It’s been nearly five years but the signature fundraising gala for our region’s beloved pediatric hospital returned last night in person, bringing with it a renewed sense of celebration and purpose.
CHEO’s For The Kids Gala offered a visual display of colourful lights that not only captured the evening’s Aurora Borealis theme but symbolized a brighter future that lies ahead for the health care of children and youth in our region.
The evening, held at the fully accessible National Gallery of Canada, was presented by TD Bank Group and represented by its new region head, George Dalal.
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The evening was held in support of the CHEO Foundation. It’s the fundraising arm of the hospital that helps provide the medical equipment, programs and services, and research that can only be funded or enhanced by donor dollars.
A 335-person crowd enjoyed a three-course dinner while bidding on silent and live auction items. It also heard about CHEO’s exciting plans to build an Integrated Treatment Centre, also known as 1Door4Care. The new state-of-the-art facility will bring programs and services for children and youth living with complex medical, developmental, behavioural and mental health needs under one roof.
The project is part of a larger $220-million fundraising campaign that’s to include a series of infrastructure projects happening at CHEO over the next eight to 10 years. “We’re embarking on the largest capital campaign in our history, and one of the largest and most ambitious campaigns this community has ever seen,” said CHEO Foundation president and CEO Steve Read of the “once-in-a-generation” investment.
CHEO is getting old. Next year, it turns 50 (not that 50 is old in human years, mind you). The facility was built at a time when the population was less than half of what it is today. “And that’s not something that’s going to go away anytime soon,” said Read of the growing number of children and youth being served by CHEO.
“We feel that every day. Our clinicians do great work; we’re just not reaching all the kids that need it. In fact, kids are now waiting longer for services even than adults, and often beyond what is medically appropriate or medically safe.”
Construction has started on the new Integrated Treatment Centre, which has an anticipated opening date of 2027. “A project of this size is very expensive and requires significant donor contributions to supplement government funding,” said Read. “That’s why events like this one are just so, so important to the advancement of child health in our region.
“The bottom line is, kids and families deserve better and, thanks to all of you in this room, we’re going to make that happen for them.”
Attendees included CHEO’s chief executive, Alex Munter, and Dr. Jason Berman, CEO and scientific director of the CHEO Research Institute. Also out supporting the cause were CHEO board chair Jo-Anne Poirier, president and CEO of VON Canada, and CHEO Foundation board chair and mom of three Ainsley Malhotra. She got her start at CHEO as a volunteer, helping young cancer patients.
For The Kids Gala included an organizing committee consisting of: Susy Lee; Ottawa entrepreneur Nik Lemieux, owner and director of business management consulting firm Mirabel Management; long-time Roger Neilson House and CHEO supporter Caitlin Neil; and Melissa Lamb, who recently returned to CTV as its new morning show co-host. Lamb also served as gala emcee.
The evening shone a light on six-year-old CHEO patient Lily Jewett, whose story was shared in a heartwarming video done with her parents at the CHEO School, where she attends as a student of the short-term early intervention educational and therapy program.
The audience heard how the girl loves to dance, create music and socialize. Of course, she can — like most kids – be stubborn when she wants to be.
Lily’s medical challenges relate to a rare brain tumour, diagnosed when she was a baby. It hasn’t been an easy road, said her mother, Julie Jewett, who spoke about her daughter’s severe seizures, her hemispherectomy (a radical surgical procedure) and her inability to produce hormones due to the tricky location of the tumour in her brain.
“To watch an innocent child struggle and suffer at times, it’s heart-wrenching,” said Jewett. “It’s heart-wrenching as a parent knowing you’re doing the best you possibly can and sometimes it doesn’t feel good enough.
“So, going forward I think we just want to try and keep her well and happy, keep her learning, supported. We’re very good at taking it a day at a time.”
The audience heard how Lily is thriving at CHEO School. It’s her “happy place,” said Jewett of how her daughter went from knowing a handful of words to learning thousands, to being able to communicate with others, and to becoming more mobile.
The video includes footage of Lily participating in a fashion show at CHEO School. The little girl shuffles slowly with the assistance of her walker, swaying her headful of pretty blonde curls to the music while being cheered on by spectators.
“She just comes to life here,” said Jewett of her daughter’s involvement in the CHEO School. “It’s been one of the best parts of her life.”
Husband and father Jeff Jewett, who’s seen throughout much of the video reading to and playing quietly in the background with the couple’s younger daughter, Grace, expressed his gratitude to CHEO for all it has done to help Lily and to the supporters of CHEO’s For the Kids Gala. To have Lily celebrated at the dinner, he said, “is just so, so cool”.
The evening also included a cocktail reception in the gallery’s Water Court Foyer, where an electric harpist performed and guests could test out assistive learning tools used by children with special needs.
It wasn’t just the Aurora Borealis theme that charged up the room. So, too, did live auctioneer Ryan E. Watson from Raising the Bid. He sold off a dinner for 10 from My Catering Group, which prepared that evening’s meal; a WestJet round trip flight for two; a three-day stay at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello with a Mercedes electric car rental courtesy of Star Motors of Ottawa; one hour of skating time for up to 40 people on the NHL-sized ice pad at Icelynd Skating Trails, courtesy of Caitlin Neil and her husband, former Senators player Chris Neil; a WestJet gift card from Fleming Communications (FCi); a staycation at Brookstreet Hotel; an off-road battery-powered Can-Am Maverick X vehicle tailored for kids, donated by Costco Canada. Also added on was a two-night stay for six at a private getaway in Quebec, donated by interior designer Courtney Turk. It sold for $3,500.
As well, the gala raffled off a one-week stay at a two-bedroom ocean view villa at Grand Isle Resort & Residences, donated by Peter Nicholson, founder and president of The Foundation WCPD.