Friday, July 6, 2012

she holds the pulse of community in her hand

By Susanne Martin - Bowen Island Undercurrent:
This July, as the Ballymack sets sail from Victoria to Maui, a very special person will come to wave goodbye to Allard Ockeloen: his daughter Emily. Ockeloen is one of the six crew members who compete in the Victoria to Maui International Yacht Race ( They will not only brace the weather and share their experiences in a blog, they are also raising funds for the Down Syndrome Research Foundation (DSRF).

Ockeloen has been living on Bowen Island for 18 years. He and his wife Amanda have two daughters: Emily, age nine, and Olivia (Poppy), age seven. Both girls attend the Bowen Island Community School (BICS).

Emily has Down syndrome and Ockeloen said that she “holds the pulse of community in her hand” as she has strong connections to her friends, teachers and assistants. “Emily is thriving at BICS because they are very attentive to her,” Ockeloen said. “The last time we checked, she knew almost 300 sight words. That is is extraordinary. And of all the kids in her grade, she has borrowed the most books from the library this year.”

Emily’s success is mainly due to the one-on-one attention to foster her ability to read, according to Ockeloen who adds that she started receiving this help in preschool and kindergarten.

“She gets those advantages and reached milestones ahead of others,” he said. “That comes from all her terrific teachers and the people in the community who worked with her in speech therapy and physical therapy.”

Watching his daughter thrive in a public school environment has inspired Ockeloen to make a difference and he was pleased when his Ballymack team members suggested making Down syndrome the focus for their fundraising efforts. He chose the DSRF as recipient for the funds because “it does not only do research, it also puts it into practice” and Ockeloen thinks it is important that the work benefits “people on the ground.”

The foundation ( was founded in 1995 to support people with Down syndrome through their lifespan with a variety of programs such as Baby Sign Language, speech therapy and literacy and social development.

“The DSRF is located in Burnaby and Emily has been there a couple of times,” Ockeloen said. “It helps people with Down syndrome and their parents and caretakers a great deal.”

Having a daughter with Down syndrome has also influenced Ockeloen’s professional life. “I’m a developer on Bowen Island and my personal goal is to create assisted living housing for seniors and people with special needs like Down syndrome and autism,” Ockeloen said. “Research suggests that combining seniors and young adults with Down syndrome makes for a very symbiotic assisted living concept.” Ockeloen has a good sense what is required to bring a project like this to fruition on Bowen Island and says that this goes hand in hand with the research of the DSRF.

Ockeloen believes that it is a true gift to know someone with Down syndrome. “Emily is pretty happy in general and we spend lot of time near the water and on the water,” Ockeloen says. “Her favourite thing is swimming and the next favourite thing is to be with us on the boat.”

Ockeloen grew up in the Caribbean. He has been sailing all his life and participated in a number of races but he’s never embarked on a trip that covers a distance of approximately 2308 nautical miles. “This is a big race for me,” he said. It had been Ockeloen who suggested entering the Ballymack in the Vic-Maui Yacht Race. “I raced with the owner of the Ballymack on another boat years ago,” he recalls. “We talked about the boat and I suggested it would be perfect for the race to Maui.” The idea inspired the owner of the Ballymack to scout for a compatible crew. “We all sailed together but never in that particular crew,” says Ockeloen. “We practiced a lot to make sure we get along.”

The Ballymack crew will donate 100 per cent of the funds raised to the DSRF - it has received private donations and accepted corporate sponsorships. “The larger sum sponsors get mentioned on the website,” Ockeloen said, adding that they have already exceeded their goal of $15,000 and are going to continue fundraising through the trip. To support team Ballymack’s fundraising, visit

The cost for the trip is covered by the owners and crew of the Ballymack. “It’s our pleasure,” Ockeloen said. “It took us two years to put that campaign together and the process has been very rewarding.” Ockeloen is looking forward to the start of the race. “Once you step on the boat, there’s nothing else you can prepare,” he said.

But his family will never be far from his thoughts. To follow the Ballymack’s progress across the Pacific, please see the blog at

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