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Chilliwack program puts a spotlight on all abilities

Show Kids, a first-year program in Chilliwack, is a performance arts camp for kids and youth with disabilities.

Carla McLean-Bayes saw her uncle in a light that few others did.

He was talented, motivated, and had a drumming skill second to none. He was also severely disabled from the polio he contracted at four years old.

And yet, he refused to let his disabilities define him.

“It was amazing the things he did,” said McLean-Bayes.

He wanted to be a drummer, so he had a kit adjusted to his needs. He wanted to be in a band, so he practiced hard to show his value. He wanted to be acclaimed, so he played even harder than he practiced.

“He was an inspiration,” said McLean-Bayes. “He was the one who taught me that when you have limitations, you work with them.”

McLean-Bayes, a registered psychiatric nurse and certified dance instructor, has been instilling that mantra into the hearts of several Chilliwack kids this summer through her Show Kids program.

Show Kids is a performance arts program for children and youth with physical and intellectual disabilities to show off their wide range of talents.

“These children have a lot to offer the performance world,” said McLean-Bayes. “They just need a place to express their talents and abilities.”

Since July, McLean-Bayes has been holding once-a-week classes, at Cultus Lake elementary, empowering kids with autism, Asperger’s, Down’s syndrome, speech impediments, physical disabilities, and more. She’s championed their natural abilities to perform, taught them dance routines, acting and singing skills, and introduced them to the behind-the-scenes theatrical world of makeup artistry, costume design, props, lighting and set-up.

These individuals have so much to offer and show us. They are very intelligent and have a lot to express, it’s just they’re wired differently,” said McLean-Bayes, who hopes to build awareness in the theatrical community around the “unique” talents of these young individuals.

“The way I look at it, they just need adjustments to help tap into their talents.”

For Susan Dyck, Show Kids is long overdue.

Dyck’s 19-year-old son Brian has autism, Down’s syndrome and speech apraxia. But programs for young adults in the community are limited, she said.

“Brian loves to perform, he loves drama, and the arts, and this is just another way for him to communicate,” said Dyck.

And the kids, she said, are always beaming after class.

Fifteen-year-old Liam Jones, who has Down’s syndrome, is one of those sporting an ear-to-ear grin.

From the moment he wakes up on Wednesday mornings to the moment he enters the school, his excitement is near bursting.

“He can’t wait to go,” said Liam’s mom Kelly. “He loves the music, loves dancing, loves being around other kids.”

And not only is it socially rewarding, it’s also physically challenging, which is a major benefit for youth with disabilities, like Down’s syndrome, who have a greater tendency of becoming overweight.

“This program is giving them confidence, self esteem, and it’s keeping them active,” said Kelly. “They’re sweating like crazy in there.

“It’s about time we had something like this in our community.”

The young performers will be showcasing their talents for all to see in their summer’s end No Limits production on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Cultus Lake elementary.

For more information, contact Carla McLean-Bayes at 604-391-1688, or by email at, or visit the website at

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