This is Rowan, my sister, and the quintessential pre-teen girl.
She relentlessly terrorizes her cat, enjoys spending time with her friends (and only her friends), and has a very definite opinion on how one should cross the road.
She is obsessed with the boy band Why Don’t We, conspiracy theories, and Starbucks refreshers.
She stays up too late, loves playing rugby and dislikes walking to school.
She can always find something wrong with a couch, plucks her unibrow until she has two lopsided eyebrows, and has a 2 and a half feet of thick brown hair which she never brushes (on the basis that it makes it more tangled).
She is easy going, funny and painfully stubborn — “determined” as she likes to say.
She is honest, exacting, and sometimes incredibly observant.
All of these traits — the advantageous with the undesirable — play a part in making Rowan who she is.
However, the one quality that I believe defines her is her extraordinary ability to commit.
The Butterfly Project
In 2012, our Grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disease which impacts the brain’s production of dopamine — a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of happiness and success. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include muscle rigidity, tremors, changes in speech and gait and even depression. Though there are treatments to help relieve these symptoms, there is no known cure.
Since his diagnosis, our Grandfather has developed a tremor in his right hand — a symptom which prevents him from doing simple everyday tasks we often take for granted, including writing his name, brushing his teeth and even zipping up his jacket.
Even though we were young, both Rowan and I could see the effects this disease was having on him. In 2015, when Rowan was in second grade, she was moved to begin spreading awareness for Parkinson’s disease in her elementary school.
Around the same time, I had received a Rainbow Loom kit as a gift, and after much persuasion, the kind of arguing only two sisters can have, and some parental interference (thanks mom), she managed to wrest it’s ownership!
So, over the course of that April, Rowan made 200 rainbow loom bracelets each bearing a butterfly — a symbol of Parkinson’s disease. She then distributed them to the students of her elementary school, thus beginning her continuing effort to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s Disease research — an initiative she calls “The Butterfly Project”.
No other endeavour is a better demonstration of Rowan’s ability to commit to something. From this sustained process, Rowan says she has learned three things about commitment.
Lesson 1: Total commitment means going all in.
That first spring when Rowan was making her first round of bracelets, she was completely invested. Every day after school, after eating and doing her chores, she would park herself in front of Full House (because she claimed it made her focus more) and work on bracelets from 6:00 to 9:00. She would do the same thing the next morning before school from 6:30 to 7:30.
After doing this for about 2 weeks, she had made a couple hundred beautiful and unique bracelets, and her effort really showed.
Lesson 2: Tirelessly seek the opinions of others
In the years following that initial distribution, Rowan made similar tokens to hand out to students in her entire school — Kindergarten through Grade 12. In order to choose what she was going to make, and settle on the design, she would ask for other people’s opinions. She asked her friends, my friends, she emailed our extended family members and our neighbours — she even went as far as asking our dentist and my dance teacher what they thought (I’ve yet to hear the end of that from my dance teacher).
Her asking for input — if in excess- lead to people appreciating the quality of the tokens she made. She did keychains in 2016, magnets in 2017, bookmarks in 2018 and more keychains in 2019.
Additionally, at the suggestion of our Dad, she emailed the Parkinson’s Research Consortium at the Ottawa Hospital, and got a booth at the annual Lap the Gats bike race that is held in the Gatineau Park in support of Parkinson’s Research.
Lesson 3: Don’t be satisfied
Although Rowan was getting a lot of good feedback for her project, she knew she could do more — she refused to be satisfied. So, over the summer, to further her awareness raising, she designed a butterfly mural that people can take photos in front of and post on social media. I swear, she talked about that mural everywhere: on car rides, while swimming, at our cottage, in our shared bedroom, while hiking in Newfoundland… it went on, and on! As a result of her relentlessly high standards, she now has an impressive mural which she takes to public events in conjunction with the Parkinson’s Research Consortium.
Next June, our family will be hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro for Rowan’s initiative to raise funds for Parkinson’s research. Her goal is to raise $1 for every foot that the both of us ascend, so about $40,000 — fingers crossed we both make it to the top!
Rowan’s ability to commit, specifically these 3 lessons, have enabled her to take a modest and well intentioned idea and turn it into a pretty inspiring project. It has pushed her to work hard, think, and most importantly, contribute to a cause that she intrinsically values.