Donna Trella's commitment to the implementation of innovative and meaningful ideas parallels that of many hardworking and dedicated professionals in the field of disability. But we believe that it is her own empowering personal story that is truly deserving of the recognition received from the Order of Ontario, some 30 years after her very first event held at Ontario Place. Named Reach for the Rainbow Day, it was a one day event that ignited a lifelong passion.
At a young age, Donna found herself a single mother with small children. She was determined to overcome adversity while making a difference, in that Donna’s youngest daughter, Dove, was diagnosed shortly after birth as severely developmentally disabled. Dove was treated differently because of her challenges, and Donna was determined to give her daughter the same opportunities available to other children. She was a loud voice in the support of Bill 82, the integration of children with disabilities in schools, and the essential need for attitudinal change towards individuals with disabilities. Donna’s commitment to inclusion and to the creation of Reach for the Rainbow was essentially born of her own blood, sweat and tears, and has translated into a vision that has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of families across the province and the country over the past three decades.
In our society most people agree, at least in concept, with the phrase frequently used by Reach for the Rainbow, All Children Belong. Yet putting this conviction into action and measurable gains seems to fall all too short. All too often, virtues like patience, understanding, tolerance and the right to dignity elude this special segment of our society.
That is why Donna’s belief is so tangible - she lives and breathes why it is critical that social policy and the framework of inclusion remain a topic that demands ongoing discussion and advocacy. If we don’t include everyone in the fabric of society, we lose valuable and integral parts of ourselves. The different perspectives, the resilience of spirit, the power of overcoming intense struggles – are the beauty of what we stand for we are as a united humanity, tightly wrapped in our Canadian identity. We are known as a nation that embraces all, regardless of emigration or faith, culture or economic disparity, and yet the concern for necessary funding and the equality of opportunity for children with disabilities is woefully inadequate.
Reach for the Rainbow began as a means to generate a change in attitudes and the traditional methods of "dealing with" individuals with disabilities. It started small, and in addition to the usual pitfalls of newly formed not-for-profit organizations it was also confronted with different perceptions of what integration meant and an overarching reluctance for infrastructural change. Reach for the Rainbow began with one camp partner and 25 campers, and at its’ most successful boasted 64 camps as partners in integration and over 1000 campers per season.
Donna through Reach for the Rainbow has an established record of local, provincial and grassroots advocacy with clear integration values, policies, procedures and partnership goals. Effectively contesting the status quo on behalf of families, RFTR is unique in its approach to make available to an umbrella of disabilities while operating on a first come first serve basis, to avoid selecting out individuals with particular challenges: instead working with families and camp-recreation providers to form safe, healthy and integrated support plans.
Our partnership model benefits all RFTR stakeholders (families, referring agencies and participating children’s camps). Children, youth and young adults benefit from integration when they share in community life in vibrant, socially valued settings. Families and agencies trust Reach for the Rainbow to provide strong, individualized supports, including a training spectrum, with an Annual Conference since 1990, and on-site training at 100% of our camp and Year-round partner sites. Children’s camps benefit from our model of their hiring 1:1 support counsellors to nurture the values of diversity and integration leadership from within.
Donna has delivered the message of inclusion with radiance, eloquence, compassion and passion for the past 30 years. In as much as she had shied away from the public eye, her dream remains today as steadfast as it was so many years ago. She has given so much to Reach for the Rainbow, and continues to do so even in her retirement from the organization.
Reach for the Rainbow congratulates Donna Trella in her recognition with the Order of Ontario – a recognition she truly deserves for her remarkable contribution to the disability-related landscape of Ontario. She has attempted and in large part succeeded in creating a world where doors are open to everyone, opportunity is abundant and the ability to realize potential is unlimited. Providing children and youth with disabilities a chance to push past barriers, increase self-esteem, experience life, laughter and be challenged with their peers - and most importantly, to truly know what it means to belong means everything to Donna and the province of Ontario is better for her continued commitment to bettering the lives of thousands of Canadian children with disabilities.
Order of Ontario Website
Read the Media Release