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Mark’s the man behind Summerside Express

Mark Lerner has just completed his 25th year behind the Summerside Express program. Lerner said the Summerside program gets kids away from the television and the electronic games and gets them to “explore what their abilities and capabilities are.” - Photo by Alistair Taylor
Mark Lerner has just completed his 25th year behind the Summerside Express program. Lerner said the Summerside program gets kids away from the television and the electronic games and gets them to “explore what their abilities and capabilities are.”
— image credit: Photo by Alistair Taylor

A man whose passion has always been to help children will be getting a little help from the medical system.

Mark Lerner has headed up the Summerside Express program for 25 years now, creating recreational opportunities for youths with disabilities. This past summer was typical of the program as the youths aged 7-19 participated in crafts and field trips not just in Campbell River but throughout the region.

“It’s always been a passion to help children,” Lerner said.

Lerner joined the Summerside program 25 years ago and has shepherded it every summer since. Initially, the program was offered by the Association for Community Living, now it’s offered by the City of Campbell River. Lerner works with the City of Campbell River and School District 72 assisting youth and adults with special needs.

Lerner said the Summerside program gets kids away from the television and the electronic games and gets them to “explore what their abilities and capabilities are.”

The program helps the youths learn what it means to socialize, how to make relationships and develop friendships. They also get out in to the community and included in the program is community service projects like fundraising car washes.

The program encourages the youths to learn what independence is all about.

It’s offered at an age period that sees the youths transition from elementary school to middle school. It’s a period that changes the environment for all kids in an significant way. They’re expected to be more independent and they’re in a larger facility with more kids.

The Summerside program helps the kids to come out of their shell and Lerner has seen it become a good preparation activity for transition into the teen years.

“They’re taking another step in life,” Lerner said.

Lerner said he has seen a lot of youths come and go over the 25 years. Not just the program participants but many of the summer staff are university and college students who plan to go into the social service fields and are getting practical experience. Many of the staff provide direct assistance to children in the program who need it. The intent is to make city recreational programs accessible to children of all abilities. The 25-year mark is an auspicious one because Lerner will be taking a 4-6 month break this fall to have a hip installed. Lerner was born without a hip and with what was once called club foot. He has moved around all his life with leg braces and crutches.

He has also undergone various medical procedures throughout his life.

“This is the fourth time they have been in there,” Lerner said. “This is a long term disability I have had all my life.”

And just as the kids in Summerside adjust to new conditions, Lerner will be too. His surgery will be taking place in Toronto and the four-month recovery period.

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