Sunday 26 December 2010

Rebecca Beayni - Community Connector and Inspirer

Back to Scraps of silkhelp stitch a community
Scraps of silkhelp stitch a community
December 24, 2010
Helen Henderson

Rebecca Beayni, at the Lea-Ann Belter Bridal boutique, which donates materials to the Mustard Seed drop-in centre, located next door.
This is the time of year for magic. It's also a time for connecting. So let me tell you a story about the magic that happens when different communities connect to include everyone.
It starts with a women's drop-in centre next door to a high-end, sophisticated bridal boutique. The bridal boutique is all about silk and lace, pearl buttons, beadwork and embroidery. The drop-in centre is all about a community kitchen on a tight budget, about learning life skills and sewing seeds of hope.
The young woman who connected the two is Rebecca Beayni, dancer, artist, teacher.
Beayni has cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair. For someone who does not communicate verbally, she has a great deal to say. And she does it with PowerPoint presentations.
I wrote about her five years ago when she went to New York to talk about the importance of inclusion before the committee drafting the United Nations declaration on the rights of people with disabilities.
These days, closer to home, Beayni takes her message of inclusion to colleges, universities and community groups. She dances with the Spirit Movers, a group formed by L'Arche Daybreak, a community that includes people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them. She paints. And she also volunteers as a facilitator at the Royal Ontario Museum's hands-on biodiversity exhibit and helps out at the Mustard Seed, the drop-in centre which happens to be right next door to the Lea-Ann Belter Bridal boutique.
One day when Beayni was talking to a community group about Mustard Seed, her audience included Nina Wright. “You know, I work next door at the bridal boutique,” Wright told Beayni after the presentation. Then Wright offered to arrange for Beayni to pick up left-over fabric scraps and take them to the women at Mustard Seed.
The women at Mustard Seed's sewing program take the scraps of silk and make them into tiny wedding dresses. Then they put the wedding dresses on tiny toy bears, which they sell at craft shows to help raise funds for the drop-in centre.
“For the last 10 years, since government cutbacks, everyone has been struggling,” says Mustard Seed director Sister Gwen Smith as she helps whip up a batch of cranberry sauce to serve with Christmas dinner. The group relies on community volunteers to step up to the plate and Beayni never fails to inspire, Smith says.
“She waters the plants and sometimes she dances,” Smith says. Once, when the drop-in centre had a group of visitors, “one man said: ‘Something special happens to that young woman when she dances — and something special happens to us.'
“A lot of people are scared of people who use wheelchairs,” Smith adds. “When they see Rebecca dance, they realize she's not an ‘other,' she's another me.”
As for the bridal boutique, it's always looking for good homes for leftover scraps of materials. “We give them to seniors' homes and other community groups, says owner/designer Lea-Ann Belter. Just another way of making community connections.
One more note about Beayni: One of her paintings was chosen as the centrepiece for the poster representing Ryerson University's school of disability studies.
Helen Henderson is a writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. [email protected]

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