North York Mirror
Up until Kacey Daniels was adopted into her North York family after about five years in foster care, she had never had a chance to choose activities that appealed to her.
True, her foster family had enrolled her in Brownies and took her on occasional family vacations, including to Florida and Newfoundland.
But the eight-year-old girl was never given the opportunity to follow pursuits that captivated her.
It wasn't long after she was adopted that her dad, Mark Daniels, and mom, Andrea Weissman-Daniels, noticed Kacey was fascinated with horses and ensured their daughter was able to take riding lessons.
"It felt good. I felt I could try something new," said Kacey, now 14. "I liked the adrenalin. It made me feel free, free of worries."
In the last year, Kacey has suspended horseback riding to concentrate on school, but she is on the soccer and volleyball teams at school and has started gymnastics and flying trapeze.
Believing all children should have the opportunity to follow their dreams so they can become the person they want to be, Kacey's parents launched the Ignite the Spark fund, which provides funding for children and youth in the child welfare system.
These youngsters, who have often come from backgrounds of poverty, abuse or neglect, feel hopeless about their circumstances and their futures, Weissman-Daniels said.
"These are kids in particular who have been ripped away from their roots arbitrarily without any sense of personal power and are immersed in another environment. Their sense of environment is severely compromised," she said.
"Without that sense of feeling good about yourself, something has to make you feel good about yourself, there is hopelessness and futility and a 'why bother' attitude. And that's when kids get derailed. Sometimes, it can just be one thing that makes a kid hang on."
Ignite the Spark allows children to sign up for enrichment programs, such as music lessons or sports, which help develop their self-esteem and "normalizes" their situation so they can feel like any other kid, Weissman-Daniels said.
While there are other programs that send kids to camp once or let them enrol on a sports team for a season, the fund pays all fees and equipment costs for three to five years so children and youth can develop their full potential, she added.
"It gives kids an opportunity to develop their skills and they can become accomplished and that gives them the confidence and a sense of achievement," Weissman-Daniels said.
"I think all children need opportunities for self-discovery. When they grow up, they have to contribute to society. The more they think of themselves, the more compassionate and understanding and open they will be to others."
Weissman-Daniels and her husband are now putting the finishing touches on their second annual Spark Gala fundraising event, hosted by the Children's Aid Foundation, a national organization that improves the lives of abused, neglected and at-risk children and youth through prevention, enrichment and education.
The gala will include testimonials from five "luminaries" - world figure skating champion Patrick Chan, legendary musician Randy Bachman, fashion journalist Bernadette Morra, actress Lisa Ray and singer Jackie Richardson - who will pay tribute to mentors who helped ignite their inner spark.
Last year's event raised $180,000, which was divvied up among the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto, Native Child and Family Services of Toronto and Jewish Family and Child Services of Greater Toronto to support children and youth in their care.
The gala will be held May 6 the Carlu at 444 Yonge St., at College Street beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Tickets are $250 each. Tables and corporate packages are also available.
For tickets or for more information, visit www.ignitethespark.ca or call David Grieco at 416-923-0924, ext. 275.