Published on December 20, 2011
Donalda Docherty of Cornwall has spent the past 12 years doing all she can to open doors for her close friend Aaron Anderson of Hunter River. The 27-year-old Anderson, who has Down syndrome, has enjoyed many character building experiences thanks to Docherty.
Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Published on December 19, 2011
In 1999, Donalda Docherty met a teenager so shy the boy would not make eye contact with her. He would not even lift his head.
Over the next 12 years, under Docherty's nurturing wing and through her determined resolve, Aaron Anderson has blossomed.
She first met the then teen born with Down syndrome at a hockey rink. She was co-manager of the North River Bantam AAA hockey team.
Aaron's teacher at the time, Trevor MacNeil, saw a good opportunity to get the teenager involved in other activities outside the school by finding him a role with the team MacNeil was coaching.
Aaron became assistant trainer taking care of the players' sticks, filling water bottles and cheering heartily from the bench.
"Aaron just gradually became more comfortable,'' said Docherty, 51, of Cornwall.
"He just grew and grew and grew and these players and he became great friends.''
So too did Docherty and Aaron become good buddies.
Not only has Docherty remained a good friend to Aaron for the past dozen years, she has been a persistent advocate set on opening each and every possible door for the now 27-year-old man living with his parents Eleanor and Fred Anderson in Hunter River.
Docherty got Aaron involved as a volunteer in the Canada Winter Games held in P.E.I. in 1999.
She has over the years found him different employment, most recently doing light duties at the liquor store in North River where she works.
When the Boston Bruins drafted Cornwall's Adam McQuaid, she promised to take Aaron to a game to see a player that he used to pass sticks and water bottles to in North River play in the NHL.
True to her word, she took Aaron in the spring to watch Boston eliminate Philadelphia in the second round of the playoffs.
The trip went off without a hitch, she recalls fondly.
"He is at the highest functioning level as you can imagine,'' she said.
"He was just a joy to travel with. He has a terrific personality. He is just a great person.''
In a return trip to Boston, Docherty and her pal Aaron joined the masses during the Stanley Cup parade.
"It was exciting in Boston to see him there with a million and a half people...he was thrilled. He had a sign (reading) ‘Adam, you're my hero.'''
Docherty also made sure to include Aaron in the big cup celebration in Cornwall by giving him a role to play during that special event featuring hometown hero Adam McQuaid hoisting the Holy Grail of hockey in a parade.
She has always given Aaron tasks that she was certain he could perform and would gain confidence in executing.
"She has done everything in her power to give him multiple, multiple opportunities,'' said Eleanor Anderson.
"She sets him up for success - there is no doubt about it.''
Docherty has provided just the right amount of gentle push and caring nudge to help Anderson emerge from his shell.
Eleanor credits Docherty with increasing her son's confidence a great deal over the years. Docherty has also helped Aaron develop his social skills and broaden his independence.
"Donalda gives of her time, her energy and her commitment to enable a young man to experience life and all it's opportunities,'' she said.
"Donalda has certainly been a Guardian Angel for Aaron, there is no doubt about it.''
Helping others must be in Docherty's DNA.
She volunteers at the soup kitchen in Charlottetown.
She is on the board of directors for Communities 13th Inc. that oversees the APM Centre in Cornwall, home of North River Minor Hockey.
But her relationship with Aaron holds a special place among all the good work she does.
Aaron is no project for Docherty. He is a person she cares deeply for, someone she is committed to helping grow and flourish.
"I view him as a dear, dear friend...I just feel close to him - very close to him,'' she said.
"It's exciting to see his potential grow.''
Docherty's ultimate goal is to see Aaron one day become involved with an NHL team. That might sound like pie in the sky to some, but when a determined force like Docherty is pushing the agenda, the ambitious goal may not be such a long shot.
"Anything is possible,'' she said.
"There are connections. We're all connected.''