It was a big week for Rednecks with a Cause as the group announced they'll be bringing world-renowned speaker Dr. Temple Grandin to Bonnyville.
“We work with an organization called The Learning Network, and this was always a wish list item for Rednecks with a Cause to bring Temple Grandin to the area,” said Gary Mostert, president of Rednecks with a Cause.
Last Tuesday night, that wish came true when Mostert was contacted about the potential of Grandin coming to speak. Thanks to successful fundraising in past years, the local non-profit group had the money in place to jump on the opportunity. By Wednesday, the booking was confirmed for Feb. 23, 2018.
“It's huge, because you live in small town Bonnyville and you always have dreams. Just like the World Jr. A hockey, I think this will bring at least the province to town.”
Grandin is a prominent speaker and advocate for people on the autism spectrum. Not developing her speech until she was three and a half years old, Grandin was diagnosed with autism herself in 1950. At a time when it was considered impossible for kids with autism to lead a productive life, she defied the stigmas, becoming a noted author on the subject.
“Worldwide, she's one of the biggest advocates for children on the spectrum. She also helps the public to understand children on the spectrum and gives “normal people” the skills and tools to deal with a culture where these kids live with us and make life as normal as possible for them,” said Mostert.
Drawing on her other passions and talents, Grandin also made a successful career designing livestock-handling equipment. She had designed the facilities that half of the cattle in the United States are handled in, and consults for major firms including Burger King and McDonald's.
Her success has been chronicled through numerous features in national publications, including Time magazine, and major television and radio specials. Currently, Grandin works as a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.
For children on the spectrum and their parents, Mostert expressed seeing the achievements of someone with autism can be encouraging.
“She's definitely a role model of what the possibilities for these kids are.... Temple Grandin has developed amazing corral systems for livestock farmers. She's not necessarily the most social person in the world, but she has learned the skills to interact with big crowds.”
He added, “I think that encourages parents that have children on the spectrum to know that there are opportunities for their children. There are ways to get by the hurdles that the spectrum throws at families.”
Grandin's visit will be the fourth speaking engagement hosted by Rednecks with a Cause since the group started fundraising five years ago. Originally started as a group to raise awareness and money for Autism Speaks Canada, in 2013 their focus shifted when they made a long term goal to also see the implementation of a Lakeland Intervention Centre. It was that year that the organization held their first major fundraiser, and Mostert rode his bicycle from Cold Lake to Vancouver to promote autism awareness.
Mostert noted, “We've gone from 500 people looking at our Facebook page, to over 14,000. Rednecks with a Cause is now not just the Bonnyville or Lakeland anymore, it's at least (known across) northeastern Alberta... I definitely think our traction has grown in town. Temple Grandin is the next level up and we're super excited to host this event have a more all inclusive speaker, for people on the spectrum and the public.”
Grandin's speaking engagement in Bonnyville will feature three different sessions, which Rednecks with a Cause gets to choose from a list of topics. The sessions are broken down into 90 minutes, where she speaks for 60 minutes followed by a question and answer period.
While geared towards children on the spectrum, their parents, and those that work with them, being a rural area they plan to take advantage of the opportunity to have Grandin share her agricultural knowledge.
“The MD has indicated they would like to be part of the process. We will pick the three topics she speaks on and possibly include a session on agriculture and how we deal with animals in a humane way. So one session will most likely be a more public topic.”
It's not always an easy task to get highly-touted speakers, such as Grandin, to include small communities on their schedule. Mostert is hoping the event will see crowds fill the C2 field house, to prove that sessions like these are needed in rural communities just as much as they are in the city centres.
“I think because services in small towns like Bonnyville are more sparse than in the big city, people think ‘oh my child's on the spectrum, I can't live in a small town.' We're proving that you can because we're improving the services every year in this town. We have been for the past five years by getting high-end learning opportunities for service providers.”
While there are still some details to be ironed out before the Feb. 28, 2018 event, Mostert noted they will be focusing on making tickets for the event affordable for everyone.
The group is also preparing for their annual dinner and dance fundraiser coming up on April 1 at the Beaver River Fish and Game hall, which raises money for Rednecks with a Cause to host these conferences and learning opportunities.
For further updates, or to get in contact with the group, go to their Facebook page ‘RednecksWithACause'.