It’s not very often that you come across two people so wholly committed to a cause. But, then again, Andrea Weissman-Daniels and Mark Daniels aren’t your average pair. As loyal donors and supporters of the Children’s Aid Foundation and Honorary Chairs at this year’s Children’s Aid Foundation Gala, Teddy Bear Affair, they are active ambassadors for kids across Canada’s child welfare system – an issue that isn’t just reserved for their charitable giving. It holds a very personal connection for the pair, having witnessed firsthand the impact that a safe, loving, and stable home can have on a child.
Adopting their daughter at the age of 8 through the Children’s Aid Society, Weissman-Daniels and Daniels were quick to learn about the various, complex challenges that youth in care face. “History has proven to them that they can’t trust adults, and that is monumental,” says Weissman-Daniels. “Whether they find out they’re not going home or not going to be adopted, or they’re having an adoption breakdown, or they’re a difficult kid in that foster home, or they’re struggling in school and have learning gaps, and they’re afraid to tell people and be sent away — they live with a lot of psychological damage.”
While their daughter’s foster parents provided a positive experience and were, as Daniels puts it, “doing a very good job trying to take care of her and a number of other kids,” there were inevitable gaps. “There was money for food and clothing, but there was no money for much else,” says Daniels, noting the lack of funding available for extracurricular development. And, despite the close emotional bond that had formed between their daughter and her foster family, they knew the arrangement wouldn’t last forever, a harsh reality that can become yet another source of distress for foster kids. “The trauma of letting go of the past and building new identities, moving to a new place with a different family or culture; there’s lots of transitioning,” says Weissman-Daniels.
“The trauma of letting go of the past and building new identities, moving to a new place with a different family or culture; there’s lots of transitioning.”
It was with these challenges in mind that the couple founded the IGNITE THE SPARK FUND, a specialized branch of funding within the Children’s Aid Foundation that focuses on providing enrichment to youth in the child welfare system. Watching their daughter’s amazing progress in both skill and emotional development after she enrolled in horseback riding, Weissman-Daniels explains they realized that having talents, skills, and some sort of personal talent or “spark” is an important anchor for healing. “Enrichment activities really give children an opportunity to see themselves in ways that others usually don’t,” she says. “The other thing that’s important is the feeling of being normal, especially for these children. They have the same clothes, the same equipment, they’re not in programs for kids ‘like them’; they’re immersed in the general public and for those hours that they participate they’re not being compared in any way and are ‘normal, ‘average’.”
With a minimum three-year commitment to each youth, SPARK recipients can nurture their chosen interests and develop a connection that will be carried throughout their lives. As an actor, percussionist and athlete, respectively, both Weissman-Daniels and Daniels consider enrichment a huge part of their own identities, and something that can be truly life changing. “Enrichment is something that makes your life much more fulfilling,” says Weissman-Daniels. “You need these passions in your life to be about more than just what you do.”
“Enrichment is something that makes your life much more fulfilling.”
Gearing-up for the CAF Gala, Teddy Bear Affair, on Saturday, November 28, the pair are eager to mingle with guests and provide more information on the importance of continued funding for these young people. “When somebody stumbles into me and they say, ‘I’m new to this, I just didn’t know’, when I hear that, I feel like someone has been educated a little bit,” says Daniels. After that, he adds, the hope is that people will reach into their pockets in an act of committed support. “It’s not about this one evening,” he says. “These kids are all around; they’re in your community all the time. It’s about being part of your community.”
Check Out Highlights from Last Year’s #CAFGala