It doesn't take long to realize the Darling Home for Kids is a very special place.
Tucked away along the rolling hills of the Niagara Escarpment, the cottage-like facility feels like home. Surrounded by 77 acres of lush woodlot, the home's visitors enjoy a first-class view of the deer that quietly roam the property. Every room is bursting with colour ““ from the mountains of plush toys to the animated murals that decorate the walls.
But at the heart of the home are its young residents.
Many can't communicate verbally. Most need help getting from point A to point B. Some are reliant on machines to keep their fragile bodies going. And often, these little souls need constant supervision as they deal with medically-complex, life-threatening illness.
But at the Darling Home, they're just one of the gang. And the smiles on their faces say more than any words could.
“On warm days when the windows are open, you can hear the giggles coming from the park,” says Darling Home executive director Kristin Horrell. “The kids tell us how great it is.”
The Milton facility provides paediatric hospice and respite services to children who require complex care. Horrell says the cottage-like setting is the perfect in-between for families who'd rather not spend their days in downtown Toronto's SickKids Hospital but who are not comfortable caring for their children at home.
Programming at the facility is funded through provincial ministries, but community fundraising is needed for all the little extras that give the Darling Home a certain uniqueness that set it apart.
Last year's first annual Wheels Ride ““ an 80-kilometre elite bike ride through the escarpment terrain ““ well-surpassed its goal of $60,000 to build a wheelchair-accessible playground on the property. Riders, led by Mattamy Homes CEO Peter Gilgan, raised a whopping $87,000.
“It was pretty successful in that respect,” says Pete Pomeroy, who chaired last year's event and worked with a team of Milton volunteers to deliver a goal-shattering result. “There are lots of people out there willing to help these worthwhile projects, you just have to go out and find them.”
The Wheels fundraiser acted as an introduction between the Darling Home and the community.
“People were aware this place existed, but they didn't see the significant impact we have on the home's residents and how unique we are,” says Horrell.
She describes the event's finish line as a tearful environment as Darling Home kids waved signs and cheered participants along the last kilometre as they rode into the playground the riders made possible.
“That was the really cool part of last year's event,” adds Pomeroy. “It was a surprise to most of the riders and a special way to show our goal was achieved.”
While from afar it looks like your typical neighbourhood playground ““ it's much more for the Darling Home visitors.
“When you think about your local playground, think about hopping on a swing and how normal it is,” says Horrell. “There are some teens here who've never been on a swing, until now. They've never felt that tickle in their stomach.”
Pomeroy, who's once again heading up this year's event has set another $60,000 goal. This time the funds will go toward rehabilitating a trail around the property and building a
When complete, the garden will grace the space outside the Darling Home's palliative care unit. Horrell says it will be a dynamic and vibrant space that's completely wheelchair accessible and where families will be able to fully enjoy the home's outdoor space.
“When someone comes up and sees the home, and the appreciation from the kids and their families, they see the difference we're making and you'll see a certain spark. They want to help.”
This year's Wheels Ride for the Darling Home for Kids is scheduled for July 21. Anyone wishing to make a donation can call 905.878.7673 or visit darlinghomeforkids.ca