Brooks, founder of Kids Can Fly and a staunch follower of early childhood development pioneer Dr. Fraser Mustard – whose research showed that the first years of a child’s life are the most crucial in determining their future health and wellbeing – is Brant’s 2013 Woman of Excellence.

(Article written by Colleen Toms – BRANT NEWS)

Brooks was presented the award during the fourth annual International Women’s Day Celebration featuring keynote speaker Kim Davis at the Best Western Plus Brant Park Inn on Wednesday night.

Brooks was among five finalists nominated for the Woman of Excellence Award. Other nominees lauded during Wednesday’s event were Jean Anderson, Sherry Kerr, Marilyn McCulloch and Teresa Percival.

Brooks said she was honoured and humbled to be chosen.

“When I first found out I was nominated I was really, really flattered,” she said. “It’s kind of a humbling thing. I was very overwhelmed. There were obviously some incredible people and it must be hard to pick five finalists. I mean, doesn’t that make for such a rich community?”

For the past 40 years, Brooks has worked tirelessly to develop programs through Kids Can Fly that foster early learning and engage parents. Those programs include Launch Pad, Roots of Empathy, Storybook Breakfast, Parachute Program – Transitioning to Parenthood and the Imagination Library.

She also helped establish an annual Early Childhood Educator Awards banquet that celebrated its 10th year in November 2012.

“What I like to see is all children develop that early potential,” Brooks said. “Your brain is only 20 per cent wired when you are born and it is going to develop at the fastest rate up until your sixth birthday. If we want kids to come into formal education on a level playing field, we need to maximize that learning in the early years. I just feel it is probably one of the most important things that we can do.”

Brooks’ motto of “lead, follow or get out of the way” inspired Brantford resident Bill Campbell and his wife, Dorothy, to fund the Launch Pad program offered at Graham Bell-Victoria School, Campbell said in a letter to the Woman of Excellence Award committee.

“Sharon has the foresight to see unmet needs for preschoolers and, more importantly, the energy and the foresight to do something about it,” Campbell said. “My wife and I were so impressed by the Launch Pad program that we agreed to finance it and have done so now for five years. It benefits both the preschool children and also many of the moms, some of whom are new Canadians and benefit from an opportunity to talk to each other.”

Brooks said research has proven that investing in children at a young age results in huge savings in the future.

“Every dollar you invest in early learning will save society $17 and that’s in health care, police services and social services because if they are going to be successful individuals, they will be contributing members of society,” she said.

In 2004, Brooks also served as a catalyst to bring the Canadian Paralympic equestrian team to the Athens Olympics.

“I found out in January of 2004 that our Canadian disabled equestrians weren’t going to be able to go to the Athens Olympics because they didn’t have a qualifying show,” she said. “In order to qualify for international competition, there has to be five nations that qualify to take part.

“They said to me ‘this can’t be done.’ It was like, oh yes it could.”

Brooks managed to convince hundreds of volunteers and donors to support the cause. The international competition was held on donated property north of Whitney with riders from Hong Kong, England, Scotland, the U.S., Canada and the Philippines taking part.

“Sometimes I can be a catalyst,” Brooks said. “I think if I have a strength it’s I’ll take a chance. Sometimes if you try something other people will jump on board and want to assist.”

Brooks credits a team made up of Kids Can Fly supporters, board members, employees, volunteers and funders for making Kids Can Fly programs come to fruition.

Launch Pad facilitator and music programmer Jane Flinders said Brooks’ vision inspires others to get involved.

“The stone that Sharon casts in the pond makes more than a ripple and sometimes even a tidal wave,” Flinders said in a letter of support. “Her enthusiasm and clear mission to make this community better for families might start with one child or parent at a time, or it can mean re-inventing something like Parachute Program.

“She has brought together an amazing team of compassionate, dedicated and gifted people on the Kids Can Fly board to carry on this very important body of work, the development of human beings, our community’s future.”

Click here to watch Sharon’s video presentation from the Nova Vita awards evening and the other top five nominees.