London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Ashlee Smith faces all the challenges of any mother who is raising the typical two-year-old.
However, Smith’s son, Mason Christiaens, isn’t exactly typical — he’s blind. Mason has optic nerve hypoplasia, which is a malformation of the optic nerve.
Because of this, Smith has worked closely with the Canadian Institute for the Blind’s (CNIB) specialists and volunteers who collectively spend more than 3,600 hours per day working with Canadians who are blind or partially sighted to live independent lives.
The programs created by CNIB need funding to continue so Smith will be happily taking part in — as well as volunteering at — an event organizers are hoping will become a national walk.
The first CNIB Night Steps event will take place Sept. 21 in Springbank Park. Registration will start at 7 p.m. with the five-kilometre walk itself getting underway around 8 p.m. And as one would expect at this time of year, the walk will take place in the dark.
“I thought volunteering would be a great way to help CNIB. Then Mason’s support worker told me about Night Steps and I thought we just had to get involved,” Smith said.
“Any little problem Mason has — sleeping, eating, talking — CNIB has been right there to talk to, so I am really looking forward to being able to help them back.”
Smith has been working with CNIB since Mason was four years old. Terry Hoddinott, CNIB’s manager of fund development, has been doing so since he went blind at three months old.
So Hoddinott says he knows first-hand how important it is that CNIB programs receive the funding they need.
But in addition to raising money, Hoddinott said he hopes the Night Steps concept — which organizers are hoping will eventually be rolled out nationally — will provide sighted participants with something of an “eye-opening” experience as well.
“Basically, it is a very unique event we have created to raise funds for services and programs that we provide for blind and partially blind people in London and the surrounding area,” Hoddinott said. “We have done many different fundraisers, but this one not only allows people to raise money, but it also gives them a bit of a glimpse into the world of the blind.
"They are literally walking in the dark. It is very creative and informative.”
Hoddinott said he loved the idea of Night Steps — which he added was created by Kim Spriet, events co-ordinator at CNIB’s London office, as well as being a driving force behind the Run for Retina Research — right from the first time the concept was shared with him.
“It is a taste of a different thing, but something I do every day. And it won’t be pitch black, there will be glow sticks, other lights, it will be totally safe,” Hoddinott said. “There are small lights so you can see the darkness around you, outside that small circle of light, you will see the pitch black. You will be able to see what the world would be like if you turned off that light.”
Jokingly, Hoddinott said he believes Night Steps will be “a bit of an eye opener” for people.
Lee Gallagher, Mason’s grandmother, said she couldn’t agree more.
“I thought it was a great idea. That they are doing it at night time, you are faced with a little bit of darkness while you are participating in the walk, so it really relates,” Gallagher said. “In all honesty, I feel this is our little way of giving back to CNIB, raising pledges and being involved the way we are. They are an organization that has helped us out from day one.”
Gallagher said she doesn’t remember exactly how her family and CNIB came together, but she praises the organization’s efforts and the impact their programs have had on both the lives of her grandson, as well as her daughter.
Whether it was providing Mason with therapists to help deal with problems such as swallowing or sleeping, or sending a mobility specialist with him to daycare to help him learn to use his cane, Gallagher said CNIB has shattered every illusion she had about the organization.
“I thought CNIB was white canes and seeing-eye dogs, how was this going to relate to a four-month-old baby? Well they have been our life line,” Gallagher said. “They have just been so supportive of my daughter, have always been there for Mason in so many ways. It is just mindboggling the help we have had.”
For more information about Night Steps or CNIB, visit www.cnib.ca.
Editor’s Note: Mason and his family were at the Western Fair on Saturday (Sept. 15), when the young boy lost his favourite plush toy. Mason was in a little push car with Lambie, a small “use to be white” stuffed lamb that he always keeps at his side, when it fell out of the vehicle and was lost. The family has posted Lambie on Kijiji, Facebook, and other social media sites, offering a $50 reward for the return of the toy, something that can never be replaced. Anyone with information can contact the family by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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