A sense of belonging is a precious aspect of childhood. However, a child born in the 1970s with a disability often faced social barriers. Donna Trella, Founder of Reach for the Rainbow, knows this first hand.
As a single mom, Donna’s story goes back 31 years, when she gave birth to a beautiful daughter, named Dove. A difficult delivery resulted in physical and developmental disabilities, but Donna envisioned her daughter growing up with the same opportunities available to other children. An outing to a children’s painting program at Ontario Place in Toronto gave momentum to this belief – after another parent rebuked her daughter’s right to participate, Donna took this exclusionary attitude as a challenge.
Donna Trella and a friend approached Ontario Place during its zenith of popularity in 1983, to suggest ‘A day of Integration’ that would raise the awareness of children with disabilities; a celebratory day where thousands of families, including those raising a child with a disability, would head out to Ontario Place on Victoria Day to enjoy all the inclusive festivities. Mountains were moved to ensure that all needs were met including most importantly, positive and welcoming attitudes. For seven more years ‘Reach for the Rainbow Day’ became a magical day – when it seemed that disabilities and exclusive values were parked at the front entrance of Ontario Place.
From Donna’s dedication grew an organization determined to bolster awareness and to expand inclusive programs in Ontario. In 1987 Reach for the Rainbow (RFTR) introduced its integrated summer camp programs. Rather than design another children’s camp, RFTR worked to support and modify the structure of established camps to provide integrated opportunities for children and young adults with disabilities.
“Looking back, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a humbling experience,” Trella explains.
In the words of a counsellor – ‘everyone wants a Rainbow kid.’ A parent writes of her 19 year old – ‘Reach for the Rainbow has provided my daughter with camp experiences and opportunities she would never have had otherwise, including sleeping outside in a tent, independence and getting prepared for the future!’
There is still stigma associated with disability; there are still many hurdles to overcome, but overall positive change for our RFTR stakeholders has been extraordinary. Reach for the Rainbow continues to share a vision of a world where everyone belongs - a world where doors are open to ALL.