Ottawa skiers boot up and hit the slopes at Ronald McDonald House SkiFest

Annual charity event at Mont Ste. Marie nets $121K to help families with sick children stay together

Members of Ottawa’s business community swapped a day of dark corridors and fluorescent-lit offices for some crisp, cold air and the swooshing sounds of their skis on snow at the 26th annual Ronald McDonald House SkiFest, held Thursday at Mont Ste. Marie ski resort located just north of our nation’s capital.

The day involved some 150 racers zipping down the course under blue skies. Scotia Wealth Management was back as the lead corporate sponsor of the fundraiser, which netted $121,000.

“For Ronald McDonald House that’s huge, huge,” executive director Carol Houston told OBJ.social. “This is our biggest fundraiser of the year.”

Ronald McDonald House SkiFest
The 26th annual Ronald McDonald House SkiFest saw skiers participate in a fun afternoon of racing at Mont Ste. Marie ski resort on Thursday, January 25, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

For almost 34 years, the non-profit organization has been offering a place to stay for out-of-town families dealing with hospitalized sick children at CHEO.

It also runs two Family Rooms on the third and fifth floors of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario as a place for family members to turn to when they need a break from sitting by their child's bedside. The respite rooms have been visited by family members more than 100,000 times over the last six years.

The money brought in from SkiFest is going to help revamp RMH Ottawa’s Family Rooms, in particular its room for families with children in the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units.

The charity ski fundraiser was sponsored by dozens of businesses and organized by a large committee of volunteers led by Alexander Charette, a wealth advisor with Scotia Wealth Management, and Colin Noble, a senior account manager at BDC. 

Ronald McDonald House SkiFest
From left, Ronald McDonald House SkiFest co-chair Colin Noble with the non-profit organization's director of family services, Cheryl Levasseur, and executive director, Carol Houston, and co-chair Alex Charette, inside the Mont Ste. Marie ski lodge. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Ronald McDonald House SkiFest
From left, Adrian Vezina from The Belmont restaurant with Simon Taggart, Alex Wilson, Michelle Taggart, Andrea Taggart and Adam Taggart from the non-profit, family-run Taggart-Parkes Foundation. It sponsored and participated in the Ronald McDonald House SkiFest fundraiser held at Mont Ste. Marie ski resort on Thursday, January 25, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Ronald McDonald House SkiFest
Volunteer organizing committee members Matt Jacques, senior advisor with Cresa Ottawa, and Emily Charette, account coordinator at Banfield Agency, at Mont Ste. Marie ski resort on Thursday, January 25, 2018, to help with the Ronald McDonald House SkiFest. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Ronald McDonald House SkiFest
From left, Stephan May, managing director of WelchGroup Consulting LLP, at the Ronald McDonald House SkiFest with Welch partner Garth Steele and his wife, Cathy Steele, Welch director of business development Bruce Raganold, and senior associate Cody Sorensen, who may not be a world-class alpine skier but he is a former Canadian Olympic bobsledder and Ontario male athlete of the year. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Also present was the head of the charity’s board of directors, McDonald’s franchise owner Perry McKenna, as well as its board treasurer, Cindy McCarthy, from KPMG. 

Among the SkiFest supporters who've been part of the fundraiser over its many years were Walter Boyce, who raced that day, and Nelligan O'Brien Payne senior law partner Al O'Brien, who didn't. He did, however, participate in the most important part of the day: the fun après-ski festivities. They included drinks followed by dinner, silent and live auctions, and prizes in the main lodge.

Ronald McDonald House SkiFest
From left, Walter Boyce with Al O'Brien at the Ronald McDonald House SkiFest held at Mont Ste. Marie on Thursday, January 25, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

A highlight of the dinner was hearing the incredibly moving stories from parents who have benefitted from the services offered by Ronald McDonald House. They were told through videos produced by Banfield, a local marketing communications agency and a SkiFest sponsor.

Andrew Godfrey, a partner with law firm Kelly Santini, and a member of the SkiFest committee, described the terrifying moments that followed the breech birth of his son, who'd been starved of oxygen and was at risk for permanent brain damage.

“You think, 'This doesn’t happen to us, it happens to other families,'” recalled Godfrey, with his wife at his side in the video. “When you’re faced with it, it’s shocking. The only thing that you can do to overcome the helplessness is to be there by his bedside at all times.”

Ronald McDonald House, he said, provided them with a place to turn to when they were going through the most difficult time in their lives, while also making it easier for them to be close to their son. They had access to the private sleep rooms, where they could get some rest.

During their 10-day hospital stretch, Godfrey and his wife visited RMH Ottawa’s Family Room when they needed a change from the stark and sanitized environment of the neonatal intensive care unit.

“Ten days sounds like such little time but, in my mind, it seemed like forever,” said Godfrey.

Godfrey’s story had a happy ending. Their baby was eventually given a clean bill of health. He’s gone on to become a lovely, energetic boy who plays hockey, T-ball and soccer.

Ronald McDonald House SkiFest
From left, Trevor Atchison from Scotiabank Commercial, with Alex Charette, Ron Armstrong, with CIBC Wood Gundy, and Stacey Beumer, also with CIBC Wood Gundy (Blostein Beumer Investment Group), at the Ronald McDonald House SkiFest held at Mont Ste. Marie on Thursday, January 25, 2018. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca