Lifelong friends inspire many around the world online and through artwork
Alumnus Jeff Mitsuo and current R.S. McLaughlin CVI Visual Arts Teacher, Jake Stevens, developed a friendship after Stevens became Mitsuo’s peer tutor when they attended Pickering High School. Mitsuo has cerebral palsy and graduated in 2008. Their friendship has flourished since then.
“I thought that once Jeff finished school, that that was the end of it and both would go their separate paths,” says Mitsuo’s mother Elaine. “Not so. Jake has continued to be a huge part of Jeff’s life.”
She said that Stevens made it a point to come visit her son even when he went away to university.
During the 2019-2020 school year, Stevens introduced artwork to Mitsuo, while he was also teaching adaptive art to his students. He discovered that artwork was helped to improve the fine motor skills of Mitsuo and students in his class.
“I figured it would be fun for him, but would also help me identify any accommodations I would need to make the lesson more successful,” Stevens said. “Jeff loved it. He was happy, expressing himself, and concentrating on one task for much longer than I had ever seen from him before.”
Social Media Stars
Mitsuo was really excelling and Stevens decided to record him. He posted the videos on TikTok and Instagram. Before they knew it, they were celebrating one million followers on TikTok. Their social media popularity has been amazing. So much so that they are now selling Mitsuo’s prints on Etsy around the world, in countries such as Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Russia. R.S. McLaughlin CVI’s special needs students also volunteer to help to pack the prints to be shipped.
It’s important to the pair to give back to the community and they have donated a portion of the sales to Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy and the Ajax Legion in honor of veterans. They have setup the Jeff & Jake Bursary at Pickering High School for students in small class placements. Stevens says, “For the next ten years, a deserving graduating student from one of the small class placements will receive a $150 award for outstanding achievement. We can’t wait to attend the first ceremony.” California State University has also requested Mitsuo’s artwork to be put on display on campus.
He is an inspiration to so many which is shown through many of the encouraging comments on social media. “I was in awe and proud of what those two have accomplished. It was heartfelt that all those fans didn’t discriminate and supported them,” explains Mitsuo’s Mom. “Jeff has no idea how popular he is. I’m sure he would thank all his “fans” for their support and kind words.”