton varsity swim team and involved in horseback riding, sailing, skiing and rock climbing.

This story and many exciting others are available for FREE though Izaak Magazine’s fully interactive mobile app, available for download on the iTunes Newstand and Google play. You can also read Izaak magazine online through your desktop computer.

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Laps for Loonies

Adam Ramsay is an on-air personality for 95.1  FM CFCY, and will be participating along with Q93 personalities in the Laps for Loonies event on April 12 from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. at Charlottetown Mall.

Adam Ramsay, 95.1 FM CFCY Radio personality

Adam Ramsay, 95.1 FM CFCY Radio personality

There are so many incredible charitable organizations and wonderful causes in our communities to support today that it’s easy to find disappointment within yourself for not being able to champion them all. But maybe the silver lining comes from the thought that perhaps the groups you do choose to support, and dedicate your time, energy and resources to, are chosen because they best reflect who you are and where you feel the closest connection to through the moments  you’ve experienced.

For me, the IWK Foundation (and the Children’s Hospital it represents) is one of those causes that hits home and inspires me to do what I can to support all those who touch the organization.  Many years ago, my sister was born at the IWK, more than three months premature.  And as I grow more into adulthood I’m seeing friends, co-workers, and more members of my community rely on the services and the special care of the IWK.  It’s hard not to feel close to an organization that has been such an integral part in the lives of the important people around us.

Through the Laps For Loonies fundraising event that we have developed in Charlottetown, I’m hoping to be a part of a day that will look to raise thousands for a cause that is so important to pursue. Through a simple act of walking ‘laps’ inside the largest shopping centre on the Island, we’re hoping to be a part of something much bigger – something that will help families who are not yet even aware they will need the assistance of the IWK, be taken care of when their time of need arrives.

And for me, that’s a cause more than worthy of championing.

Thank you Adam for you support! Don’t forget to tune in to 95.1 FM CFCY on April 25 & 26 as we broadcast live from Charlottetown Mall for the IWK Radiothon – Proudly presented by Investor’s Group. 

Make a gift to the IWK Foundation.