Every week throughout the 2017 season, Jays Care will share the story of a select child in Jays Care programming who has been inspired by the game of baseball and the Blue Jays. Follow along all season to see our latest Jays Care All-Star Stories!
Cullan, age 7
Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Cullan is not your ordinary superhero. He plays baseball every Thursday night, bringing joy, determination and endless curiosity to the diamond. When Cullan was 9 months old, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and global developmental delay. Cullan, who is non-verbal, uses his eyes and his smile to tell his whole story. "When we tell him that it's Challenger Baseball night, his big brown eyes light up and his smile beams with excitement," said his mom Monique. "As we round the bases, he grins and laughs with pure elation." Last summer, Cullan and his father penned a letter to Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar sharing that the two have the same nickname. Pillar was touched by the note and met Cullan at the National Challenger Baseball Jamboree on the field at Rogers Centre. The experience of meeting a fellow superhero stuck with Cullan, and back in Nova Scotia, Cullan can often be found watching a Blue Jays game with his father Wade. "I remind him of the time that we met Kevin Pillar, and a little smirk always comes across his face," Wade said. "He knows he's our superhero." From Antigonish, Nova Scotia, to the Rogers Centre field, Cullan approaches the game of baseball with pure joy. We celebrate this joy as we feature Cullan for this week's All-Star Story. Congratulations!
John & Tyler, age 10
John and Tyler are twins in Jays Care's Rookie League program at the Boys and Girls Club of East Scarborough. When John and Tyler began Rookie League, they were afraid of striking out. They were hesitant to play baseball and nervous to try new things. Their youth coach, Brianth, describes their first few weeks in Rookie League: "The boys weren't confident in their abilities. They were scared of failing and would often sit out as opposed to participate and try to learn the sport." In the following weeks, Brianth worked hard to get the boys off the sidelines and into the game through mentorship and encouragement. From here, John and Tyler quickly took to the game of baseball, gained confidence and became active leaders in the program. "The transformation has truly been incredible. The boys went from sitting on the sidelines to mentoring and teaching younger children in the program. As coaches, they are a huge help to us and they have become outstanding leaders and role models." The boys' mother, Marylou, shared that this newfound confidence extended beyond the diamond: "I believe that because John and Tyler participated in this program, they became more confident in sport, school and life. They learned that if you try, you can succeed. They are the first to volunteer and encourage other children to try. They are more compassionate and enthusiastic since the summer, and they want to help the kids who don't know how to play or are too shy to try. They love to share the skills they learned at Rookie League." Today, we celebrate the confidence, leadership and life skills that John and Tyler developed through the game of baseball as we feature them for this week's All-Star Story. Congratulations!
Amara, age 13
Chapleau Cree First Nation
James Bay Girls At Bat
Amara is a leader. She is a Youth Champion in Jays Care's James Bay Girls At Bat program and inspiring social change in her community. Amara is from Chapleau Cree First Nation, a tiny northern First Nation nine hours from Toronto with a population of 409. As a Youth Champion, Amara is inspiring kids in Chapleau Cree to do more by designing, promoting and leading events for youth. She hasn't always done this. She started four months ago after attending Jays Care's first James Bay Girls At Bat retreat in Timmins. The program brings together girls ages 12 to 18 from First Nations along Ontario's James Bay Coast. It builds connections, enhances leadership skills and encourages girls to step up to the plate and run community programming for their peers. Youth leading youth. "I didn't know what to expect when I got to the retreat. But it changed my life," Amara says. After a week of workshops and activities in Timmins, she was inspired and made lasting connections. "Girls At Bat is my second family, it was so hard to say goodbye. I Facetime and text every day with the girls I met. We had such a strong connection, and we still do." With her new friends and new confidence, Amara went home and got to work. She has organized four different events -- from a sports and games night to a bake-off -- and she's just getting started. Amara sees her role as a Youth Champion as something bigger than the chance to build her leadership skills. "Our youth are the next generation. They are the ones that are going to be carrying our teachings. They are going to be our next chiefs. This program taught me how to be compassionate with my programming and how to be resilient and strong. It taught me how to be there for my people." Amara is one of 65 Youth Champions along the James Bay Coast. Her local mentor, Peggy, describes her as "an amazing young lady, who has the capacity to be a great leader in the future and is an excellent role model for Chapleau Cree youth." She is an inspiring and courageous leader. For all of this and much more, Amara is this week's Jays Care All-Star Story. Congratulations, Amara!
Brady, age 8
Brady is a baseball player. He plays every Monday. He's been playing for four years and some of his best friends are on his team. When he steps on the field, he is as committed to the game as Josh Donaldson. When he plays, Brady is focused, determined and confident. He wasn't always like that. When he was 4 years old, Brady was diagnosed with Autism. "Autistic children tend to stay to themselves and experience anxiety in unfamiliar surroundings," says Brenda, Brady's mom. When Brady first joined Challenger Baseball, he had a hard time keeping focused and on the field. Now, four years later, Brady is a central force on his team. "The transformation we have seen has been incredible. You can see Brady's confidence when he plays. He is so excited to be on the field -- to connect as part of a team. It's a bonding experience. He's elated to play on a team where he knows he belongs." Brenda remembers the first few months of Challenger, where Brady's father, Corey, needed to walk up to bat with him each time and help him find the courage and focus to hit the ball. "Now he tells us to leave him alone. He struts up to bat by himself." Challenger Baseball has built Brady's confidence. And today, we celebrate what Brady has brought to Challenger. His confidence, his team focus and his outgoing nature make Brady an obvious choice for our first Jays Care All-Star Story. Congratulations, Brady!