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By Robert Belardi
It was Brent Morning's life-long dream to skate at Maple Leaf Gardens. He was getting used to his walker on skates, but when the opportunity presented itself, there was no question he was going to learn how to skate and make it happen.
He stepped out on to the ice on Dec. 27, 1985. One of his best friends from King City Secondary School couldn't make it, but he did it on his own and made friends within the first five minutes on the ice. They were going to make sure Morning wasn't going to be trampled by the other skaters in the sanctum of the city's beloved hockey team the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Following a few laps, Morning felts a tap on his shoulder. He turned and it was none other than Bobby Orr. Was it divine intervention? Was this really happening? He didn't know. All he knew was Bobby Orr had asked him how many laps he would skate.
“The pledge says 50 doesn't it?” Morning replied. And Orr in return, offered to help him in his last few. In those laps, other individuals coalesced to help Morning finish off his skate.
The PA announcer turned everyone's attention to Morning. His mother was racing down the arena steps in excitement. He was only 16 years old. It was the start of something special.
It feels like it was yesterday. Today, at the age of 51, Morning was awarded the 2020 Gary Wright Humanitarian Award in the virtual gala on YouTube. Established in honour of the founder of Friends of We Care, Gary Wright, the award is gifted to a member of the food service hospitality industry who has contributed to the improvement of the community.
“What more can I say? I'm grateful for the community, I'm grateful for the sponsors and volunteers. This has given me a job. When the virus hit, I thought we might as well raise money. Golf is secondary; the money is for the kids,” Morning said graciously.
A life-long resident of Kettleby, Morning has hosted a charity golf tournament with Friends of We Care since 2014, amassing $65,000 in donations in six years to fund local children with disabilities and ensure they can go to summer camp. Four-time Olympian and Canadian Ski Hall of Famer, Brian Stemmle, has been his MC since day one.
“Brent has been a great friend. We've gone to school together since I moved to Kettleby Public School in Grade 4 and have been friends for 43 years. We played baseball, did 10-kilometre walkathons for charity, but by far the best thing Brent has accomplished is his quaint golf tournament,” said Stemmle.
Born with cerebral palsy, Morning attended a disabilities camp in Collingwood at the age of eight. He had a blast. He is adamant that other children have that chance to experience what he had.
He's had a knack for fundraising and was first exposed as a local Timmy (Ambassador) for Easter Seals in 1981. When he was searching for a co-op job in high school years later, Easter Seals seemed to be the best fit. Fluctuating between the Public Relations Department and the Fundraising Department he learned quickly how to raise money. He even helped coordinate Bobby Orr's Skate in 1987.
He raised $8,000 in 10 years.
“I was honoured by my school in front of the whole school in King City, with a bronze skate from Easter Seals and I thought ‘wow, there's a thousand people in the gym screaming,'” Morning chuckled.
He became a craftsman in his trade. A spokesman for what it meant to donate to a noble cause. At Easter Seals he directly and indirectly, raised about $200,000 in total in close to his 40-year tenure being involved.
Since joining Friends of We Care, a third-party organization for Easter Seals, he made it happen with support from Kevin J. Collins and a strong group of volunteers. They helped Morning along the way.
“Current president of Easter Seals Ontario Kevin Collins, Susan Shephard and the late Susan Brower were my key influences in fundraising,” Morning said.
They taught him how to influence. With more sponsors entering the picture, Morning wanted to set up an affordable golf tournament and in the first two years, there was a lot of success.
“I think the first year we raised $3,800 and the next year we raised $7,200. My rule of thumb is let's try to get $100 per player,” Morning explained.
With an affordable price to play more money can be catered to the donations and to the prized auctions at the end. Morning emphasized this is all about the children and all proceeds go to their cause.
He is incredibly thankful for all the support he has received. He doesn't believe in an “I.” He says without a team, it's just him and this all would not be possible.
He is humbled by his sponsors such as Schomberg Technologies, Motive Media and Priestly Demolition.
“Brent has limitless passion and energy for his annual golf tournament supporting Friends of We Care. His network of friends and supporters are always there when he calls for sponsorship, prizing or participation in the event. We care is truly fortunate to have Brent helping send kids with disabilities to accessible summer camps just like the one he attended when he was young,” Executive Director of Friends of We Care Tiana Rodrigue said in her statement to the King Weekly Sentinel.
Morning says he has lived out every dream he has ever aspired to be a part of. He helped out at a Maple Leafs practice and was an assistant equipment manager for the Newmarket Royals. But, Morning is disheartened this year's tournament wasn't played out.
“I'm sad that we couldn't have the event this year, it would have been June 11. Unfortunately, but we got to be safe. Basically, we're not allowed to really have it so, I encourage people to donate online to FriendsofWeCare.org,” and mark your Brent Morning Charity Golf Challenge.
“I never thought in a million years that my little idea; I thought if we raised seven or eight thousand dollars a year for five years that would be pretty good for Kettle Creek, but somehow last year got up to $19,000.”
Morning says 100 sponsors were confirmed before the pandemic and many of them have done what they could to help.
He understands donations will not be the same considering financial implications as he looks forward to planning the next tournament in 2021. Easter Seals camps have been cancelled and are being held virtually.
Originally from Aurora, his 85-year-old father James Morning could not be prouder of his son.
“The Morning family, myself, my sons and my daughter are very happy with what he has done over the years.”
Excerpt: It was Brent Morning’s life-long dream to skate at Maple Leaf Gardens. He was getting used to his walker on skates, but when the opportunity presented itself, there was no question he was going to learn how to skate and make it happen.
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