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Posted on 15 December 2014.
Some kids dream of leading the country one day. For Brandon Liston this dream might actually happen.
At 16 years old, Brandon is already a seasoned Easter Seals Ambassador, having served in New Brunswick when he was six years old to ten. Now he is making history, officially becoming Easter Seals’ first National Ambassador. Brandon will travel to key events across the country to speak on behalf of Easter Seals kids. His first official duty is to be the 60,000 recipient of the Access 2 Entertainment card on its tenth anniversary, December 3, 2014.
This is the second time the native of Fredericton has made history. He is the youngest recipient of the Rotary Club of Fredericton’s Paul Harris Fellowship. The award, which acknowledges ‘service above self’, is the highest honour a Rotary Club can bestow on a person.
Brandon is not shy. He’s articulate and passionate, and willing to take on challenges – first public speaking and then rock climbing, sit-skiing and tubing down a challenging hill.
He also has a great sense of humour. With the help of a friend, Brandon plans to launch a web series called ‘Brandon’s Epic Adventures’, which will chronicle his hilarious attempts at daunting activities, complete with live action shots, interviews and bloopers.
When asked what he wants to be as an adult, Brandon answers before the question finishes.
“I have two options and I’m not going to stop until I achieved one of the two,” he says. “My number one option is to join the political ranks – as mayor, MP, MLA or maybe even Prime Minister. My other option is to join Easter Seals as CEO so I can keep making smiles for kids with disabilities.”
Brandon knows a thing or two about smiles and Easter Seals. For him, the two go hand-in-hand. Brandon has cerebral palsy, which affects his right leg and arm. He uses a walker primarily to get around, and a wheelchair for longer distances.
When he needs to replace a walker he has outgrown, he and his mom, Tammy turn to Easter Seals New Brunswick, which provides long-term loans of personal assistive equipment free of charge. This service is a god-send for parents of children with disabilities. Bringing up a child with a disability can be cost prohibitive if not for the support of Easter Seals and government programs.
Easter Seals offers more than invaluable equipment loans for children and families. It ensures that children of all abilities have access to active living opportunities, through sports, social activities and summer camp.
Easter Seals’ signature camp program has been putting smiles on the faces of young Canadians with disabilities for decades. Every year thousands of children challenge themselves while having the time of their lives at 15 Easter Seals camps nationwide.
Brandon attends Camp Rotary at Grand Lake in New Brunswick.
“I really love Camp Rotary, especially because it’s accessible. I could go to other camps but how would I get around? When you are there, everyone knows what you’re going through, and you don’t feel like you have a disability. You are not set apart from everyone, as you are in everyday life.”
Brandon’s favourite activity at camp is swimming.
“I love the water. It relaxes my muscles. I can walk without the walker because of the buoyancy. When you get in the water, it’s like being in a whole other dimension.”
Brandon also participates in Easter Seals New Brunswick’s Abilities Program, which offers kids opportunities to participate in sports such as sledge hockey, wheelchair basketball and sit-ski, as well as rock climbing and leisure activities. The program not only provides opportunities for kids with disabilities to get active and socialize, it builds infrastructure in the community to accommodate people of all abilities.
“Wheelchair basketball took on a life of its own,” says Julia Latham, Easter Seals New Brunswick’s Executive Director. “We lost half our Abilities Program kids to it, which is great. The Program is designed to ensure that kids will find an activity that they can follow on their own.”
A sit-ski field trip at school was fun and easy for Brandon due to the Abilities Program.
“Our program not only taught Brandon how to sit-ski, it enabled him to advocate for himself and set things up properly when he went with his class,” says Latham.
The Abilities Program and camp give Brandon an opportunity to make friends, including Noah who also served as an Ambassador for Easter Seals New Brunswick.
For Brandon, the Ambassador program has changed his life.
“The Ambassador Program has given me so much courage and so much of a start for the future because it really speaks to me,” says Brandon. “When I first started I was really nervous speaking in public. As I grew older and matured more, it got easier. Now look at me.”
Brandon now speaks at public events without the use of notes. His message is powerful.
“I don’t consider people with disabilities as disabled. ‘Dis’ means you can’t do something. Look at me. I’m able to walk too. I just do it a little differently. I am differently-abled.”
For Brandon, ‘can’t’ is a bad word. It’s an important message, and one delivered by Canada’s future Prime Minister, or MP, MLA, CEO, or whoever he chooses to be.