By Dan Chalcraft
Compassion, kindness and patience are some of the personality characteristics that define Cerebral Palsy Association of BC board member Rebecca Levi. Motivated to make a difference and impact people in a positive way, the former tax lawyer helped register charities and helped them stay compliant with the Canada Revenue Agency through pro bono work. Wanting to continue this work in a more meaningful way after leaving private practice, she came across the Cerebral Palsy Association of British Columbia (CPABC).
The cause hit home for Rebecca. Her mom lives with Multiple Sclerosis, so Rebecca has a background and familiarity with accessibility issues which relate in a large way to the work of the CPABC. Since joining the board of directors in 2013, Levi has developed more of an understanding of cerebral palsy and the impact that it has. Presently, there are more than 15 million people worldwide who have cerebral palsy, over 50,000 Canadians living with cerebral palsy and 10,000 people in BC with the condition.
“On a very basic level, it allows me to have something on my agenda that I find meaningful and useful. So it brings that – that I’m doing something with my time that I really believe in,” she says. “It’s been a really interesting and rewarding experience. It’s been a challenge – the work puts me out of my comfort zone – and it’s been fun.”
Rebecca believes there are misconceptions with how people with cerebral palsy are viewed by society. “It is quite unfortunate that a lot of people don’t understand what cerebral palsy is – they see a physical disability and automatically assume some kind of mental or emotional challenges. I’m hoping people with cerebral palsy are viewed for what they are capable of. I think with any disability, there is a lot of stigma and preconceived notions that people have. It’s a challenge and will continue to be a challenge.”
Those challenges extend to employment, says Rebecca, where people with disabilities continue to be under-represented, and potential employers look at limitations such as a speech impediment or limited mobility rather than strengths. She’s heartened to see that people with disabilities find acceptance and employment at the CPABC.
She’s also inspired by special events such as the Life Without Limits Gala, the annual Scotiabank Charity Challenge, and Steptember. These events help raise public awareness about an organization with a long history of community service – the CPABC turned 62 in 2016. The events also raise much-needed funds and advertise important programs and services.
In Rebecca’s view, the Association has been working hard to spread word about its programs, but could still do more. In particular, she notes that supports available from the CPABC may be more timely and accessible than those available through government or private services. That’s why she believes that the Family & Individual Support Worker and Youth Navigator are essential to the organization.
Fundraising events such as the Gala are needed, she says, “so that we can fund support workers [and] we can hire people out in the community that are able to provide that kind of care for people.” With new additions to the programming roster such as the Youth Without Limits support group and the Equipment Assistive Devices Fund, she feels the organization is going in the right direction.
As the child of a disabled parent, Rebecca has a sensitive and caring nature and a real understanding of some of the struggles faced by people with disabilities. “I think that it’s a fine balance between the compassion, the patience, the kindness without being patronizing. Just because someone has a disability, doesn’t mean they are less capable, so it’s a balance of respect and I think it’s something I do well,” she said.
Rebecca says the CPABC is a fantastic organization and she feels privileged to be involved with it. “I encourage anybody that has any interest in us either with their time or resources, to please get in touch because we would love to hear from them.”