Mathieu Choinière, from CF Montréal, and the sister of an Enfant Soleil

Giving back

CF Montréal welcomes Opération Enfant Soleil kids for day of fun

Jan 25, 2024

(Above) CF Montréal's Mathieu Choinière playing with one of the kids who attended the event.

When the opportunity to meet two of CF Montréal’s biggest names was offered to Raphaël Escallier, an Enfant Soleil, he was not particularly star-struck by the soccer players but rather excited for the chance to run around a field all day.

For anyone familiar with the mind and energy of an 11-year-old, that reaction may feel familiar. Then Raph met Jonathan Sirois and Mathieu Choinière in person, and he was suddenly awestruck.

Raphaël Escallier, Enfant Soleil, with Jonathan Sirois, CF Montréal.

Enfant Soleil Raphaël Escallier with CF Montréal’s Jonathan Sirois.

“Raphaël thought that he would be as good as the CF Montréal players and that he was going to start his World Cup career that day. But when he saw that the players were bigger than him and had a much higher skill level, his self-esteem was impacted,” said Raphaël’s mom, Stéphanie Lebrun.

Since his early childhood, Raphaël had to deal with half a dozen diagnoses, including Gilles de la Tourette syndrome. Sirois took notice of Raphaël’s hesitancy and explained to him that even as a professional soccer player, he had experienced his own difficulties.

This was the moment Lebrun saw a shift in her son. He realized that Sirois was also different in a way, just like him.

“Raph decided by the end of the game that he wanted to be a goalie, just like Sirois. It was an amazingly positive experience,” said Lebrun.

Better yet, that same happy experience was shared by five other Enfant Soleil in attendance on the soccer pitch that day. Enfant Soleil is an honour given to kids for their courage in fighting pediatric illnesses.

Raising awareness of Opération Enfant Soleil is one critical outcome of the event, in partnership between CF Montréal and TELUS. Perhaps even more important was the opportunity to put smiles on the faces of the children, and to temporarily take their minds off of their medical journey. Sirois and Choinière spent the day with these special kids, playing soccer, laughing and making lasting memories for everyone involved.

“These were just a bunch of kids playing together. They were not ‘sick kids’ but just kids, having fun,” said Lebrun.

The powerful impact of donation

Raphaël joined Opération Enfant Soleil as an Enfant Soleil in 2023, but his family has been raising money for the charity since 2012. For Lebrun, the importance of donating truly dawned on her when Raphaël was a toddler. After being rushed to the emergency room, Lebrun noticed that the machine doctors used to save Raphaël’s life had the Opération Enfant Soleil logo on it. The machine itself cost upwards of $20,000—about the amount of money her family had raised over their 10 years of donations.

If her family’s efforts were enough to provide this life-saving treatment for her son, Lebrun imagined the impact that donations from other families across Quebec could have, especially since TELUS tripled every donation made during the holiday campaign.

“Our family raised about $24,000. That's one machine. But having tripled the amount, it potentially allows the purchase of three machines. That day, when Raph was semi-conscious and hooked up to the machine, there were two other children who could also have benefited from the treatment.,” Lebrun shared.

“Kids should not have to be in hospitals. So knowing that two other kids could get to their home earlier and get a higher quality of care because of the capabilities of that machine and our donations coupled with TELUS’ donations, it is amazing”, she added. “That is the strength of a village; that is the strength of a community.”

Children who benefited from this day with CF Montréal players.

The kids had a great day on the pitch thanks to the event, which was in partnership with CF Montréal, Opération Enfant Soleil and TELUS.

Quality of care for our children

Opération Enfant Soleil was founded in 1988, and every year, the organization raises money that it then distributes across four major pediatric centres in Quebec, including the McGill University Health Centre Children’s Hospital and the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine. Donations also ensure that children living everywhere in the province get the best possible care from regional institutions and organizations.

Though the Telethon Enfant Soleil happens once a year, the organization accepts donations at any time.

During the holiday season, TELUS tripled every donation made throughout this campaign, helping Opération Enfant Soleil get closer to reaching its next big milestone in funds received. Every donation is a long-term gift that keeps on giving by offering children like Raphaël the best possible care and giving hope to families dealing with illness everywhere across Québec.

To learn more and make a donation, visit How to help - Opération Enfant Soleil.