CharterAbility Accessibly Inspiring a Generation

CharterAbility
CharterAbility Accessibly Inspiring a Generation
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About the Author

Mashaal Effendi

Mashaal Effendi is a postgraduate student at Sheridan College pursuing Public Relations - Corporate Communications.Mashaal has worked as a writer in film, television, theatre, advertising, communications, and even in speechwriting during his time as a Toastmaster.An avid reader, video game enthusiast, and musician ( who presently plays drums for a band called "The Downgrades"), Mashaal enjoys gathering experiences around Oakville, and is ecstatic to be on the team covering events that breathe life into the community.

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Indeed, Oakville is a beautiful city. Home to many from high school students, families, newcomers, and passers-by who all make the city their domicile for different purposes, Oakville has always been celebrated as a city unique for its beauty and personality.

Yet, nestled among the backdrop of the city that calls itself a town and acts like a village (Mayor Rob Burton’s literal words), lies a wondrous adventure, capturing some of the most breath-taking views of nature that you never see. What’s more is it’s completely accessible to anyone, especially, individuals with disabilities.

CharterAbility

all aboard the CharterAbility boat.

All this is thanks to a noble yet impressive organization CharterAbility, a registered charity dedicated to providing accessible, recreational, boating at no cost to people of all ages who are deprived due to physical limitations or personal circumstances. Such individuals can enjoy the perks and novelty that most folk do everyday without worry of their conditions ever being a hindrance.

Created 18 years ago, CharterAbility is the brainchild of seven individuals who established their roots as the first board of directors. In fact, Stephen J  Cull, who founded the chairty is a survivor of a toboganning accident in 1991. The accident was cumbersome for Stephen as he watched people enjoy the hustle and bustle around the water, wistfully reminiscing of fond memories where he too once felt the exhilaration of sailing, which sparked a revelation. What if people with disabilities could also feel the thrill and joys of boating?

Since then, the charity has gone on to obtain funding, reach out to various stakeholders, and service many passengers with an enthusasistic crew.

The CharterAbility boat docks down by Lakeshore, enveloped with natural sights.

Here are some quick facts about CharterAbility:

  • Their dock is located on 16-Mile Creek adjoining Busby Park.
  • It’s fully accessible as are the on-site washrooms and the pontoon boat that transports guests on an hour-long voyage.
  • All trips are provided free of charge thanks to the donations that the charity receives and the dedication of the volunteers who crew the boat.

Sound too good to be true? There’s more.

The charity arranges occasional fishing trips on the river, and both BBQ’s and picnics at the dock, or in Busby Park. Passengers in the past season comprised of individuals and organizations, with various disabilities, including children, seniors, their friends, families and caregivers.

CharterAbility

The Special Friends Network and Sheridan Toastmasters Trafalgar enjoying a CharterAbility voyage.

CharterAbility

“It’s amazing to experience a free slice of cottage country in the middle of downtown Oakville,” said Zach Gray, recent alumni from Sheridan College as he lay back in his seat, sea air breezing past him.

Zach Gray, President of Sheridan Toastmasters Trafalgar enjoying a ride with the CharterAbility crew.

Although seemingly a grand statement, there are truths to the Animation graduate and President of the Sheridan Toastmasters musings. The 16-mile creek lends itself to some astonishing views, incredibly beautiful scenes, and a picturesque landscape insofar as capturing nature in vivid beauty and even allowing passengers on the cruise to view rare wildlife otherwise not noticed on typical walks and excursions around town.

Elaine Cray, founder of the Special Friends Network with her daughter Madison.

“I heard about Stephen and his organization two years ago at the Star Awards Gala,” said Elaine Cray from the Special Friends Network. “The host recognized Stephen for his accomplishments. I was there with my daughter Maddie to receive an award and just thought to myself how amazing this initiative sounds. This is our fourth time here.”

The Special Friends Network is a grassroots initiative located and operating in Halton Region that brings together people of all abilities. It’s a group for youth and adults with special needs.

It’s a social group that focuses on:

  • Celebrating our neurodiverse world.
  • Living by the motto of inclusion.
  • Building life skills such as confidence, independence, physical wellness, and friendship at each of its events.

Passengers from the Special Friends Network ready to board ship.

“The best part of this cruise is that some of our friends that use wheelchairs can’t always come out and participate with us because of some of the things that we do are not always accessible. This trip, however, is completely accessibly which is a huge plus and allows everyone to gather on the 16-mile creek. It’s a great experience going up the river, seeing wildlife, chatting, and just basking in the day. Everyone always asks if we’re doing it again next year.”

CharterAbility operates on the grace and dedication of all its volunteers, and thanks to about 10 captains who help commandeer the vessels that bring joy and delight to passengers every day. One such captain is John Berriman who joined the charity three years ago. “I get a huge amount of pleasure out of this, particularly in seeing the huge amount of joy that this gives to the guests who came on board. You have to be the sort of person who is happy dealing with the public, and really more than that, the public that has difficulties. The public that can’t hear, the public that can’t see, and really just those who are challenged in all kinds of ways. ”

CharterAbility John Berriman

John Berriman, one of the several captains for CharterAbility’s vessels.

John also pointed towards the organization collecting a new boat very soon. There is huge demand, and not just in the Oakville area. People are coming from Milton, Georgetown, Hamilton, and even Ajax. Happy to service the passengers, the retired Appleby College teacher gave a shout out to one of his fellow captains not present at the time Greg Smith who commandeers the boats every day at 6 AM.

Conclusively, Stephen Cull the President and Founder of the organization shared his favourite part about CharterAbility.

“My favourite part is just seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they intitially come on board with a bit of trepidation, and then leave the boats content and having had some fun. There’s no other service where a person in a wheelchair like myself can access a boat like this. Toronto is a world class city and there still aren’t water taxis or boats to access except the ferry that goes across to the island.”

Stephen J Cull, founder and Director of CharterAbility.

When Stephen ideated, and set up shop with the charity, he focused his visonary goal with several factors in mind:

  • Access to the harbour and dock.
  • A location that should be within travelling distance to most people.
  • The boat had to be barrier-free.
  • The boat has to be fully equipped to handle the needs off people with disabilities so that they could experience trips in safety and with dignity.

A final view of the creek that can be seen from aboard one of CharterAbility’s vessels.

“We fund raise 275,000 dollars just for the space of this dock. Tell me I don’t live the life of luxury,” said the President slyly alluding to the fact that the organization while remarkably self-sustaining does require donations and volunteers to keep running its operations.

“I get a little humbled when I come down here and see sometimes 1200 people a week use our space. When we built this space, no one showed up to use the dock. We bring 1200 people a week to shop in Downtown Oakville. We’re good for the economy,” said Stephen drawing light upon the fact that the charity not only helps passengers experience a great new adventure, but also works in tandem with groups like the Dowtown Oakville BIA to help improve the economic health of Oakville.

In a conversation with the Sheridan Toastmasters Trafalgar’s President, Stephen revealed that the organization lobbied council to get a 20 year lease ont heir property. A $100,000 dollar grant was given to the organization which was used to renovate the dock to be compliant with the American With Disabilities Act (ADA).

“We built accessible bathrooms with the grant. The town put in $80,000 for the benches, for the seawell capping, for the fences, and making this accessible as possible. The story of CharterAbility is a book from how Wendy and I met 13 years ago and collaborated to get a space. It’s a beautiful story.”

Stephen went on to discuss CharterAbility’s upcoming event on November 2. The organization will host its 18th annual Fall fundraiser (one in Fall and one in Spring). The organization has created its first fundraising package that has already racked in $15,000 before any tickets have even been sold.

The event is entitled “Help Float the Boat” and will take place on Saturday, Nov 2nd at the Oakville Conference Centre at 6 pm. To help support the cause, you can contact the organization at info@charterability.com and reach them at 905-844-7208.

The poster for ‘Help Float the Boat’ scheduled to take place on November 2nd.

This year, Freedom Train the renowned band from Hamilton will be performing for a fun-filled evening of:

  • Great food.
  • Classic Rock and R&B music.
  • Music and Dancing featuring one of Hamilton’s best-known bands.
  • A silent auction.
  • Fun special events throughout the night.
  • A cash bar.
  • Much more.

“An often heard saying lately is we are a charity at capacity meaning the phone won’t stop ringing, we will do 650 boat rides this year at all my volunteers filled to the capacity. If people want to help, we need volunteers to help people on and off the boat and people to drive the boat. Or go to CanadaHelps.org and donate,” said Stephen as he illustrated how folks can help out the cause, mentioning that one can find CharterAbility’s registered charity number which gives people a tax receipt with a minimum donation of $20.

Other ways to help support the cause is to buy tickets for the upcoming event. It’s geared to be a lot of fun.

“I love what I do, I’ve passed many opportunities to do this. I’m excited to pass off the mantle to Adrian when my time comes to retire,” ended Stephen as he ended his inspiring tale of how how he went from an accident to starting an incredible charity that changes the lives of people daily in ways never conceived.

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