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Vol 39  No 6
Nov. 23, 2006




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Helping hands

by Michelle Osmond

Jeff Newhook helps 10-year-old Riley Regular during a peer support group project.

Jeff Newhook says volunteering with the Learning Disability Association of Canada was a natural choice. “I was diagnosed with a learning disability in my adulthood after a life of frustration and struggle in school, college and university. I slipped through the cracks of the school system, and was labelled as an underachiever and troublemaker growing up, because I had difficulty reading, writing and meeting deadlines,” he explained.

“I always felt I worked so much harder than my peers, but my marks would never reflect my knowledge and ability. Once I was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder things began to turn around and new doors were opened.

“With my diagnoses I went to the provincial association looking for information on my disability, and they immediately recognized in me leadership, creativity, persistence and a story that people could relate too. As I learned about my own disability, my responsibilities with the association grew,” he added.

Recently, the Disability Association presented Mr. Newhook with their National Award of Excellence in Volunteer Recognition for his dedication and hard work in making significant contributions to persons with learning disabilities. Over the last four years Mr. Newhook, a Term 6 electrical student, has contributed to the cause of persons with learning disabilities in several ways including designing and leading hands on science and engineering projects for a summer camp, creating and leading a monthly youth support group, speaking at schools, conferences, and workshops, serving as a board member of the provincial association and fund raising.

He says when he was told he was being nominated for the national award he was happy, but, he adds, no award can compare to the feeling he gets from the volunteer work.

“I’ve watched youth with disabilities learn about and accept their disabilities, and let go of past shame and embarrassment. I have seen children’s self esteem be boosted as they successfully complete projects at my workshops. I have heard a parent brag about their child who is normally at the bottom of the class getting an “A” in a science project after a little direction from me. I’ve watched kids who are normally isolated and bullied in school make their first friend at our camps and support groups. Parents have thanked me after I patiently listened to their frustration from the lack of supports and services for their child in the schools … the real awards come from the ongoing positive changes occurring in the lives of people with learning disabilities as a result of the time I give to the community.”

Mr. Newhook says he now use strategies to help lessen the impact his disability has in his life. He records all of his lectures, and uses a computer to read back his textbooks, which is a more efficient way for him to study. Medication and electronic organizers keep him well organized, as well.


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