Life skills class receives $7,500 after winning video contest
She knew the school was receiving a $5,000 cheque for its life skills class from the United Commercial Travellers (UCT) after recently coming second in an online video contest put on by the organization.
But then UCT's local chapter brought out a cheque for another $2,500.
“We've just been blown out of the water,” Dowdall-Cirelli said, speaking after the school assembly where the cheques were presented. “They kept that a secret from me.”
The UCT Gives Back Again contest was open to North American schools serving students with intellectual disabilities, and sponsored by UCT, a non-profit financial services membership organization.
People were asked to vote online for their favourite school.
It was teacher Elissa Zuliani who entered the contest last year while on contract at St. Raphael, working with the school's primary life skills class.
She filmed her students displaying their strengths. For example, one little girl is playing soccer in the video, and another colouring.
For a long time, St. Raphael sat in first place for the number of votes, and was in line to win the $10,000 grand prize.
Sudbury UCT director Jerry Giff said his group was a little disappointed when St. Raphael finished in second, and decided to top up its winnings.
The school had originally planned to purchase a smart board for the life skills students with the prize money, but after coming in second place, decided to buy iPads instead.
With the extra funds, the school is reevaluating its decision, and will look at what the best use of the money would be, Dowdall-Cirelli said.
While Zuliani said she was excited about the funding, she emphasized it's not about winning or losing, or even about the prize money.
She said it's about the message that people with disabilities are valued members of our society, and we have an obligation to provide supports so they are able to lead happy and fulfilled lives.
“May we continue doing the good things we do, nurturing these children mind, body and spirit,” Zuliani said.
Joe Hoffman, CEO of UCT, was on hand to hand out the video contest prize money.
Helping those with intellectual disabilities become productive members of society has been the organization's focus since 1960.
“Forty years ago, or even less than that, this was kind of a marginalized group,” he said.
The life skills students' achievements were on display at the school assembly. They performed one of the percussion pieces that recently won them a gold award at the Kiwanis Music Festival.
The school also honoured six-year-old life skills student Wii'um Morin, who was recently named a 2014 Canadian Down Syndrome Hero by the Canadian Down Syndrome Society.
The celebration was emotional for Wii'um's father, William Morin. “My wife and I were very, very proud,” he said. “We were tearing up.”