Lead with Your Heart
Lead with your heart. That is what Helen Hatzis did. Founder of Aloha Toronto, Helen has created a wonderful annual event providing children with autism a magical day on the water.
After meeting Doc Paskowitz at TIFF several years back, Helen and her daughter, Bella, attended the Paskowitz Surf Camp in Southern California. It was there that Helen first met Doc’s son Izzy who pioneered Surfer’s Healing, a free surf camp for children with autism. Check out “Swell Life” to see how Surfer’s Healing came to be. https://www.surfershealing.org/press
Helen was so touched and inspired by what she experienced through Izzy’s camp, she wanted to bring that bit of magic back to her hometown of Toronto. That is how Aloha Toronto was born.
Pooling local politicians, SUP and surf instructors, fundraisers, media and tireless volunteers, Helen was able to make this vision a reality.
Izzy and crew made their way up from the coasts of California and Hawaii to the shores of Lake Ontario for Aloha Toronto’s first two seasons to kick off this amazing venture. It was very exciting to see the likes of the infamous Maverick surfer Garrett MacNamara and legendary surfers J Riddle, Joe McNulty, Joshua Tracey and Izzy Paskowitz, himself, grace the waters of our Lake Ontario.
Aloha Toronto is heading into its 7th season, and each year gets better and better. Helen’s vision, entrepreneurial spirit and philanthropy are evident in the success of this event; so much so that Helen recently received a prestigious award for her altruism, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award. Parents are ecstatic to see the joy on their children’s faces. Some are non-verbal, slapping hands on the water in glee. One child uttered his first-ever word, “More.” Michelle Quance is one such parent who claims that Aloha Toronto has changed her family’s life. “Tenny’s first time on a stand up paddle board was with the crew at Aloha Toronto/Surfers Healing. She loved it soooooo much. Finally, an activity that she loved and that made her feel free! We knew then that we had to get our own board. Now our favourite family activity is going to the beach and SUPing with Tenny. All our lives were changed that day. Aloha Toronto is only about the kids and their families. A true act of charity. Finally an activity where families can chill and feel ‘normal.’ The patient and enthusiastic volunteers open up a whole new world for our kids. “Our only hope is that all kids get a chance to experience the power of the water and the waves.”
Xander is another such child who first attended the camp three years ago. His mother, Jen, sent me this note: “My son is very sensory, he enjoys and seeks out sensory experiences. Therefore, water is a huge joy and paddleboarding was a big hit! He was able to go out on the board two-to-three times, and had a big smile on his face the entire time. The experience was something new that he could feel successful at as he learned to keep his balance, and take direction from the instructor as he rode some waves. His special needs were accommodated and he felt accepted and happy the entire time. Thank you so much for the experience!”
Every year, more and more families sign up for the camp. Every year, the word spreads further and further. With the help of fundraisers and generous donations, this camp will thrive for years to come, to give these children the best day of their year.
Aloha Toronto is a non-profit organisation. Funding is primarily through private donations, with proceeds directed towards Autism Ontario and other research facilities that support those with Autism.
How Can you Get Involved?
Beginning July 6th, we will host 4 Sunset Standup Paddle Events at KEW Beach. Come and enjoy a Beautiful Sunset and extended SUP Adventure, all for an amazing cause. We have 4 Fridays, 18 Paddle Boards each week, and we’d love for you to join us. 100% off the proceeds will support this amazing one-day camp. To reserve your space for this amazing event, please follow this link
Have your Own Equipment or Can’t Make it to a Sunset Paddle? Take the paddlers Challenge.
We’d appreciate your support in helping even more children with Autism get on the water in such a fun and unique way. If you Standup Paddle, Canoe, Kayak or whatever your paddle sport of choice is, please consider assisting this great camp by donating to our GoFundMe Campaign. There is no support too small or too large.
Diana Aziz is a consummate traveler, water lover, SUP and Pilates instructor who lives in Toronto with her two kids and golden doodle. Diana holds a BA in English Literature and has written for online travel publications including Trip Jaunt, Planet Blue Adventures and ENIT Italian National Tourist Board. Diana has written brand stories and bios for fashion houses and fitness professionals alike.