Laval’s Karidogiannis Family has succeeded in accomplishing the impossible. Bill Karidogiannis and his wife, Sheyda Senoglu, have transformed an unimaginable tragedy into a community event devoted to bringing smiles to children’s faces. In May 2010, Bill and Sheyda’s two-year old daughter Alesia passed away from an extremely rare heart condition. Alesia did not show any symptoms and her sudden death came as a severe shock for her family.

Sheyda remembers how the community also seemed shaken. As Sheyda recalls, “Everybody was in shock and not sure how to grieve. We know how to grieve for a grandparent’s passing, but not a two year-old child.” Sheyda felt that people did not know how to react and the fundraiser provides an outlet for dealing with the grief of the loss of a child. Bill and Sheyda’s decision to create Alesia’s Magnolias, an indoor fair and annual fundraising event for children of all ages, would not only be a tribute to their daughter, but also a way for the community to express their support.

Over the past three years, supported by a group of friends, family and local businesses, Alesia’s Magnolias has raised more than $170,000 and are more than half way to their goal of raising $400,000 for the Best Care for Children Campaign for the construction of the new Children’s Hospital. To date, proceeds from Alesia’s Magnolias have been used to cover the cost of a heart monitoring machine, a critical piece of life saving equipment, and a state-of-the-art patient care room. The 4th annual Alesia’s Magnolias children’s fair will be held on Sunday, April 6, 2014 at the Centre de congrès Palace in Laval. Alesia’s Magnolias collects donations throughout the year. Their 2014 fundraising goal includes purchasing a new playroom and waiting area used prior to pediatric surgery.

A few of Sheyda’s characteristics shone through in our conversation. Her determination to preserve her daughter’s memory, her enthusiasm for community involvement, and her strength to carry on her day-to-day life with her husband and three children while organizing, planning and putting into action the many fundraising activities devoted to Alesia. Sheyda considers herself as a mother of four since Alesia is part of her everyday life through fundraising or her personal memories of her daughter. Another quality that becomes clear when meeting Sheyda is her devotion to children’s education.

Sheyda’s background in teaching becomes apparent as she discusses that while the goal and purpose of Alesia’s Magnolias is fundraising, she also sees it as a learning opportunity for teaching children how to give. Sheyda is interested in encouraging parents, teachers, and leaders in the community to teach kids how to volunteer and give to causes. Sheyda feels there is a lack of empathy in younger generations and that society is full of ways to distract people from taking the time to truly feel their emotions. In some cases parents like to make shortcuts for their children, but as Sheyda points out, parents are unknowingly denying their children a feeling of accomplishment and pride when they are able to volunteer and contribute in their own way, whether it be door-to-door selling chocolate bars or replacing birthday gifts with donations to a charity of their choice. While the major sponsors of Alesia’s Magnolias are essential to helping Bill and Sheyda reach their goal, Sheyda finds inspiration in the little ways that people can make a difference.

At Mother Teresa Junior High School, Secondary 1 and 2 Special Education teacher, Helen Kouros, helped organize students who sold popcorn at lunch from September to December and raised $2,600 for Alesia’s Magnolias. Not only is Sheyda impressed with how much the students raised, but she loves that it became a learning experience. Teachers at Mother Teresa organize a similar fundraiser each year and this year they chose Alesia’s Magnolias. Part of the lesson plan included reading articles about Bill and Sheyda and Alesia’s Magnolias, watching their CTV interview, and learning more about the cause they had chosen. Other local events have also chosen to support Alesia’s Magnolias at their venues. Sheyda emphasizes how “anything people can give is fine.”

Alesia’s Magnolias, which is taking place on Sunday April 6, 2014, is described by Bill and Sheyda as a “mini-Disney”. The event is designed to make children smile, but at the same time Sheyda feels that participants understand that it is not just about the fun, but also raising money for an important cause.

Some activities at Alesia’s Magnolias 2014 include:

  • Alesia’s Magical Make-Over (with photographer)
  • Face Painting -one of their most popular stations
  • Inflatables
  • Performances- This year will include a break-dancing Spider-Man, cheerleading squad, and musical performance
  • Planting stations- with garden plants
  • Cooking with Kids- chocolate fondue
  • Easter Egg decorating
  • Professional Photographer on-site for family portraits, etc. and
  • For parents: Wine-Tasting, and Massages.

Entrance is $15 for all ages and includes a buffet-style lunch, drink, free performances, and a gift.

One of the most memorable parts of the event is the Magnolia Tree Auction. Sheyda chose the magnolia tree to represent the time of the year of Alesia’s passing. Each year a magnolia tree is auctioned off. Last year’s tree went for $2,000.

In addition to the indoor children’s fair on April 6, 2014, Sheyda plans other fundraising events for Alesia’s Magnolias including a Toonie Drive in tribute to Alesia’s two years of life that runs throughout the school year. Donation cans are found in schools, daycares, and some local businesses and families can collect as well. There is also Alesia Day that takes place annually on Alesia’s birthday, March 18th, at a local restaurant.

Sheyda organizes, plans, and puts into action everything associated with the fundraisers with some help from her husband Bill, and a small committee that meets monthly immediately after the last day of the event in preparation for next year. The Montreal Children’s Hospital organizes the donations and tax receipts. Donations can be made to Alesia’s Magnolias throughout the year, and Sheyda encourages responsible secondary 4 and 5 students to volunteer at the event. She would like to reach out to other communities as well.

Sheyda mentions how people comment on how strong she is, but her reply is that she feels she has no other choice. Her dedication to her daughter and her commitment to improving cardiac care at the Montreal Children’s Hospital so that she can help prevent parents from experiencing a similar loss are a testament to her undeniable strength.

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