AMHERST – Finley Mills was just three-and-a-half months old when he passed away in October 2019 from complications associated with Down Syndrome.
Although his time was short, his memory will continue through the joy of children and adults attending Camp Tidnish near Amherst through the Finley Mills Memorial Scholarship.
It started with Emily Hudson wanting to do something to support her younger sister, Finley’s mother Meaghan Moore, on her birthday on June 21.
“I was thinking what do you get a single mother who works full time and has two small children?” Hudson says. “I wanted to get her a gift, but the gift wasn’t money, but it’s honoring Finley and making sure his memory is helping somebody.”
She collected donations from her co-workers at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre, as well as from family and friends. She wanted to raise $600, the cost to send a child to the camp for one week this summer, but raised $6,000.
“It didn’t take that long to meet the goal. Three days in we had raised three times that goal,” Hudson says. “I’m amazed with people’s generosity. We were a year into COVID and things were tough, but everyone found a way to show their generosity.”
Hudson created a closed Facebook group to keep this a secret from her sister. She invited co-workers, family and friends into the group and told them what she wanted to do.
“I invited family, friends we knew in the community, people she knew from university and her colleagues in the intensive care unit at the hospital, and some of the staff she worked with before in restorative care in Springhill,” she says. “We had donations from $10 to $500, but every donation was appreciated. It shows what a community can do.”
Finley Mills and his twin sister, Piper, were born on June 25, 2019.
Finn’s health began to deteriorate soon after he was born.
“When I was pregnant, we learned Finn had something awry. They really weren’t sure what it was at the time,” Moore says. “They discovered he had several congenital heart defects.”
Fundraising to support the family initially began through Finn’s aunt, Amanda Purdy of Oxford. There was also fundraising done in the community to help the family travel to appointments in Halifax and Moncton. They also had to move to Halifax before the children were born as a precaution.
Finn had open heart surgery within days of being born and there was a lot of invasive medical care before the family was able to come home for a week in August.
“I could ‘t believe she had done this. It really shows the kindness of her heart,” says Moore. “When she presented the cheque to me there were a lot of happy and sad tears.”
– Meaghan Moore
“It was great he got to get home because the family got to see him, who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity,” Moore says. “After all that, things didn’t go well and on Oct. 14, 2019, Finley passed away.”
Moore says she was surprised when her sister presented her with the proceeds of a fundraising effort she was doing to set up the Finley Mills Memorial Scholarship.
“We both work at the hospital and she was collecting from everyone there. I don’t know how she did it without me finding out because we all have the same co-workers. Everyone kept it a secret,” Moore says. “She was collecting money from family, friends and co-workers to set up this scholarship.”
The initial goal was to send one camper to Camp Tidnish, the accessible camp for adults and intellectually challenged children that’s owned by the Amherst Rotary Club and operated by the Easter Seals of Nova Scotia.
“It was absolutely phenomenal, I could ‘t believe she had done this. It really shows the kindness of her heart,” says Moore. “When she presented the cheque to me there were a lot of happy and sad tears.”
Moore is touched that Finley’s memory will continue through the scholarship.
“To be able to provide that to anyone else is absolutely amazing,” she says. “So many parts of my experience as Finley’s mom have been excruciatingly painful, but this support from family, friends and the community shows me that Finley can live on in that love and kindness that we all spread in his memory.”
Moore lives in Fenwick now, but grew up in Springhill. She says the level of support she’s received shows how loving and caring Cumberland County is and how Springhillers get together to support one of their own.
“It’s amazing, especially when you consider how tough things are right now and the amount of poverty there in our little area, but people stepped up to support Emily’s fundraising and ensuring Finley’s memory will never be forgotten through this scholarship that will make sure a little Boy or little girl like Finley will get to go to camp,” she says. “It warms my heart.”
Moore is hoping to continue fundraising so more children can go to the camp. She was hoping to get 21 donations of $21 by World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. She put the note on social media on March 2 and within 12 hours had hit that goal.
People can donate to the fun by email at [email protected] .
Applications are being accepted for the Finley Mills Memorial Scholarship. It’s awarded to a resident of Nova Scotia of any age with Down Syndrome. Preference will be given to those applicants who demonstrate financial need.
The application deadline is March 31 and the recipient will be announced April 15 with the selection committee including members of the Easter Seals Nova Scotia in conjunction with Finley’s family.
Camp Tidnish is the only barrier-free, fully-accessible camp in Nova Scotia for people with disabilities. Every year it runs eight sessions for people from age six to 86.
Joanne Bernard is the president and CEO of Easter Seals. She says the scholarship is an example of people’s generosity toward Camp Tidnish.
“I imagine Finley would have enjoyed coming to Camp Tidnish and we’re so excited they chose us,” Bernard says. “The family wants to leave a legacy for another family that could take advantage of the camp.”
Bernard says scholarships such as this are vital to Easter Seals because it allows children and adults, who ordinarily get a summer camping experience, to get away and enjoy themselves. It also provides an important respite period for caregivers, which are usually family members.
Says Bernard, “This is a lovely legacy for the Mills family and we’re thrilled to be part of it.”