Nine-year-old James wants to help others just like him. James, who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, is among 3,000 kids on a waiting list to attend Grandview Children’s Centre.
The centre opened its doors back in the 1980s. At the time, it was designed to serve around 400 children and youth with special needs.
But over the years the demand for things like occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech language pathology, social work services, and audiology have increased substantially, and the centre has been facing difficulty meeting those demands.
Grandview currently helps 6,000 children and youth each year, but there are thousands more on a waiting list. James has been waiting for two years to attend Grandview. The centre is planning to expand and build a $50-million facility by 2020.
Part of the funding for the new space will come from the province, and the rest in the form of donations from the community. In effort to help the centre reach its goals, James wanted to help.
In late August, James decided to ride his bike to Ottawa — 500 km away — to raise funds for Grandview Children’s Centre. His father Chris Potvin was a little taken aback by the idea, but he wanted to give James a chance.
“We wanted to make sure he was able to do it, we wanted to make sure he was safe. So I told him to prove he could do it, so right away he hopped on his bike and we rode from our home in Whitby to Union Station in downtown Toronto,” Potvin told Global News.
“For a 9-year-old kid on the autism spectrum riding down Bay Street to reach Union, it was a big event and I told him, ‘you are going to Ottawa.'”
James’ goal was to raise $1500 — $10 for every year to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday — but he comfortably surpassed that amount with the help of the community.
After he completed his ride to Ottawa, James has raised over $10,000 through donations via a Gofundme campaign. The funds will go towards helping the Grandview Children’s Centre with its operating costs and get more kids off the waiting list and into the program.
According to Austism Speaks Canada, one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. It is the fastest growing and most commonly diagnosed neurological disorder in Canada.
The 500km ride to Ottawa has been a win-win for both the centre and for James. His father says accomplishing the ride to Ottawa has changed his son in so many amazing ways. “He matured and grew through the ride and proved to him he can do it, that he can be a success,” Potvin said.
“Too often, kids who are on the spectrum hear about the challenges, they don’t hear about the successes and this was a big deal for him. The other thing that came out of the ride is knowing there are people there who care. Spectrum kids feel alone, and they act out, they act differently, and they feel that other people don’t understand them. Well here we had people meeting us along the way. We had a community come out to support James.”
Support that means to the world to a 9-year-old boy trying to make a difference.