Local dignitaries, agency workers and members of the public gathered to officially launch the East Kootenay branch of Friends of Children on Monday, November 26.
The agency assists families with children in extraordinary medical need who have to travel outside of the East Kootenay for health care.
Friends of Children helps pay for travel, meals and accommodation related to that out-of-town health care, as well as providing resource information and emotional support and linking families with other resources.
Since the East Kootenay branch, which is located in the Kootenay Child Development Centre in Cranbrook, opened in October, it has helped 25 families, eight of whom were new to the agency.
“As soon as I turned my phone on, I got the first call within five minutes,” said coordinator Pat Chisholm.
“It’s rewarding to know we are able to support families in whatever way is helpful to them,” she went on. “It isn’t always financial – often it’s an ear to listen.”
Chisholm shared the story of Kimberley resident Keri Rinehart, whose son was born premature five years ago and needs regular visits to Calgary for care. When Keri’s son was born, the family wasn’t sure they would be able to return to the East Kootenay, and they knew their financial situation would be dramatically different.
“When you have a sick child, you’ve got enough on your plate. Having Friends of Children here gives families one less thing to worry about,” Rinehart’s story read.
Gail Brown, a director of the Friends of Children board, said having an office here will increase the agency’s profile.
“We will be able to reach more families and more easily help people understand why they should contribute to Friends of Children,” said Brown.
Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett said the agency was a good addition to the new Kootenay Child Development Centre and congratulated Gail Brown on making it happen.
“This has been something Gail has worked at for quite a few years. It’s a lot of work to take on. It’s quite a success story. You should be really proud of yourself,” said Bennett.
Mayor Wayne Stetski welcomed Friends of Children to a physical location in Cranbrook.
“There is nothing like having a local face and a local presence and providing a friendly face you can go to for advice and the help you need,” said Stetski.
Monday was also an opportunity for the Bootleg Sled Dog Society – which held sled dog races in Marysville for four years – to make a generous donation to Friends of Children.
Over the years, the Sled Dog Society has given $60,000 to Friends of Children, raised through the annual event. But in February 2012 the races had to be called off because there wasn’t enough snow on the track.
Teck had pledged $3,000 and Kimberley Alpine Resort had pledged $1,500 to the event, said event organizer Brenda Birrell.
“Even though the races were cancelled, they very generously and graciously turned over their donation to Friends of Children,” said Birrell.
This helped the society make a $10,000 donation to Friends of Children at the November 26 event.
If you have a child in medical need and have to travel out of the region for health care, Friends of Children can help both financially and emotionally. For more information, phone Pat Chisholm at 250-420-1759.