2012 Winners

North Bay | Executive of the Year

Christine Fortin

Christine Fortin

Christine Fortin could easily be forgiven if she were bitter. Her son Patrick, a hemophiliac, contracted HIV through blood infusions in the 1980s at the age of seven. He was one of the first and youngest to be infected at that time and lived for 17 years before dying of AIDS.

"When my son was first diagnosed, it was a death sentence in those days and we knew Patrick wouldn't survive it. So we made the decision right at that moment when they told us, that we would not be bitter," she said.

Instead, she and her husband Christian turned their personal tragedy into an educational program that has reached thousands of youth in North Bay and the region.

Patrick4Life AIDS Awareness and Education, a not-for-profit organization, is dedicated to educating youth about the prevention of HIV and AIDS through its in-school program – Partici-Patrick – and through community outreach events.

In 2006, Patrick4Life began in earnest with a family marathon event called RunWalk4Patrick FamilyFest. A year later, Partici-Patrick was launched which is a 10-week in-school program for students in Grades 3 to 8. It includes daily physical activity, character education and age-appropriate HIV and AIDS information.

"It is a development we never anticipated," Fortin said. "I had no idea this would come out of it. We developed skills over the years and now we are using those skills to shape the organization. These are skills you didn't know you had and it helps keep you strong."

Since its inception, the program has reached 10,000 students. And although its focus is on HIV and AIDS prevention, its attention on building character, self-esteem and self-worth has long-lasting benefits.

"If they have a big decision to make one day, perhaps they will be more likely to make the right one," she said.

Its physical activity segment, which includes logging kilometres every day, culminates with 2,000 students coming together for a day to complete the last portion of a marathon distance and enjoy activities and games.

All four school boards in North Bay support the program and it is now included in area schools in Mattawa, Sturgeon Falls and Haileybury. It is also being run in Fort Albany.

"We are branching out little by little and it is my vision that every child in every classroom will experience an education program such as Partici-Patrick," Fortin said.

Secondary school students can participate in youth4youth which involves peer-to-peer HIV and AIDS awareness and assist in presenting the Partici-Patrick program.

Through funding the organization secured, a qualitative study was completed on the school program and a quantitative one has just been completed.

"With the research, now we can advocate and do what we need to, to get the stamp of approval from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health. If only we had a small part of the budget allocated to AIDS, where it is mostly being spent on treatment. Our program is about prevention and starting at a young age," she said.

The organization keeps Fortin busy but she also teaches piano to more than 70 students in the mornings and then from 3 to 10 p.m. After teaching, she devotes a few hours to Patrick4Life.

"There is a continuous flow of information with our many partnerships," she said. "I go to bed exhausted and wake up refreshed."

Fortin is touched that the community has supported their story and even more so when they are willing to part with their money to donate to the organization.

"This isn't bricks and mortar. It is more of a story of strength and courage. But we can use that strength to make a difference because it is so rare to hear a positive story coming out of the hemophiliac and HIV community. This is our way of contributing," she said.

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