VATTA Members

VATTA members have been an important part of the Canadian Down Syndrome Society since 2005.


Meet our Members

Learn more about each member and visit our Past Members section to see who else has been on the committee.

Matthew MacNeil, Chair

VATTA Member since 2011
Tilsonburg, Ontario


“My name is Matthew MacNeil and I am an advocate for CDSS and a member on VATTA. I have been on VATTA since 2011. I like do a lot of things. I play sports like hockey and I was a manger of my old high school football team. I am also a captain of my Special Olympic team in my community. In my free time I like to help other people if they need it. I volunteer at camp with other disabilities. It really motivates me to do my best to be a good leader. I graduated from Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario in 2013. I lived with 3 roommates. I was 3 hours away from my parents, so I learned to be independent. Since graduating, I have moved back home to Tillsonburg. I live with roommates again and have a couple of jobs. I always have an open mind to help people when they need it. I motivate people to make them feel good and I work hard. I am here to answer questions if you need advice on anything.”


Jessie Huggett, Chair of the Employment Committee

VATTA Member since 2013
Ottawa, Ontario

Photo by Nadia El-Khoury“My name is Jessie Huggett. I’m a person who just happens to have Down syndrome, and I live in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada with my parents and my pet cat Prince. I wanted to be a part of VATTA because I needed another place where my voice was heard, where I could be valued as an equal person, not just in my community but also nationally. I’ve had previous experience advocating for persons with Down syndrome and the arts at the Andrew Fleck Childcare 100th anniversary conference on a youth panel (where I received a “Difference Maker” award), at schools, at the Senate, at universities, and on local radio and TV. I’ve also advocated through an all-girl dance company called Dandelion Dance and have created and choreographed a dance called I AM which showed my deepest feelings and emotions about having Down syndrome. This won the Jane Cameron award one year, has been performed all across Canada, and a video of the dance is used in schools to teach dance and about inclusion. After graduating from high school I joined a mixed-ability contemporary dance company called Propeller Dance. I am now a professional dancer and we perform in Ottawa and across Ontario and the country. I also teach children dance on Saturday mornings, I volunteer at the Ottawa Food Bank, and I have taken some college courses. But first, I am a professional artist and I get to change the way people see beauty and movement and the world. For fun, I like to hang out with my friends, watch musicals with my dad and go on dates with my boyfriend Jeremy Abramson (our anniversary is on Valentine’s Day!) I’m mostly excited about being a part of a team and working on presentations with the group, making new friends, and advocating on different issues.”

Nicholas Popowich, Chair of the Lifestyles Committee

VATTA Member since 2011
Regina, Saskatchewan


“My name is Nicholas Harrison Popowich. I live in Regina, Saskatchewan. I have a job at SaskTel and I enjoy my colleagues and my paycheque. I work 5 days a week. I spend money on movies and music but I also save a lot of my money so that I can buy my own house someday. I am a member of Best Buddies and I have stayed in touch with my buddies over the years. I have a girlfriend; her name is Bree and we have known each other for since we were young. I take voice lessons and I have performed in the Regina Music Festival and concerts for four years. I have been the emcee for Spring Fling (a local fundraiser) for three years, as well as a speaker for a golf tournament to benefit Special Olympics. In the fall, I will be trying something new. I have been accepting into the University of Regina! I am so excited, and can’t wait to share my experiences with you. I have been a member of VATTA for a few years now and I love it!”

Alana Gersky

VATTA Member since 2014
Edmonton, Alberta


“Hi, my name is Alana Marion Gersky! I’m 26 years old. I do a variety of sports such as rhythmic gymnastics, dancing, figure skating, bowling, and basketball. I also attend Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts where I draw, paint, and work with clay. For fun, as well as doing my sports, I like going to movies, hanging out with friends and family. I also like going shopping and going for coffee. The way of advocating for myself is by being out in the community such as going to the library and by taking public transportation. I volunteer at an Extended Care Facility three days a week. I also volunteer at various events such as golf tournaments and fashion shows in Edmonton with the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society which helps promote awareness about Down syndrome.”


Natalie Olson

VATTA Member since 2016
Calgary, Alberta
Natalie“Hello! My name is Natalie. I am 28 years old and I live in Calgary, Alberta. There are 6 kids in my family and I’m the 4th. My family is getting bigger, I have 3 nephew and 2 nieces, and 2 more babies on the way. I work 2 mornings a week at Primed, it’s a medical brush company where I do mailing, packaging and labeling. I love my job! I also work with my support worker 5 afternoons a week and we do history, spelling, practice piano, workout and run errands. I do my own laundry and help out with chores around the house. I am very busy. I practice karate 4 times a week and often get to travel to competitions. Last year I went to Germany and I finished in 8th place. This year I’m going to Austria and I’m going to finish in first place if I work hard. I always work hard and eat healthy! I am also in grade 1 piano and I practice almost every day. In my spare time I like to write stories and then act them out. Right now I’m writing a story that is a cross between The Pirates of the Caribbean and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also sing in the choir at my church and I sometimes get to play the prelude music for the women’s meeting. I am so excited to be on VATTA!”

Past Members

The following past VATTA members have completed their terms since VATTA joined CDSS in 2005:

  • Andreas Prinz (2005-2015)
  • Janet Charchuk (Past Chair) (2005-2015)
  • Mary Frances Brennick, (Past Vice Chair) (2005-2015)
  • Ruth Joseph (Past Chair, Employment Committee) (2005-2015)
  • CariAnn Olson (née Hougen) (2005-2006)
  • Brad Magnus (2005-2006)
  • Jody Roll (Co-member, CDSS Board of Directors) (2005-2006)
  • Robert Breckon (2005-2008)
  • Laurel Griffin (2005-2008)
  • Adam Johnson (Co-member, CDSS Board of Directors) (2005-2008)
  • Dale Froese (2005-2009)
  • Kelly Tompkins (2005-2011)
  • Gabriel de Villers-Matte (2014-2015)
  • Brandon Thielen (2012-2016)
  • Will Brewer (2013-2017)