Born with a spinal tumour, Joel Dembe was left partially paralyzed after an operation to remove the growth.
The 30-year-old Toronto man — who uses a wheelchair — never let his mobility issues stop him.
At the age of 13, he started playing wheelchair tennis, eventually becoming the Canada National Wheelchair Tennis Champion and competing in the sport at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
But Dembe points out none of it would have happened if he didn't have such great caregivers — his parents.
Although he's independent now, living on his own and driving his own vehicle, Dembe said when he was younger, his mom even had to quit her job to focus on his health issues, including multiple surgeries.
“It was great to have the support of my mom and dad, who went above and beyond in terms of helping me become the man I am today,” he said.
Remembering all his parents sacrificed, Dembe has joined Canada Cares
on a cross-country tour to spread awareness of the organization.
Canada Cares' mandate is to say thank you and to elevate the role of family and professional caregivers.
“When I think of a caregiver, the best thing that comes to mind is sacrifice — not only the financial sacrifices, but it's the time involved,” said Dembe, speaking at an Aug. 7 press event at Pioneer Manor.
“It's taking off time from work to help an elderly parent who might have fallen in the bathroom or to take them to a hospital visit.”
To show appreciation of those who care for others, Canada Cares has an awards program for caregivers.
Until Sept. 15, the organization is seeking nominations for both family and professional caregivers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty.
Five family caregivers and five professional caregivers from four regions of Canada will be selected to receive a Canada Cares Caregiver Award.
Of these, one family and one professional caregiver will be chosen as the Canada Cares National Caregivers of the Year.
In addition, one caregiver will be awarded with $10,000 to make a caregiving wish come true. This award is judged on creativity of the wish and the impact that making it come true will have.
Workplaces and communities that are accommodating to caregivers are also being recognized by Canada Cares through the Caregiver-Friendly Workplace Award and the Caring Communities Award.
On top of the awards, Canada Cares has a website contest to win the vehicle Dembe is travelling in as part of the promotional tour. The MV-1 is the world's first factory-built accessible vehicle.
Pioneer Manor director Brenda Loubert said she thinks the caregiver awards program is a wonderful initiative.
“We look at formal and informal caregivers, and neither of those groups get enough recognition,” she said.
“So certainly from the staff perspective of the home here, and loved ones, it's a thankless job. Any recognition those people can get, by all means, they deserve it.”
To nominate a caregiver, workplace or community for a Canada Cares award, or to enter the contest to win the accessible vehicle, visit www.canadacares.org