35 Years of Stories

In celebration of our 35th Anniversary we want to share the stories of the people who have been such an integral part of Between Friends. Throughout our birthday year, we’ll be featuring amazing individuals that have helped shape our organization and make it what it is today!

Jake & Nick’s Last Day of Camp Through Their Mom’s Eyes

A heart-felt Open Letter to Between Friends from a long-time member parent.

Elvia & Tamara Twa

When Elvia Twa was looking for activities to occupy her 10 year old daughter, Tamara, during the summer days she worked, she fortuitously stumbled upon Between Friends’ Camp Bonaventure. That summer in 1992, Tamara went to Camp Bonaventure for the very first time and she loved it so much she went for the next eight weeks straight! Tamara attended Camp Bonaventure for as many weeks as they possibly allowed. She was instantly comfortable at Camp, which, in turn, eased any worries Elvia had about leaving her each day.

Tamara, now 36 years old, was born with Holt-Oram Syndrome which affects her bones, as well as her heart. For many years, her mobility had been good enough to walk and she was able to run around with her peers at Camp Bonaventure. As her bones weakened, Tamara had to transition to using a wheelchair, which Elvia feared would mean the end of her life.

Elvia recalls getting a phone call from Tamara one day, just letting her know that she was at the mall. By herself! In her wheelchair! Elvia claims she almost had a heart attack. She realized then and there that Tamara had gained this incredible confidence and independence she credits to her time at Between Friends. “Tamara has had so many positive experiences at Between Friends, everyone always treats her well” Elvia explains “Because of that she goes everywhere by herself in her wheelchair.” At 36, Tamara is an active member of Between Friends Adventurers programs, participating in trips and excursions each year. She’s learned life skills and how to be organized, pack her own meds, think outside the box and has gained confidence to overcome her fear of trying new things. In Jasper, when she feared traversing the Skywalk, the support and encouragement of her Between Friends leaders and friends helped her overcome her fear and experience this wonderful Canadian landmark. Elvia doesn’t believe Tamara would have the fortitude to go forth and try new things as she has since learning and growing in confidence at Between Friends.

Elvia insists Between Friends’ tagline should be “no person left behind”, something she witnessed after Tamara’s transition into a wheelchair. On a Rocky Mountain excursion, the leaders didn’t hesitate to push Tamara’s wheelchair through the snow to keep her included.

Each year, without fail, registration days are of the utmost importance in the Twa family. “Holidays stop, life stops, everything is organized around Between Friends registration days” Elvia said. She has been known to park a lawn chair in front of the office in the wee hours of the morning before it has even opened. She’s arrived hours early, in person, to register Tamara, once even leaving the hospital after a heart surgery, straight to the Between Friends office. That is how important being in Between Friends programs it is to Tamara, and Elvia. As a family, they could take comfort in the fact Tamara was having fun with her friends. Elvia confessed that the programs Between Friends provided for Tamara alleviated a lot of stress in their family and that without them it would have been very tough to harbour the sole responsibility to provide an active social life and entertainment for Tamara. This time provided much needed respite. “Between Friends is mentally saving lives” she said as she shared how difficult it can be to plan activities or trips that are accessible.

When she was a teenager, Tamara worried the day would soon come when she was too old to attend Between Friends programs anymore. This fear gnawed at her. Between Friends had come to mean so much; it made her so happy. Life without the programs, without her friends, seemed unfathomable. Then, to Tamara’s delight, and that of many others in her age group, Between Friends raised the age of participation to include adults 18 and up; a wish come true. And as for Elvia’s wish? “For Tamara to enjoy as much as possible during her golden years on earth; that she gains as many experiences as she can; that she gets everything she can out of life, and lives it to the fullest.”

“You gain a lot in life when you have a handicapped child. You gain insight; you gain a lot of perspective into the value of life. Life is not necessarily about being one hundred percent healthy or adept; it’s what you make of it and the things you do. Having Tamara has opened up my mind to that.” Tamara is independent and she’s learned compassion for others. She no longer worries about being alone or feeling excluded.

Elvia beams in wonderment as she admits “Tamara has done everything. She has white water rafted, ridden a horse, camped in the rain, gone on a gondola and seen the glass skywalk in Jasper. She has done things she would never have done. Her life has been amazing, because of Between Friends.”

Between Friends Adventurers programs are essential to the lives of so many of our adult members. We see the value of adult programming every day through every participant smile, every comforted family.

Suzanne Jackett

Meet Suzanne Jackett, CEO of Between Friends.

The year was 1986. Suzanne Jackett got her first job at Between Friends, where she was one of only three employees. At the time, the organization consisted of about 90 members; only children. Fast-forward to 2017 and Between Friends now houses 17 full-time employees and has over 750 participants; children, youth and adults! It’s fair to say that Between Friends has changed. A lot.

Suzanne was studying Kinesiology at Queens University when a practicum in her final year solidified her life’s purpose: her passion. It was in that year, adapting a physical education program for children with disabilities that she fell in love with the work to which she would dedicate her life.

At a young age, she understood the value of each individual, regardless of ability. In elementary school, having witnessed the isolation her best friend faced because of her disability, Suzanne made the conscious choice to stand by her, even if that meant being excluded herself.