Huntington University staff and students huddled together in the school's parking lot Monday evening as they kicked off the festive season with their annual tree lighting celebration.
As is customary with the lighting of the 45-foot tree - the tallest lit Christmas tree in Northern Ontario - the school announced a gift in support of a local organization, this year donating $2,500 to March of Dimes Canada's Moving A-Head campaign.
The donation will be used to support March of Dimes' capital campaign to construct a 12-person home dedicated to supporting Northern Ontario individuals who have experience traumatic brain injury and require accessible affordable housing in addition to specialized brain injury rehabilitation services.
"Every year, in celebration of our university's annual lighting of its 45-foot tall Christmas tree we make a donation and raise awareness about a worthwhile community initiative," said Huntington University president and vice chancellor Kevin McCormick.
"There's a large gap in Northern Ontario for persons with complex brain injuries requiring adaptive housing and specialized services. We hope that our community gift, in support of this capital campaign, will result in more people coming forward this holiday season with donations."
McCormick was joined at Monday's tree lighting by Dr. Rayudu Koka, co-chair of the Moving A-Head campaign and Deanna Chisholm-Tullio, regional independent living manager, March of Dimes Canada.
"I'm proud every day of the services that our organization offers to individuals with disabilities," said Chisholm-Tullio. "March of Dimes supports individuals to build upon their goals, participate day to day in their community while maximizing independence in their homes and the communities that they call home."
Coincidentally, Monday's announcement fell on the United Nations' 2018 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which has been observed on Dec. 3 since 1992.
"We are extremely grateful to Huntington University and their efforts to give back to the community through this generous donation," said Dr. Koka.
"Northern Ontario experiences the highest rate of acquire brain injuries in the province, with the large majority of brain injury survivors between 18 and 40 years of age. For those this young, living life with dignity comes from living in a homelike environment. Please help us build this opportunity."
The capital campaign goal has been set at raising $726,000, and the anticipated cost of the expansion project is $5.6 million.
If you would like to make a donation, or learn more about the March of Dimes Moving A-Head campaign, visit them online at marchofdimes.ca.