In honour of Global Week of Inclusion, Special Olympics is celebrating homegrown Champions of Inclusion: Canadians leading the charge for respecting and embracing all abilities – not just in sports, but in the workforce, in schools, everywhere!
All Champions of Inclusion were nominated by the public for how they #ChooseToInclude every day of the year.
Meet this Saskatoon Champion of Inclusion, Brenda Baker.
Saskatoon’s Brenda Baker, an award-winning singer and former children’s entertainer, wanted to pass on her love of music to her daughter Tori, who had Down syndrome.
When she couldn’t find a local choir that accommodates the needs of children with an intellectual disability, she decided to start her own. In 2005, she founded the non-profit organization Kids of Note, an integrated choir that serves Saskatoon children, with and without disabilities, aged seven and up.
“I wanted to create it for Tori so that there’d be a place for my daughter and other children like her,” Baker said.
Unfortunately, Tori never got a chance to perform with the choir, as she passed away at the age of five after a battle with Leukemia in 2008.
Baker continued Kids of Note as Tori’s legacy and today, there are dozens of members between two choirs: Kids of Note, for youth aged seven to 15 years old, and The Notations, an ensemble of youth and young adult singers aged 16 to 30 years old – some of whom are graduates of Kids of Note.
“I continue to do it, because I know how important it is to all the children who have come through the program – I can see it means so much to them,” said Baker. “This is there to satisfy those young people who are inclined towards the arts and performance.”
Drake Dixon, an 18-year-old Special Olympics Saskatoon bowler, has been involved with both Kids of Note and The Notations for the past nine years.
“Brenda has been good at arranging all these concerts, I’ve been given solos in quite a few of them,” Drake said, adding that some of those solos included Celebration by Kool & The Gang and Taking Care of Business by Bachman Turner Overdrive.
In fact, it was Drake’s mother, Fay Dixon, who nominated Baker as a Special Olympics Canada Champion of Inclusion for Global Week of Inclusion July 20 to 26.
While Dixon loves watching Drake belt out a solo performance, as a parent of a child with autism, the best part is watching her son be included, make lasting friendships and build confidence.
“The confidence he’s built – he just loves to talk about what he does … and this is coming from a kid who, for the first part of his life, was essentially non-verbal,” she said. “Drake’s made friendships – they text and go to the movies.”
His friends include choir members both with and without intellectual disabilities – which is the purpose of Kids of Note, said Baker.
“The idea was to normalize the notion of disability,” she said. “We actually integrate everybody into a model that works as much as possible for everyone.”
As a result, “everybody gets a chance to shine,” added Fay.
“Everyone truly is equal. Brenda loves everybody for who they are and no judgment - that’s just who she is,” she said.
To learn more about Saskatoon’s Kids of Note, click here.