Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Helping youth in a Variety of ways

Charity has raised $30M for children since 1978

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Marni Yakubec has six good reasons to be thankful to Variety, the Children's Charity of Manitoba.

Yakubec's six children, aged 21 to 11, have all benefited over the years from the charity whose mission is to help meet the tangible needs of children of all abilities in Manitoba.

"Variety has helped us through the Variety Heart Centre at Children's Hospital," Yakubec said.

"They have also helped us through their special needs program. Through that, they got us an AED (automated external defibrillator)."

Yakubec said they haven't had to use the AED, but the device was rushed onto a school bus just in case when one of the children turned blue while on their way to school.

And Yakubec said the school has borrowed the AED to take it with them when one of her children goes on a field trip.

"It could be a lifesaver someday," she said.

It's just one way Variety -- which used to be called the Variety Club, but for a few years now has been named Variety, the Children's Charity of Manitoba -- has helped families since the local chapter, or tent, was founded in 1978.

Variety's executive director, Jerry Maslowsky, said more than $30 million has been raised and spent locally to help children since then.

"Variety isn't the cause," Maslowsky said.

"The children are the cause. Variety is the solution. We can help."

'To see a child who can't ride a bicycle and then get a specialized bike built is wonderful'

Variety started in Pittsburgh in 1927 when a group of businessmen, all from show business and all close friends, organized a social club after work.

A month-old baby girl was abandoned at the Sheridan Square Theater with a note pinned to her dress saying, "Please take care of my baby... I can no longer take care of her... I have always heard of the goodness of show business people and I pray to God that you will look out for her."

After the baby's parents couldn't be found, the group, naming themselves the Variety Club, named the infant Catherine Variety Sheridan and paid for her support and education. When they became overwhelmed with donations of clothing, bedding and toys, they began distributing them to other children in need.

The club grew from there.

Maslowsky said the charity raises funds at events, through the sales of Gold Hearts, and through donations from businesses and individuals.

"To see a child who can't ride a bicycle and then get a specialized bike built is wonderful," he said. "It's through the donations of people that this is possible. The more funding, the more we can support."

Maslowsky said not only has the charity helped create space for the pediatric cardiac program, it also has built the Variety Heritage Adventure Park at The Forks, the pool at the downtown YMCA and a pediatric play area at CancerCare Manitoba.

Ongoing programs of Variety include the special needs program, which has funded artificial eyes, specialized bicycles, hearing aids and other devices; Variety children's therapeutic clown program at St. Boniface Hospital; the Variety music-therapy program at nine elementary schools for more than 100 children with special needs; the Musiktanz program at 22 inner city daycares; Variety's Camp Brereton, an accessible camp Variety lends to various groups, including the SMD Hard of Hearing camp; the Variety Pat Riordan Fine Arts Scholarship and the Variety/MTS Leadership in the Community Scholarship.

"We have touched the lives of thousands of children through the years," Maslowsky said.

"The Variety Heart Centre alone has seen hundreds of thousands of children."

Maslowsky has a request of the children Variety has helped through the years.

"I just want to know, where have all of these children gone? We want to create a Variety alumni."

Dr. Charles Lekic, head of pediatric dentistry at the University of Manitoba and a co-ordinator with Variety's dental outreach program, said up to 3,000 children at up to 18 Winnipeg schools get screened and assessed by dentistry students, while up to 500 children get dental treatment for free at the university's Bannatyne campus thanks to Variety and its founding partner, ADESA Winnipeg.

"If not for Variety funding the program for the last nine years, they might not ever be seen by a dentist," Lekic said.

"Many of their families don't have dental plans, and even those that do cannot afford to pay when the plan doesn't cover 100 per cent of the treatment."

Lekic said proper dental care is important for students.

"The No. 1 reason for absenteeism for students are toothaches -- it's not colds," he said.

"After treatment they don't have sleepless nights, because they have no toothaches. And it's at no cost to the parents."

Louis Trepel, Variety's international ambassador, was on the ground floor of the creation of the local chapter.

Trepel said he was only 18 when his dad brought him to a meeting organized by TV game show host and former Winnipegger Monty Hall to see if there was interest in opening a Variety tent in Winnipeg.

"My dad asked if I wanted to be part of it, and I said yes, for sure," he said.

"Everybody seemed so old to me back then, but I listened as Monty Hall told the Variety story to see if there was interest here.

"We were, and I'm proud to say my name is on the plaque as a founding member here."

Trepel is still helping the organization more than three decades later.

"I am so moved by the people I have met and that the need is so great," he said.

"I'm even more inspired now. It's a small role I play to help us continue to help kids."

As ambassador, Trepel said he goes to international board meetings where he meets with about three dozen representatives from the 13 countries Variety works in.

"Manitoba is very well-recognized on the international level for the years of commitment and for its service in Winnipeg and across the province," he said.

Yakubec said it's not just her children Variety has helped. At times, Variety staff have helped her with the emotional support she doesn't receive from anywhere else.

"Just because you can't see what's wrong, doesn't mean it's not there," she said.

"It's not just the physical support we get from Variety, but also the emotional support. I've cried on their shoulder a few times.

"It's wonderful that they are there."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 A30

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