I have been asked many times over the years what makes École Marie-Anne-Gaboury so incredibly special. Hands down, I would have to say that it is our community. But yesterday, we experienced as a community something much larger than our students and their parents. This is Matthew Isaak's story.
Matthew is a Grade 5 student at our school. An extraordinary child, an avid reader, a team player and a young man with a heart of gold, he is loved by our school community. Unfortunately, last June, his family was hit with the worst possible news when they learned that he was diagnosed with Midline Diffuse Glioma, a very aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer. The past eight months have been both physically challenging and exhausting for him and have placed an emotional toll on his parents, something that no family should ever have to experience.
Throughout this ordeal, our community has provided support through a GoFundMe page that was created to raise funds for Matthew's treatment. They have attended fundraising events in the family's honour and have turned up at PAC-run events so that monies raised could be used to help the Isaaks in whatever way possible. These gestures of kindness have certainly helped to lessen the stress of an unbelievably difficult situation.
Throughout all this, one thing that was very important to Matthew was to maintain contact with his friends. To support his transition back to school, his palliative care and oncology teams met with our staff and then his classmates. Their sharing session with Mme Bielinski's class was amazing and supported our students with their questions and concerns. They were then able to translate this knowledge into being the biggest supporters of their friend. Then, when Matthew felt up to attending school, Mme Bielinski would adapt her lessons so that he could participate in class and feel a part of the community, despite his absences. Being at school with his friends did him the world of good, and at the same time, his presence had a huge impact on all the students in his class as they fed off his optimism and positivity.
Unfortunately, Matthew's physical health is such that he can no longer attend classes with his friends. In speaking with his father last week, a request was made that we find some time to allow for Matthew to say goodbye to his buddies. Rather than provide him with a room to quietly spend time with them, the team decided to make this a celebration to honour his awesomeness with the best party that we could pull off in less than a week. After checking with his parents, we were given the go-ahead and so off we went, connecting with people and businesses in the hopes of perhaps getting a few streamers and maybe a cake. That didn't happen. Instead, the responses to our requests were incredible, so much so that a small-scale assembly then became an extraordinary event for a young boy who deserves every accolade he receives.
To support the Isaak family, The Ace Burpee Team from Virgin Radio 103 came out in full force, with Ace, Chrissy, LTI and Amber running the show. And they did an amazing job, ensuring that the entire event was a fun-filled celebration!
DJ Blitz, a former student at École Marie-Anne-Gaboury and now a radio announcer at 103.1, also donated his time to provide music for the dance party of the year!
The Red River Co-Op St. Vital donated enough cake to feed 460 people and Matthew loved every morsel, so much so that they took some home with them. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers also donated enough Humpty Dumpty Cheese Sticks to feed our school twice over.
At the same time, Amanda from Simply Perfect Decor and Justin from Just In Couture spent countless hours preparing and then setting up the Star Wars-themed backdrop the night before and it was an amazing sight! Staff and students walked into the transformed gymnasium with many ooh's and aah's and couldn't believe how beautiful everything looked!
The team from The Dream Factory was also in attendance, having worked with the Isaak family to send both Matthew and Clare to Disney World in September. Their presence did the family a world of good.
True North Entertainment and the Manitoba Moose also sent a package for Matthew along with Mick E. Moose to entertain our guests. One highlight was the presentation that Mick E. Moose made to Matthew…an aviator Jets jersey, complete with Mark Scheifele's signature.
Darth Vadar from Happily Ever After Parties and Wonder Woman from Heather's Pretty Parties also made an appearance and spent their time entertaining our students. We also had a few hockey players join us from the Winnipeg Ice and Winnipeg Blues, with enough tickets for our students to attend either of the teams' games…a huge hit with the crowd! Party Stuff also donated a balloon bouquet representing many of his favorite activities, streamers and the students' favorite…confetti cannons. And last but not least, The Crane Guy donated an assortment of Star Wars-themed Lego gifts, something that made Matthew one very happy boy at the end of the afternoon, as his eyes lit up when he saw them.
Our students and staff, including his former teachers, also came together to make a video for Matthew to share with him just how much he means to us, how much he inspires us and how grateful we are that he is part of our community.
Near the end of the formal part of the afternoon, Matthew spoke to the crowd and with his usual grace, thanked everybody for their part in his celebration, including the guests who attended. And then the party began, with dancing, laughter, lots of hugs and a few tears. Through the support of these extraordinary individuals and their companies, students were able to connect with Matthew, let him know how important he is to us and celebrate just how extraordinary he is in a way that made everybody's heart sing.
At the end of the day, Matthew left École Marie-Anne-Gaboury knowing that his impact on our students and staff over the years has been tremendous and that without question, he is loved. What he may not know is that those people who came to support us in pulling this party off for a young boy that they hadn't yet met, had arrived as strangers…yet, they left in awe of the boy we were celebrating and the love that just radiated in the gym yesterday, memories that they will carry with them for years to come.
Without a doubt, because of this 10-year-old boy, our community just got a whole lot bigger. On t'aime, Matthew!
On behalf of students and staff at École Marie-Anne Gaboury, thank you to the following companies and individuals for donating your time to making this celebration such a success: