With almost 20 years of marriage already behind them, and four young children occupying much of their attention lately, Martha and Mike Wlodek were looking for something special to do for their 40th birthday’s. Both of their birthdays fall in the last two months of the year and the spirit of giving was on their mind. They decided that they would like to throw their own birthday party and somehow link the gift-giving to a worthy cause in the community. Martha graduated as a veterinarian technologist and then went on to become a primary school teacher. On the other hand, Mike had traveled to every corner of the world during his career and seen children from many different cultures and backgrounds. Together, they could clearly see that things that affect a child at an early age will be with them for the rest of their lives. Somehow, Mike and Martha wanted to find a way to improve “something” for all of the children in the Cambridge area that would bring about some future benefit for children like their own.

After consultation with Martha’s parents and other philanthropic leaders in the community, it was suggested by John Moffat that Martha and Mike take a close look at supporting the Strong Start® program. It seemed like an ideal match. Strong Start® catches those children in the school system who would otherwise fall through the cracks. If children don’t grasp reading in their first years of school, they will be unable to function in the maths, sciences and social sciences in later years. If we look through the newspaper today, it does not take long to realize that improved literacy could have made lives much more fruitful and prosperous for some of the people in our own community. Strong Start® had some seed funding in Cambridge through a generous donation by the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation which launched the program at a couple of schools in the city. Yet, the four primary schools in Martha and Mike’s neighborhood did not have the program. The nearest to their home was Dickson Public School. Although Mike and Martha’s children don’t go to Dickson, Martha’s Mother did when she was growing up in the neighborhood. It was decided that the proceeds from their birthday party would go towards launching the program at Dickson and sustaining it there for as long as possible.

Birthday party invitations were prepared that requested people not to bring a gift for Mike or Martha, but instead, to bring a financial gift for the children in the community. The party was a great hit. The fundraising was even better. Not only did Mike & Martha raise enough to start the program at one school, they built a sense of awareness and community responsibility. The real rewards came when the Strong Start® program was launched at Dickson and the first hand results started to come in. Children who may have otherwise been below average throughout their schooling were coming out of the program with the tools to put them at the top of their class in some areas. Through active participation in a number of the Strong Start® initiatives in the City, Martha continues to bring home success stories on a weekly basis.

The next challenge was to find a way to grow the sense of community that was built by the party. The opportunity came when the Wlodeks got together with Tom and Wendy Hind to find some way to organize a social function for all of their friends. People needed something to alleviate the winter blues and what could be better than a curling party. The idea had its merits. A social game for a social function!. Tom and Wendy also asked Mike and Martha about getting more involved in the fundraising that they had done. In a matter of moments, the connection was made and a curling party would be planned that raised more money for Strong Start®. Tom and Wendy hosted the party. Mike and Tom worked diligently to create three sheets of curling ice in Tom’s backyard. Martha and Wendy orchestrated the menu, guest list and beverages. The Love and Literacy Bonspiel was born. An outdoor curling bonspiel on February 14th raised money for the Strong Start® children’s literacy program. Again, the event was a success and enough money was raised to launch another Strong Start® program at a neighborhood school. The Hind’s and Wlodek’s have an interest in continuing the tradition and are looking forward to delving into the planning for the 2006 curling season!!