Teen Volunteer & Advocate - Morgan Maher
Morgan Maher is a teen with purpose. She is an honours grade 11
student active with her robotics team at St. David Catholic Secondary School and an avid vocal student who’s participated in two seasons of the benefit concert, The Sounds of Christmas.
Morgan suffers daily from debilitating headaches stemming from a series of former concussions.
These leave her dizzy, unable to focus for long periods and missing more school than she wants to. From these personal challenges, she’s found her voice to support equality and equity for people with different abilities. And she believes in supporting KidsAbility.
“KidsAbility gives so much to the community and I wanted to give back to them,” says Morgan, passionately. “Everyone has different abilities. My goal was to show that everyone can do something with their individual abilities.”
Because of her health issues, Morgan gets told she can’t do certain things, or do things that other people can do. “Being told you can’t do something is tough," Morgan shares. "And my challenges are nothing compared to others.”
Balancing health concerns with school and activities leaves Morgan little time to volunteer with KidsAbility in conventional ways. So, she began thinking of ways to change people’s mindsets about different abilities. In May, she launched her own campaign “Focusing on the Capabilities”.
“Creating challenges for myself while I struggle with health issues is good for my mental and physical abilities,” explains Morgan. “And KidsAbility is such a huge part of my life. I wanted to raise awareness for KidsAbility and the life journey of others who are overcoming challenges of their own. By demonstrating my capabilities, I wanted to show that you can do anything and be anything you want to be.”
At the end of May, Morgan embarked on a 12 hour walk to bring awareness to the capabilities in each person in support of KidsAbility. Starting in St Jacobs, she walked to KidsAbility Waterloo, then to the Google Kitchener office where her volunteer story with KidsAbility began, and ended her journey in Elora. Her round trip took her over 56 kms and raised $670.
Morgan’s convictions to support KidsAbility began two years ago when her robotics teacher encouraged her to volunteer with KidsAbility’s Firefly Lego Robotics STEM camp at Google. Instantly she noticed that every child attending camp was treated equally. She observed that every child had the things they needed to participate, just like everyone else. She witnessed campers grow and change in that week, including herself as a volunteer. She resolved to return the following year.
And she did. In that second year, Morgan made friends with a little girl whose story would give her even more purpose to champion for inclusivity.
“She told me how she felt it was hard to have a disability. It was hard for her to make friends. It was hard for her to gain confidence. It was hard for her to talk about how she was feeling and express emotions. She said it was hard because people saw her disability instead of her as a person. And I was saddened. I think people need to change their perceptions and their mindset towards different abilities.”
Morgan sees herself as a voice for inclusivity, equality and equity. Her guiding principles lie in the Golden Rule – to treat everyone as she would want to be treated, to put aside differences, and look past different abilities to accept others for who they are. She has even written a school speech about bullying directed at certain people with special needs who couldn’t stand up for themselves.
Morgan attributes her values to a few special people in her life. The first person she credits is her mom, Lisa, Head of Religion at St David CSS. She also speaks fondly of her Grade 7 teacher, Mr. Speers, who rallied her small community together to support an inclusive and accessible playground so his own young son with autism would feel included.
And she’s been influenced by others. At her grade school’s Empowerment Day, she eagerly emceed with Mr. Speers. That day she was inspired by Toronto-based social activist Spencer West, whose legs were amputated below the pelvis when he was five years old due to a genetic disorder, yet climbed to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. She continues to be inspired by Molly Burke, a 26 year-old YouTube personality and motivational speaker who lost of her vision at the age of 14 to an ocular disease. Those experiences have helped shape who she is today.
“I can only be the best version of myself. But I know others look up to me. A big part of my time is spent with my choir and there are little ones at my church who look up to me. And there are the kids who perform with me in The Sounds of Christmas by Guse Productions. To show them that we need to change our mindset about the differences in abilities, that’s where I hope to help others to become more inclusive.”
And there’s no doubt she will be. Morgan already has plans to increase the awareness of inclusivity at St. David when the fall semester begins. She recently received word she’s been appointed to the Student Activity Council (SAC) Executive.
“I’m so excited for the fall! I will be in charge of leading the Faith & Inclusivity team and the Challenge and Change Outreach group. One of my goals is to include the students in the Special Education class into more school activities. I can’t wait.”