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Our Community: Teen an advocate for disabled youth

A Victoria teen is proving over and over again that “handicapped” becomes “handi-capable” when offered just a little help. Sophie Wood, a 14-year-old student at L’école Victor Brodeur, was born missing part of her right hand and part of a foot.

A Victoria teen is proving over and over again that “handicapped” becomes “handi-capable” when offered just a little help.

Sophie Wood, a 14-year-old student at L’école Victor Brodeur, was born missing part of her right hand and part of a foot.

But with the help of the War Amps CHAMP program, Sophie was fitted with a special gripping device that allows her to row, ski and kayak. She can even lift weights.

“So it can help me keep the strength up in my arm,” she said.

But Sophie has also made an effort to volunteer in the community on behalf of other children and young people with disabilities or disabling injuries.

She has worked on public-information efforts such as “Spot the Danger” to encourage kids to be careful when playing.

Also, always committed to active living, Sophie recently completed a triathlon using a bicycle fitted to accommodate her special hand.


Islander wins environmental award

An upbringing on Vancouver Island and a university career in Halifax have convinced Caroline Merner she can make a home anywhere, provided an ocean is close by. And they led her to an environmental award from Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“I definitely know I can’t live without an ocean nearby,” said Merner, 21, in a telephone interview from Halifax.

This summer, she can continue her attachment to the ocean with a move to Vancouver, where she will work for Parks Canada. In August, she will continue the ocean theme with a trip to the Canadian Arctic to visit National Parks there and see the Arctic Ocean.

Merner is nearing graduation from Dalhousie University, where she will complete a combined major in sustainability and international development. She has also worked with the Youth Advisory Council for UNESCO, which took her to the UN in New York.

She has just been handed a Dalhousie Impact Green Award, for her efforts in raising awareness about environmental issues on campus. It’s a full-circle moment for Merner because she won a Green Award as a rising star in her first year at Dalhousie.

She credits her commitment to oceans and the environment to growing up in Victoria, where she attended L’école Victor Brodeur and where her family resides. Even as a kid she did things such as form green clubs and start community gardens.

“Victoria was really the breeding ground for my interest in the environment and sustainability issues,” said Merner.


Step back in time in Nanaimo

Residents of Nanaimo, long-established or recently arrived, are being called out to bring some personal nostalgic flair to Heritage Days.

Organizers of this year’s May 21 event are calling upon citizens to delve into their own histories and backgrounds, or their grandparents’ attics and scrapbooks, to re-enact some old-time fashions.

Decked out in styles gone by, participants can strut, march or glide upon a float through downtown Nanaimo in the parade. Whether it’s old-time prom dresses, First Nations regalia, or frock coats and stiff collars from 19th-century Europe, everybody’s fashion heritage will be welcomed.

While encouraged, the heritage theme is not mandatory. All entrants will be eligible for awards and parade spots.

Heritage Days organizer Peter Urquhart is especially eager to see this year’s parade also become a showcase for people newly arrived in Nanaimo.

“We would love to see newcomers represent their old family photos,” said Urquhart in a statement. “This is all about celebrating the diverse community that’s here today.”

To submit an entry go on line to


Victoria group aiding Syrian family

When Victorian Noelle Mason watched news of Syrians fleeing the civil war in their home country, she couldn’t stop thinking of her own kids.

“I could only think of my own family and what that would do to us,” said Mason, mother of three grown children.

So she and some friends joined the thousands of other Canadians who came together in their churches and community groups to help Syrian refugees make their way to Canada.

They have registered as the nonprofit Harbour of Hope Refugee Assistance Society.

They are in the midst of working, with assistance from the Anglican Church, to bring in a Syrian family of four. The mother, father and two sons, 13 and 10, are hiding out in Beirut. But they have family who are achieving successes already in Victoria.

Harbour of Hope is working to raise the $50,000 the federal government estimates is needed to backstop a newly arrived family for the first year.

The group is hosting a supper on May 6, featuring Syrian food, at St. Peter and Paul Anglican Church, 1379 Esquimalt Rd. Doors open at 6 p.m., supper starts at 7 p.m., followed by entertainment.

Tickets (minimum donation) are $30.

For more information, go to


A smorgasbord of volunteer opportunities

People volunteer for countless reasons — to give back, to make new friends or because they are passionate about something.

But Volunteer Victoria executive director Lisa Mort-Putland said research surveys reveal most people will sign up because they want to make a difference in their community.

“It’s a very personal decision,” said Mort-Putland.

So this week, National Volunteer Week, her group is putting on a smorgasbord of Victoria agencies and causes for which people could pitch in. Every day this week features a different group or event where people can explore something to join.

Causes from an Earth Day beach cleanup to Big Brothers and Big Sisters are all open to interested and committed citizens.

To learn more, including this week’s dates, times and places for introductory sessions, go online to


Grade 5 students win national prizes

Strawberry Vale Elementary School has produced two winners, including a top prize, in a national essay contest on the importance of home.

The contest, in support of Habitat for Humanity and staged by mortgage insurer and financial company Genworth Canada, asked more than 10,000 Canadian kids in Grades 4, 5 and 6 to respond to one question: “What is the meaning of home?”

Grade 5 student Bensen Wilmer took the national top prize, a $50,000 donation to be given to the Habitat for Humanity branch of his choice.

Bensen chose Iqaluit, Nunavut, the most northerly Habitat affiliate in the world, where housing needs are acute. Habitat has already erected four homes there.

As part of his win, Strawberry Vale Elementary receives $1,000, Bensen gets an iPad and his class gets a pizza party.

An additional $5,000 was awarded on behalf of 10 second-place essay winners, including Bensen’s classmate, Samara Dolinsky, who chose Habitat Victoria to receive the money.


Cast your vote for downtown playground

Voting for a play-for-all-ages feature in Centennial Square will continue at Victoria City Hall until April 30.

So far, 33 imaginative suggestions have been received from places as varied as a local high school to Indonesia, Poland and Mexico.

The winner of the People’s Choice will receive $1,000. The winner, to be selected by a design panel and erected in Centennial Square, will receive a $5,000 award and up to $50,000 to build and install an imaginative play feature.

People can view and vote for the playground features by dropping in to the City Hall foyer off Douglas Street. They can also go online to

With limited playground opportunities downtown to serve the growing number of residents and families, the city partnered with the Downtown Victoria Business Association to bring some playful elements to the area.

Winners will be announced on May 2 and installation is planned to begin in July.


Speaker brings life and universe in focus

The Christian Bible story offers a “lens” that can bring life and the universe into sharp focus — a message an Australian writer and speaker is bringing to Victoria, says a United Church minister.

Rev. Cheryl Black, minister at St. Aidan’s United Church, said many people have come to regard the story of Jesus and the Bible as a hard dogma that dismisses modern thinking and brings down difficult judgments upon them.

“But the Christian story can be like a lens,” said Black. “It can actually open your eyes as we walk the journey of life.”

So next weekend, St. Aidan’s is hosting Michael Morwood, Australian author, speaker and teacher, to present lectures and explorations on current scientific knowledge, God, hope, love and other “big spiritual” words.

Morwood was educated at Boston College. The former priest’s first book, Tomorrow’s Catholic, was declared in error by church authorities, but sold well.

Since his resignation from the priesthood, he has continued in adult faith workshops, offering people ways to understand Jesus that will resonate with modern life. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, with his wife.

Morwood’s lecture will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, April 28, at St. Aidan’s Centre for spiritual learning, 3703 St. Aidan’s St. On Saturday, doors open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for Friday, $50 for Saturday and $68 for both. To purchase in advance go online to or telephone 250-220-4601.

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