By Michelle Ainsworth
The stars will be shining brightly in downtown Huntsville this weekend when an exciting, brand new event called Huntsville’s Got Talent! launches
Created by Drew Markham, with all the proceeds being generously donated to Community Living Huntsville, Huntsville’s Got Talent is being held at the Algonquin Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 11.
Some grow up with inclusion being woven into their upbringing as a way of life and this is true for Markham. His father worked for the Ministry of Community and Social Services in a variety of capacities. In fact, he played a role in the closing of institutions and implementing policies and procedures for supporting people with developmental disabilities to become included in community.
Markham is recognized as an Ambassador of Inclusion for all that he does in the Huntsville community. Not only is he a local dentist but since moving here 11 years ago he has given back to the community in ways that go above and beyond the average citizen.
Markham grew up in various parts of Ontario as his father would obtain various positions in the social services sector. He went to the University of Toronto and also attended dental school in Michigan and had a practice there. Both of his children were born in Michigan. Marka and his family moved to Sarnia and decided that although they loved Sarnia they wanted to make a change. That is when he purchased a practice in Huntsville.
When asked about why he chose Huntsville, Markham shared that he was drawn to Huntsville because of a cottage experience. He and his wife both visited Huntsville when they were 13 years old. They were both avid figure skaters and through that they were invited to a cottage in Huntsville for a weekend. Although Drew did not pursue figure skating as a career path, his wife did and even went on to represent Canada internationally. His cottage experience is what initially drew him to Huntsville, but soon the family discovered that Huntsville had so much to offer.
“When I came up to visit the practice that I was considering purchasing, it was a September morning and the leaves were turning and I was so impressed at how much was available in the town,” says Markham. “I thought a town of 18, 500 wouldn’t have a lot in terms of amenities but I saw very quickly that Huntsville had and still has so much to offer. It became clear within an hour or so of visiting that practice that this was the right move for us. We wanted to provide our kids with an opportunity to have a spot to call home for a long time and we felt it was best to raise them in a small town where they could have opportunities”.
Opportunities were what Markham and his family were seeking but it turned out that he was the one who provided opportunities to so many through the volunteer work he has done over the years.
Markham recognized that living and working in a small town provided his family with the advantage of relationships which were easier to build due to a smaller population size. Over the years Markham lived in a wide range of cities and towns and he learned that immersing oneself in the community has many professional and personal benefits.
Markham introduced the Huntsville Makeover and connected with various businesses in order to make this life changing event such a success. Running for five years, a lucky winner from the community was chosen from a group of nominations to be a makeover recipient.
When Markham moved to Huntsville he had been training in dealing with complex cosmetic cases and restorative dentistry. This was something that appealed to Drew. Initially he donated this service to some people as he recognized the procedures involved can be very expensive.
“I felt that I wanted to do a one case per year on someone and I would take care of the expenses,” says Markham. “I did a few of those and saw what an impact that had on the individuals. One person was a recluse and through the makeover was able to be involved in her community and with her family because she felt more comfortable and confident. Instead of doing a lot of little changes on a number of people I liked the idea of a massive change on one individual.”
Markham created the Huntsville Makeover to have a greater impact on one person than just dental work. He recognized that together the Huntsville community could collaborate to create positive change for community members. A team led by Janet Markham, Drew’s amazing wife, worked together and the annual makeover was a great success.
In addition to providing the Huntsville Makeover for five years, Markham has been volunteering as a hockey coach and is very involved in Rotary. Markham has been a Rotary member for five years and through that participates in a variety of community projects.
When the Huntsville Makeover ended, Markham still wanted to contribute and an idea formed that was inspired by his enjoyment of reality television.
“I’ve always been a sucker for reality TV and The Voice and American Idol was a pretty positive way for people to showcase their talent that may not have the opportunity,” he says. “In arts there is always more talent than the opportunity to market it. People can’t always make a living on it. Knowing there was a lot of talented people in Huntsville the idea formed to create Huntsville’s Got Talent. It took me over a year of planning to make sure that the project would be feasible and I feel that the timing for Saturday’s event is perfect.”
Markham chose Community Living Huntsville (CLH) as the recipient of the proceeds of the event because he was inspired by a Rotary meeting that he attended where he introduced the brick concept at the wall at the band shell in River Mill Park. At that same meeting CLH was there speaking about their services and supports. In particular, Sheldon Eaton was a huge source of inspiration for Markham. Eaton shared his story of receiving supports and the benefits that Community Living Huntsville has to offer for people who live with the label of a developmental disability.
“The young man that spoke that night was Sheldon and a lightbulb went off and I thought that Community Living Huntsville would be a worthy recipient,” says Markham. “During that meeting Cathy Stroud, Executive Director at Community Living Huntsville, was talking about being able to reach people who fall between the cracks but still require supports. I thought of my experiences growing up with my dad and his career- He was very involved in the closing of institutions and developing policies into community and group homes and this seemed that this was something that could honor him as a recipient.” In honor of Drew’s father, a community event was created and the proceeds go directly towards supporting community members who live with the label of a developmental disability.
“We would visit my dad at his office and get a chance to see residents and get to know them. As you get older you realize how sad a situation for many it was and back then my dad would talk about how it was common for people to drop their children off as infants into institutions and never see them again. As a culture we learn from the past and you see the evidence of that in Huntsville, a lot of places are inclusive and welcoming such as employers and to me that makes a lot of sense.”
When asked about inclusion, Drew shared: “I think it’s important that I was exposed to people with developmental disabilities at an early age as it helped from a comfort level perspective. A lot of people are scared by what they don’t know or understand. Even when I was in dental school they were still using the R word as a scientifically driven term. I remember correcting my professor when she used the term (retarded) and she said that was the term that was used.”
Even then Drew realized how hurtful the R word can be and he teaches his children to use respectful language: “In my house you can say anything but the R word is the top of the list of words NOT to say.”
Huntsville’s Got Talent is an opportunity for people to showcase their talent and to highlight the contribution of Community Living Huntsville.
“With what CLH does and hopefully with this weekend,” Drew says. “More people will understand just how able people that receive support through Community Living Huntsville are.”
The people who participate in Huntsville’s Got Talent also have the opportunity to win and receive $1,000 and a trophy. The four judges are Markham, Huntsville’s Mayor Scott Aitchison, Sue Campbell of the Muskoka Dance Academy and music producer Andre Wahl.
It is apparent that Markham is one of Huntsville’s Ambassadors of Inclusion in all that he does. He helps to make Huntsville a better place through his contributions and the support he provides others.
In closing, Drew has a message for the Huntsville’s Got Talent Performers: “I greatly appreciate the bravery it takes to put yourself out there, whether you are experienced or not. Also, the ones who did not make it into the show- it does not mean they didn’t have talent. It is heartwarming that so many people submitted.”
Drew, the Huntsville community greatly appreciates the contributions you have made- you are a shining star in the eyes of many.
For more information about Huntsville’s Got Talent you can visit their Facebook Page or website at http://drdrew.ca/huntsvilles-got-talent/
To learn more about the work of Community Living Huntsville you are invited to attend a free one hour “Celebrating Inclusion Tour”, where you will learn about the work of Community Living Huntsville and hear stories shared from people who live with the label of a developmental disability. The tours are all about community and all are welcome. For more information visit www.clhuntsville.ca