If you like to shop at Lawrence Plaza or enjoy a nosh at United Bakers, there’s a good chance that on any given weekend, you’ll find Muki Baum in the vicinity, seated on his motorized scooter.
His other favourite haunt is the Holt Renfrew store on Bloor Street, where shelter can be found from the winter cold.
Whether it’s along the Bathurst Street corridor or on Bloor, Muki has found success in raising funds for the organization that bears his name, the Muki Baum Accessibility Foundation.
On a good day, he can come home with $300 from Lawrence and Bathurst. Last year, he raised $35,000 in all, his mom, Nehama, said.
Those efforts, along with those of professional fundraisers, have paid off, as the foundation will celebrate its official launch on Jan. 23 at its new headquarters at 401 Magnetic Dr.
The 11,000-square-foot facility will house the foundation’s “Academy for Life,” explained Nehama, the driving force behind the organization.
It’s aimed at clients who experience a broad range of developmental disabilities, including autism and physical restrictions. Geared to enhancing “access” and the development of “ability,” the foundation offers clients therapy through music, dance, visual arts, yoga, sand play and sensory therapy.
The foundation, which was founded in 2011 and is unconnected to the similarly named Muki Baum Treatment Centres, aims at improving the quality of life both of clients and their family members. The therapies help clients adapt to their surroundings, makes them more confident, aids in their learning and increases their independence.
“We are all about [helping] people feel they ave value and meaning to their lives,” said Nehama, a social worker by profession with an expertise in special education and counselling.
The new facility will serve as the foundation’s “hub,” Nehama continued. It will include a morning program for toddlers, but most of its activities will be held on evenings and weekends, to make it even more family-friendly.
The foundation’s Academy for Life offers an outreach program for families based on a model that brings together parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and others to do art, dance, yoga or other movement exercises.
“Here, parents and siblings work with the child. They discover another aspect of the ability of the child, not the disability of the child,” Nehama said.
A creativity program for teens 14 and up uses the arts, drama and dance “to build self-esteem” and physical development.
A third program is centred in the tech room. “Computers are a very good mediation between a person and their environment,” Nehama said.
A fourth is aimed at toddlers from two to five, who are encouraged to participate in interactive storytelling and drama.
A speakers series provides information for families and a professional audience.
Nehama has been helping people with disabilities since even before her son was born. “I was known in Israel when I was pregnant. I was part of the committee that created cerebral palsy [CP] treatment in Israel,” Nehama said.
Muki was born 54 years ago with CP and deafness. With the help of his admittedly aggressive mother, “Muki broke a lot of barriers in Israel.”
Realizing education in his formative years was crucial, she had him enrolled in kindergarten when he was only two and a half. Because of his condition, she found herself at the school every 45 minutes in that first year to help him adapt.
At the time, she found Israeli education system could meet Muki’s needs, at least until high school. Foreseeing difficulties ahead, the family moved to Toronto, and Muki was enrolled in Northern Secondary School on Mount Pleasant Road.
“He had a fantastic time. It was a wonderful school,” she said.
Along the way, the Baums adopted a seven-year-old boy, Mark, who suffers from Down Syndrome, and over the years, they served as JF&CS foster parents for eight or nine youngsters, some for a year or two.
Up until 10 years ago, Muki lived on his own, but a spinal problem forced him to move back in with his parents.
Muki and Mark, 38, are great together, Nehama said.
“He takes care of Muki. Mark helps him with his [dinner] plates, and when Mark has a problem with his development, Muki helps him.”
It became apparent to Nehama pretty early on that Muki had unique skills in art. At one point as a youngster, Muki designed a New Year’s card on a typewriter, using numerous letters to draw “shana tova” on a sheet of paper.
“It was unbelievable. From then I knew he had talent,” Nehama said.
In Toronto, he attended art classes at the Koffler Centre of the Arts, where he took to working with clay. He’s also an adept painter. His clay art pieces are featured in the calendar that he sells at Lawrence Plaza.
The money he raises goes to help other people, said Einat Enbar, the foundation’s director of marketing, fundraising and programs.
“It’s tikkun olam,” Nehama said. “It’s paying it forward, helping people like him but who don’t have his kind of support systems.”