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Teen donates to ‘Best Buddies’


Maria Gilbert was thrilled to see the joy on the faces of students in the “Best Buddies” program at Fort Frances High School yesterday morning as they viewed the toys, games, and supplies lining the table in a classroom.

Gilbert, a Grade 11 student there, purchased and donated the items using money from RBC’s “Canada 150” initiative.

“RBC was looking for one youth from communities across Canada and they are given $150 to make a difference in some way within their community,” she said, noting her dad mentioned to Shelly Matias at the local RBC branch that it would be something she’d be interested in.

She wound up being selected as the youth for the Fort Frances branch.

“We’re celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary by showcasing the people who will lead and shape our country’s future,” Mary DePaoli, chief brand and communications officer for RBC, said in a press release.

“Our ‘Canada 150’ initiative will bring to life the power and ideas of young people, and how they build prosperity in communities across our great nation.”

Gilbert knew she wanted to use the money to help the students in the “Best Buddies” program at Fort High—a program she now leads and has been a part of since she started high school.

She explained it is a program that brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities to help create an inclusive and welcoming environment.

“We gather to play games, do crafts, and just have a good time together,” Gilbert said, noting it’s a program that a lot of people within the community aren’t aware of.

It also doesn’t receive much funding.

“So I knew that the items would have a huge impact,” she stressed.

Having worked closely with the students, Gilbert knew what sorts of games and supplies they would like.

One student likes sports, so she bought a few basketballs. Another student loves to dance, so she purchased a Wii dance game.

“I really wanted to keep it a surprise,” Gilbert said. “But at our last meeting, I did mention about the project and asked if there was anything else they’d like that they don’t already have.

“So they gave me a few ideas.”

Gilbert tried to provide a good balance of items, including some sports equipment, art and craft supplies, and games.

“I wanted to give them items that would also be helpful in their everyday lives,” she reasoned.

“Things that are therapeutic and tactile.”

When Matias’ husband, Ramiro, of Sunset Medical here heard what she was doing, he offered some donations, too.

He provided a sound machine and therapeutic balls, which Gilbert said are great for students with autism.

Additional funding also was donated through Char Bliss at the Rainy River District School Board.

“So it started with $150 but I was able to make it so much more,” Gilbert enthused.

She said the items will be enjoyed together by all students within the “Best Buddies” program.

“In fact, we’ll be getting together to do some holiday crafts, so I made sure to get some supplies,” she noted.

Gilbert created a video about the project, which will be submitted and then featured online at

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