Canada has one of the largest populations of people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) around the world. 12 Canadians are diagnosed with MS every day, contributing to an average of 1 in every 400 people. 60% of diagnoses occur in adults between the ages of 20 and 49. For the last 40 years and counting, the MS Society of Canada has raised awareness and funds through the MS Read-a-Thon.
Every year, elementary schools across the country enroll in the Read-a-Thon and fundraise while they read as many of their favorite books as they wish. Jaclyn Amar is one of the top fundraisers in Toronto and has been teaching at Crestwood School for nine years. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010.
“I was starting my final year at McGill University. I had just returned to my apartment, and classes were about to begin. I began to have a tingling feeling throughout my body. My doctor told me to keep an eye on it. Of course, it persisted” After monitoring her symptoms with no improvements, Jaclyn knew something was not right.
“I went to another doctor on the McGill campus. When I walked in, he asked me to walk a straight line, follow his finger, and checked my feet. He knew something was wrong when I couldn’t feel him touching my foot or my leg because they were numb. I went for an MRI the next day at a private clinic. A week later, my doctor called me from Toronto and confirmed that I had MS”.
Jaclyn and her team have contributed $200,000 in the last ten years. By participating in the walks and leading the Read-a-Thon at her school, she has had an enriching journey as an activist and educator.
“I’m always looking for ways to give back to people like me. When someone is newly diagnosed with MS, they reach out to me, and we talk about it”. Jaclyn has a special relationship with her students, and sharing her story inspires her school to get involved in the Read-a-Thon. “Students are more inclined to fundraise and participate because they can make a difference in the lives of people like me. The initiative helps people with MS with getting the treatments and help they need to live a good life”. Crestwood’s Read-a-Thon begins in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 6. For the 2021 school year, Jaclyn and the staff at Crestwood School have expanded the offerings of the program.
“The way that it is different this year is that we are giving the students a reading afternoon once we return to school. The teachers will read to them for the little kids or pair them with a reading buddy from an older grade. For the older students, they can bring their favorite novel, a blanket, a pillow, and snuggle up and read for an afternoon. When we return to school, we will be dedicating that time to the Read-a-Thon”.
Through her story and her love for reading, Jaclyn has inspired her students to give back to their communities and develop their passion for reading. “A lot of the kids have heard of the disease, but they don’t necessarily understand what it means. They may have parents or grandparents who have MS. Through the Read-a-Thon, the students know what they are reading for. Kids are like sponges. It is really easy to engage them and get them excited about something”.
Jaclyn is also mindful of kids who do not naturally gravitate towards reading books. “There is a challenge because some kids don’t like to read, especially if it is hard for them. They can help simply by choosing books, newspaper articles, and even podcasts they like; it is engaging for them. When they see me read, they get excited, and they enjoy it when I read to them. This way, they can develop their skills and love for learning”. With this open approach, students can still participate in the Read-a-Thon while finding a medium that speaks to them.
The MS Society of Canada has adjusted to the current times and developed a website for participants to use. This initiative is an exciting way to keep kids on track with their reading during the lockdown. Jaclyn is excited about the new website as it is beneficial for her students. “The students have the opportunity to build avatars and customize different things. It is very interactive and exciting. Kids learn technology easily these days so that they can navigate the site easily.
It is bright, fun, and engaging for kids”. Being unable to run the Read-a-Thon last year, the reading program’s return keeps students busy during online learning. Whether in-person or virtually, Jaclyn is keen on expressing the importance of reading every day. “I have always encouraged my students to read more, so this year’s Read-a-Thon gives them something to look forward to during lockdown. Registration is also free, and participants can win prizes if they raise a certain amount of money”.
Jaclyn and The MS Society are hopeful for a cure in the future. As an important representative of the organization, Jaclyn recognizes the amount of growth the MS Society can have by expanding its offering in elementary schools. “There are opportunities for the MS Society to create more activities for the kids. For now, I want to encourage my students to make a simple 10-20 minutes of reading a daily habit. Hopefully, within the next ten years, there will be a cure with all of the events we host and the money we raise”.
For more information on the Read-a-Thon and other ways to support, visit https://mssociety.ca