The cheque presentation to “Mega Strong,” the group of Bishop Ryan students that showcased the Multiple Sclerosis society, with Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina (centre left), principal Hermon Mayers, representative Steve Humphreys from the Toskan Casale Foundation, and fundraising co-ordinator Kaitlyn Kinsella from the Hamilton chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. Photo courtesy of Marnie Jadon

‘Mega Strong’ wins for Multiple Sclerosis society

  • January 24, 2014

For teenager Madelyn Cryer, it was an ordinary Sunday afternoon with her mother — until it wasn’t. The pair regularly spent time together on weekends, but on this mother-daughter date to Starbucks, over coffee and hot chocolate, Cryer’s mother revealed a long-held secret: she has Multiple Sclerosis.

That was a year ago. And since then, Cryer has shared her family’s personal connection to MS, and that has helped raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ontario, Hamilton chapter. Cryer is a member of Mega Strong, one of four groups that competed in the Youth Philanthropy Initiative at Hamilton’s Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School for a chance at $5,000 to support their local charity of choice.

The competition is part of the Youth Philanthropy Initiative funded by the Toskan Casale Foundation. The aim is to teach youth about philanthropy and contributing to their communities. On Jan. 14, four groups of seven from Charlie Agro’s Grade 9 religion class made their cases for their respective charities, including the Schizophrenia Society of Toronto, McMaster Sick Kids and Liberty for Youth. In front of a judging panel and the mayor of Hamilton, Cryer choked up a little when she shared her story.

“We were sitting in Starbucks together, and we were just kind of chatting, and there was a booklet that she slid in front of me. And it was titled How to talk to your child about MS,” said Cryer. “I got really upset at first; I started crying. And she started crying. But then she calmed me down and I was able to understand it better, and then I was able to come to grips with it.”

Her mom had been diagnosed with MS in her 20s, but feared telling her daughter. That changed after the death of a family member from a fatal illness where the children were unaware of the illness until close to the end. MS is a progressive disease that affects the nervous system and results in a loss of muscle control, vision, balance and sensation. No longer in shock, Cryer knows now that she will have to assist her mom more as time passes.

“She’s so strong and she fights against it,” said Cryer. “You can’t let it defeat you.”

Students in the other groups also had personal connections to the charities of their choice, said Agro, the initiative’s lead teacher, but they still were required to research these organizations.

“I always try to enhance the curriculum with pilot projects,” he said. “By mandate, we have to teach the curriculum. But if you can go over and above and teach the kind of ethics and the morals of some experiences that are Christ-like, I think that was my favourite part.” He adds, “we were able to connect to the Catholic social teachings... The outcome in the learning from this event is definitely a great example of how to build the kingdom of God in our community.”

Agro said that this year’s contest was made possible by the dedication and organization of his students.

“All the groups did so well,” said Cryer, “and it was a privilege to have won for our charity. I think we were shocked but happy at the same time.”

YPI was launched in 2001 to “support and strengthen community based grassroots organizations that, through their social programs, reach out to at-risk people and provide them with immediate relief and long-term stability,” according to a press release from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. The Toskan Casale foundation grants approximately $1 million yearly to YPI students. YPI is also active in the U.S. and the UK.

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