THIS ABILITY OF MINE: Special talents, special needs

By Adam Brazeau 
CORNWALL, Ontario – Standing next to a colourful piece of bubble glass, Jean Levac proudly expresses himself through art to a room full of spectators.

The 33-year-old from Green Valley has Down syndrome.

His mother Mary says that his art is symbolic to the glass bubble he’s often trapped in due to his condition.

But Levac was able to shatter the glass and share his very special talents at an event dedicated to the arts of special people.

Art Levert Jr.’s Include Program hosted its inaugural This Ability of Mine showcase fundraiser on April 13 to help secure a clubhouse for his clients. Nearly 100 people packed the RCAFA Wing 424 in Cornwall to meet the group of exceptional artists.

This showcase is to show the world just how talented our special needs people really are,” said Levert. “Proceeds of this event will help the Include Me Inn Activity Centre become a reality, and to help make that location, The Social Banquet Centre at 130 Sydney Street (the former Sue’s Art Gallery) to become accessible as well.”

Levac impressed the audience with his glass art, paintings, and powerful stage presence as he joined Levert’s band Moonlight Ride & Co. (featuring drummer Mike Pilon) on stage.

“This event gives the community a chance to see people with special needs for their abilities, not disabilities,” said Mary.

Andrea Mosher, 39, sat with an inviting smile surrounded by her vivdly coloured drawings, sparkling bottles of water (filled with glitter and tiny diamond-shaped beads), and handmade bracelets. Despite being developmentally challenged, the artist’s eye for detail was uncanny.

“I wanted to see what people had to say about my art,” said Mosher. “They were shocked and very pleased to see my work.”

Besides sharing her creative side with dozens of people, Mosher also sold a few pieces. Since the event’s $5 admission fee went towards the Include Program’s fundraising campaign, participants were able to keep all the profits from their artwork.

Mosher is a resident at Greenview Manor, a temporary and permanent group home offering care for adults with special needs. The manor and the Include Program share a common goal: opening a clubhouse for their clients.

Simon Lavictoire, the manor’s owner/administrator, was surprised at the artistic prowess of his residents. He credits the event for putting talented adults with special needs in the forefront.

“They were so excited to come and show off their art to new people,” said Lavictoire.

His previous attempts at opening a clubhouse in partnership with several local agencies fell apart due to a lack of funding.

“They need a clubhouse – a place to hangout,” he said.

Freelance artist and Greenview Manor resident Lucie Lafontaine agrees.

The 34-year-old former McGill University student displayed her intricate drawings with psychedelic patterns. For 15 years, she has expressed herself through art to escape the tight grip of a crippling mental disease.

Lafontaine suffers from bipolar affective disorder.

“Drawing takes me to a place where I don’t want to harm myself,” she said.

It was the first time she ever showed her art in public.

“I want to do more showings,” said Lafontaine. “This is the first step towards something good.”

Meanwhile, Kyle McRae, a 23-year-old from Moose Creek diagnosed with autism, sold handmade friendship bracelets a few tables down.

Sitting beside him, was Danyca Schneider, a specialist in animal assisted therapy. She has been working with McRae for over four years at her family’s dairy farm.

When Schneider taught him how to make the bracelets, she didn’t realize the impact it would make on his life. Over the last year, McRae expressed a strong desire to turn his hobby into a business. The budding entrepreneur now has a website and business cards.

“It’s really rewarding to see all the things that Kyle can learn and overcome,” said Schneider.

His parents, Suzanne and Gary, were glad to see their son interact with customers, and receive some well-deserved praise for his art.

But it was a 52-year-old man diagnosed with Down syndrome who stole the show.

Al Brownell, the lead singer of the Al Bee Damn Band, played the harmonica like a seasoned blues veteran. During his performance he had the undivided attention of the entire crowd.

“The success of the showcase was with the clients as they showed off their skills and artwork,” said Levert.

The Include Program already has their next fundraising event planned for this summer: a fishing derby tournament.

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