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The Journal's Exceptional Person of the Week: David Ashdown

Cathy Dobson There’s a place in Sarnia that is like none other in the province. In large part, that’s due to the hard work and dedication of this week’s Exceptional Person.
David Ashdown with his son Nick at Standing Oaks
David Ashdown with his son Nick at Standing Oaks. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Cathy Dobson

There’s a place in Sarnia that is like none other in the province. In large part, that’s due to the hard work and dedication of this week’s Exceptional Person.

David Ashdown was one of several parents who teamed up in the 1990s to find a way to build a home for their medically fragile children.

Until that time, the medically fragile in Sarnia – who are often physically and mentally challenged – either lived in the hospital or at home with their families.

Families frequently experience burnout from the 24/7 demands of a child dependent on airway suctions, special feeding tubes and other technology. If they turn to a hospital for help, care may be excellent but the children live in an institution.

Sarnia’s Monica and Frank Vautour and Diane and Jim Lambert are credited with coming up with a third option to build and staff a house where the medically fragile enjoy the warmth of a home and the support of professionals.

They reached out for help from other parents in the area with medically fragile children.

David Ashdown immediately stepped up.

“He has been a constant,” said Diane Lambert. “He’s very kind, very humble and so well-spoken.

“Dave has always brought a sense of calm to our board meetings, but he also plays the devil’s advocate at times when really difficult decisions have to be made,” she said.

It took 15 years of advocacy and trailblazing to build the home they call Standing Oaks, located on land donated by the Rotary Foundation near the corner of Michigan and Murphy roads.

Originally four residents lived there but a 2018 expansion means Standing Oaks now accommodates nine. Each resident has an individual plan developed by their parents or guardians that includes art and music, pet therapy, and outings. Bedrooms are built to suit their personal medical needs and decorated by their parents. There’s also a respite bed to give a break to the 13 or so families in Sarnia-Lambton that continue to live with a medically fragile child at home.

The March of Dimes Canada owns and staffs the house. The original parent group, known as Community Concerns for the Medically Fragile, operates the board and raises money for all the extras that make Standing Oaks a home.

It was the first of its kind built in Ontario specifically for the medically fragile and is often called the “crown jewel” of March of Dimes Canada facilities. In so many ways, it shines brighter because of David Ashdown’s dedication.

“We are so lucky to have our children there. They are cared for so well,” said David who is married to Lori. Their son Nick moved in when Standing Oaks opened in 2004.

For 32 years he has served on the board. He’s been a tireless advocate and president several times. He’s chaired every associated committee and regularly went above and beyond.

“Dave is an extraordinary humanitarian,” says administrative leader Chris Steeves. “Not only did he devote thousands of hours in various capacities over 30-plus years, he also donated his services as an insurance broker and helped out in so many other ways.”

“David is very down to earth and has a real talent for PR,” said Frank Vautour, another Standing Oaks co-founder. “He’s worn many hats in our organization and never hesitated to share his family’s story so people would understand.”

“And Dave brings his musical skills every Sunday for everyone to enjoy,” added Monica Vautour.

David plays lead guitar for Redline, a band known locally for its blues, country, and a little bit rock. Years ago, he brought his guitar to Standing Oaks to entertain Nick. When the other residents joined in, a new weekly tradition began. For 18 years and counting, David has played every Sunday in the oversized living room where all the residents can gather. He even performed via ZOOM when Covid-19 necessitated a lockdown.

“CCMF has always made me feel such a sense of accomplishment,” he said. “It’s an incredible home.”

As 2022 winds down, so does David’s long tenure on the board of directors.

“If I could have a parting wish, I would like nothing more than to see the new parents get involved with the board to keep the fire going,” he said.

“They know best what their children need.”

If you would like to nominate someone to be The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week, send their name and why you think they should be recognized to [email protected]. Be sure to include your name and number.

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