By Brendan Shykora
The chance to play sports has arrived for kids who need it most. With funding from the OSEG Foundation, Ausome Ottawa is offering a new opportunity for children with autism to have a summer sports camp experience.
On July 19, the OSEG Foundation formally presented their $52,000 contribution to Ausome Ottawa, a donation that has allowed its summer camp offerings to expand to four weeks, in addition to March Break and PD day camps.
Running each week of the Ausome Sports Camp costs over $700 per child, but with the OSEG Foundation’s support, the price of admission has been cut in half.
“We are so grateful, not only for the financial support but just for the moral support and the platform that they are providing to us,” says Liisa Vexler, executive director and co-founder of Ausome Ottawa. “The fact that (the OSEG Foundation) believes in this, it just shows how much they care about the community that they’re in.”
Vexler launched Ausome Ottawa three years ago with the goal of ensuring that children with autism aren’t excluded from sports other children have access to. The charity organization now serves 200 families annually, and they hope to continue broadening their reach.
“It’s exciting, it’s taken off way faster than we expected,” Vexler highlights. “We’re trying to meet the demand and grow without sacrificing quality, because quality – especially for our kids – is the most important thing.”
Ausome Ottawa ensures quality by providing one-on-one support to every child attending camp.
“At most sports camps parents would have to pay for an additional worker to be with their child, if that sports camp even allowed that,” Vexler notes.
With a long list of water and land sports in the weekly schedule, kids aged 6-14 are able to find the sport that interests them the most. Running, swimming, soccer, tennis and basketball are a just few of the regular activities, and this year the Ausome team added water polo to the agenda.
“We want sports that meet all the different components of physical literacy,” Vexler explains. “Ultimately it’s to get these kids finding something that they enjoy and continue to be active in all their lives.”
For Nicole Dauz, Ausome Ottawa has been a revelation. When her nine-year-old daughter, Summer, first participated in the camp, her response to the program went beyond expectations.
“Through Ausome, we’ve learned so much about Summer because she’s non-verbal,” Dauz indicates. “She craves these recreational activities, but she just couldn’t tell us before.”
Dauz says it’s the work put in by staff members that makes Ausome Sports Camp special.
“When (Summer) shows up, someone’s greeting her, someone knows her name, someone’s excited, and that’s what translates into a positive experience.”
The joy her daughter has drawn from the program led Dauz to get involved. Now the vice-chair of Ausome Ottawa, she’s working to get the word out to all local families with autistic children.
“What’s really exciting is looking forward – looking at doubling and tripling the number of programs that we offer across the city.”
For Dauz, the collaboration with the OSEG Foundation is more than just financial support: it’s validation of the work that’s been done by Ausome Ottawa to serve kids like Summer.
“It’s a huge recognition of the work that Ausome is doing and the positive impact that it’s having on kids,” she underlines. “We’re so very grateful because this is what our kids need.”
—with files from Dan Plouffe