Optimist Club Fall Gala funds helping two families buy accessible van and service dog for special needs children

This year, the Optimist Club of Prince Albert's Fall Gala proceeds are supporting the families of Danika Beer (left) and Ethan Weberg (right). (Optimist Club of Prince Albert/Submitted)

“having a special needs child is the most challenging thing I have ever had to do in my life.”

– Andrea Weberg

The Optimist Club’s Fall Gala on Saturday is benefitting two Prince Albert area families who are in need of medical support.

Amber Newhouse’s daughter and Andrea Weberg’s son are living with conditions that require around the clock care. One of them needs a new accessible van and the other a service dog.

Newhouse’s 11-year-old daughter Danika Beer had a stroke when she was pregnant, causing developmental problems with Beer’s frontal lobe in her brain. She also has cerebral palsy.

With little mobility independence, Danika needs to be lifted out of bed, up to the kitchen table and into the car.

Danika’s outgoing personality means Newhouse is always transporting her to sports activities and to see friends and family. That’s why they’re using the proceeds to buy an accessible van.

They live outside of Prince Albert in Christopher Lake.

“She goes everywhere, so this is just giving her back the independence because we were using a stroller and we were lifting her in and out of the vehicle and she’s probably 90 pounds,” said Newhouse. “It’s a lot of weight bearing, a lot of lifting.”

With her husband working two jobs, Newhouse is a stay-at-home mom for Danika and her three other children.

Because Danika requires care 24/7, she said daycare would be too costly.

“It can be emotionally, mentally and physically taxing in a day. I would say she’s full-time care. She’s 11, but it’s like having a baby.”

“You just do what you’ve got to do. It’s your child, and I’m not going to say it was easy. It was hard. I mean, I had my moment. I probably cried all the way home (when I found out),” Newhouse explained.

Newhouse said she doubts she’s cried about Danika’s condition since that ride home. She developed a positive mindset, remembering that children of all abilities are a gift.

“I only know her as Danika,” she said.

“She teaches all of us in our family a little bit more about ourselves… She changed everybody for the better.”

The Fall Gala is also supporting Andrea Weberg’s family. Her six-year-old son Ethan has an inherited condition called tuberous sclerosis, when benign tumours can grow anywhere on the body. Ethan currently has tumours on his brain, heart and kidneys. He also has epilepsy and autism.

Ethan is Weberg’s eldest child, with her youngest three-year-old daughter also having tuberous sclerosis and suffering from seizures.

The family currently has a puppy that will eventually be able to detect their seizures as a service dog. The money they receive from the gala is going towards its training costs.

Weberg said the service dog will cost $30,000 in total.

They’re currently in the socialization stage with the dog, exposing her to as many people and environments as they can.

“We’ve already noticed a big change in (Ethan) having the dog and making that connection as a pup because that connection has to be made in order for the dog to work for him. They have to have that bond, so knowing that that is being established right now is a huge relief,” said Weberg.

She said Ethan had his first seizure when he was two months old.

It wasn’t until she had her second child that she suspected he didn’t just have epilepsy. Her second son was walking and talking sooner than her first.

Ethan got an autism diagnosis a few years ago.

“Let’s just say that having a special needs child is the most challenging thing I have ever had to do in my life. Luckily I have a great support system around that I can lean on and that knows Ethan and knows how to work with him,” said Weberg.

She said Ethan loves dancing, listening to music, horseback riding and swimming.

“When you see them light up and they have that smile on their face, nothing is more heartwarming than knowing that you finally found something that he can connect with.”

“I thought that (the Fall Gala) would be a really good opportunity to not only help with the dog, but also just kind of create awareness (that) there’s people in the community that could be right on your street that might need help in some way, or even just bring awareness to autism,” said Weberg.

According to George Lewko, past president of the Optimist Club, other families have received an average of $5,000 to $8,000 from past fall galas.