Unicorn Gala aids grieving children

Dr. Larry Librach with Rachel and Josh Dusang  [Susan Minuk photo]

TORONTO — Guests at the recent Unicorn Gala had the chance to purchase a seat for a child on a bus to an overnight camp that supports grieving children and teens.

Some 400 guests attended the Nov. 6 gala at the Arcadian Court in Toronto in support of the Max and Beatrice Wolfe Children’s Centre (MBWCC), which operates Camp Erin Toronto.

Established in 2004, the MBWCC, at the Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Hospital, provides home palliative care support to dying children and their families and counselling and bereavement programs for children and youth living with the dying or death of a loved one.

The Unicorn Gala returned this year after several years’ hiatus. Gala co-chairs Jill Phillip and Rebecca Diamond said that 81 bus seats were purchased, which raised a total of more than $40,000.

Josh Dusang, 11, and Rachel Dusang, 9, who lost their father in a car accident on Nov. 17, 2011, spoke at the gala. “We are stronger kids now and have a better way of coping with our loss since going to grief counselling, participating in monthly programs at the centre and experiencing Camp Erin – all offered through the MBWCC.”

Traditional outdoor camp activities are combined with grief education and emotional support activities at Camp Erin, which is free to all families.

 Several people were honoured during the evening, including MBWCC founder Dr. Larry Librach; Abby Tobias, president of Sole Power Productions and Dr. Aubrey Green, who specializes in sports medicine.

 Musicians Marla Joy and Kibwe Thomas provided entertainment at the gala, and guests participated in a silent auction. Guest Albert Milstein won a diamond valued at $6,200, in a raffle sponsored by Mark Lash. Milstein later donated the diamond to the MBWCC.

The Unicorn Gala “began with a five-year-old little girl named Samantha, who was dying of a brain tumour,” Librach said. “Her mother was determined to see community supports for dying children.” The gala was named for Samantha’s favourite animal, the unicorn.

Dr. Adam Rapoport, a pediatric palliative care consultant for MBWCC, said that the MBWCC consists of two clinical elements: the Dr. Jay Children’s Grief Program and in-home pediatric palliative care. “Although most of us think about death and dying when we think about palliative care, the truth is that pediatric palliative care is much more focused on living: our motto is ‘adding life to a child’s time, not just time to a child’s life,’” he said.

Andrea Warnick, a grief counsellor and registered nurse at the MBWCC, said a huge part of the centre’s work “is to make sure that children do not feel responsible in any way for the death in their family. We know that if you can get in there before a death happens and influence whether the child knows that mommy is dying but the child is not responsible, you can go very far toward influencing their bereavement process.”

Warnick added that the MBWCC’s goal is “not to fix a child’s broken heart but to teach a child how to live with a broken heart. I often hear, ‘That must be so hard,’ but the truth is that doing my job is not the hard part.  The hard part is not being able to do this job for everyone who needs it.”

For more information about the gala, visit  www.unicorngala.com.