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28 July, 2010

ALL JEFF PRESTON NEEDED WAS A CHANCE TO GO TO SCHOOL LIKE THE OTHER KIDS

In a previous post this week I elaborated on the merits of special needs education in our school systems and it is a perfect segue to a story about a young man from Port Elgin that I greatly admire.

Photo:  Jeff addressing a town council meeting during London to Ottawa "Mobilize March" last year.

Jeff Preston was diagnosed with Congenital Muscular Dystrophy when he was only three months old.  Were it not for a remarkable set of parents, a supportive community and a school system that accepted the little fellow in a wheelchair, the world would be missing out today on a productive citizen with a brilliant mind and boundless energy.

 "While my parents acknowledged there would be challenges, they truly believed life with a disability did not have to be a life of no ability," Jeff recently stated.  "They raised me to be a fighter!"

  Throughout his still short life Jeff has advocated for the needs of himself and others with disabilities hoping to live an independent and barrier-free life.  In doing so he has overcome his physical limitations and established himself as an effective spokesman and role model.

 Some 20 years ago all his parents, Gail and Dave, ever asked was for Jeff to be given a chance to be immersed in a regular school environment where he could learn and develop along with all the other kids.  And learn and develop he did.


 Jeff proved to be a good student who always tried just a little harder.  His determination and enthusiasm was catching and he proved to be popular with  classmates and teachers alike.  He so impressed the local Rotary Club that an annual golf tournament was organized in his honour with proceeds going to medical research at the University of Western Ontario.  Now in its 15th year, the Jeff Preston Celebrity Golf Tournament has raised in excess of one million dollars.  The event regularly attracts celebrities from the world of sports, business and politics.

 Small and frail in stature but blessed with a booming voice to match his outgoing personality, Jeff was active in many school and community activities and a popular public speaker.  His chief of police father once laughingly told me that he was no longer known in town as "Chief Preston", instead he was commonly referred to as "Jeff Preston's dad".

 And high school sports?  You'd better believe that Jeff was always on the sidelines in a supporting role, even serving as water captain for the football and basketball teams.

 Leaving his very nervous parents behind, a determined and courageous Jeff branched out on his own and began his post-secondary career at the University of Western Ontario in London where he completed an undergraduate degree in Media in the Public Interest. Upon graduation, he continued his education, enrolling in the Masters in Media Studies program offered through the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, also at UWO, where he wrote about disability and the body in his Master’s thesis entitled “Augmented Ability, Integrated Identity: Understanding Sapienism, Adaptive Technology, and the Construction of Disability.” Having successfully completed his MA, Jeff has returned to the university as a Doctorate Candidate in Media Studies, where he is continuing his work on understanding the construction of disability in the community.

 Here is just a sampling of some other accomplishments by this young man once considered to have special needs.

 •Received the Ontario Graduate Scholarship from 2006 to 2009.

 •Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Scholarship from 2007 to present.

 •Dean’s List 3rd and 4th years (2005 & 2006); Outstanding Achievement Award as an Undergrad (2006).

 •Recipient of Graduate Teaching Assistant Award in 2007 (based on the number of nominations received and the quality of comments from the students).

 •Raised $26,000 by organizing “Mobilize March” marathon from London to Ottawa.  Organized and operated a 47-day wheelchair marathon to advocate for accessible transportation. Spoke to municipal and provincial government officials, wrote press releases, conducted media interviews, and completed an hour-long documentary. Recognized by the prestigious London Mayor’s New Year’s Honours List in 2009.

 •Over 20 years of award-winning public speaking experience. Written and delivered thousands of motivational and inspirational speeches that have raised more than $5,000,000 for various charitable organizations.

 •Previous Vice-Chair of Easter Seals Ontario’s Board of Directors and a current member of the board and the Services Committee.


 •Member of the Accessibility Advisory Committee and Transportation Advisory Committee of London City Council, helping to overcome accessibility and transportation obstacles in London.

 •Member of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council for the Minister of Community and Social Services, Ontario Government, advising on the development of accessibility law in Ontario.

 •Received the Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow Award in recognition of his work on the Jeff Preston Celebrity Golf Tournament.

 And he's only just getting started in life...What next for this 25-year-old, politics?  Don't count it out...You are going to hear a lot more about Jeff Preston in the future...There is simply no holding back this young man with his ever-present baseball cap and electric wheelchair which he operates with amazing dexterity.

 He's a "fighter" you know, just in case you hadn't arrived at that conclusion before now.

 It makes you wonder just how many other Jeff Prestons have been overlooked in the past because they did not fit conveniently into a regular school system -- or society too, for that matter. 

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