For professional fundraisers, the Ottawa Philanthropy Awards dinner is the biggest night of the year. It’s when they come together with business and community to celebrate individuals and organizations that are improving the world around them while inspiring others to do the same.
The Phils, as they’re affectionately known, drew a sold-out crowd of 320 to the National Arts Centre on Thursday night. The awards dinner was hosted by the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).
This year’s event was co-chaired by Jennifer Gray, development officer at Carleton University, and Jacqueline Belsito, the new president of the Senators Community Foundation. Serving as board president of AFP Ottawa is Kylie Patrick, also with Carleton University.
Representing eight-time presenting sponsor Foundation WCPD was founder and president Peter Nicholson. He also hosted four tables of guests. Returning as emcee was Sam Laprade, who, as the radio host of the An Hour to Give on CityNews 101.1, was totally in her element.
Dan Greenberg, a former award winner and the owner of Accora Village, visited the stage to talk philanthropy and heroes with Laprade. As cocktail sponsor, the reception featured a drink in honour of his mother, the legendary Shirley Greenberg, who passed away in May at age 90. The dinner was sponsored by RBC, represented by regional director Glenn Sheen.
First up to the stage to accept his award was 1251 Capital Group co-CEO Michael Wilson, this year’s Outstanding Individual Philanthropist.
Usually, Wilson and his family opt to fly under the radar with their philanthropy. He went public during the pandemic, however, with a major gift for BGC Ottawa (formerly Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa) at its breakfast fundraiser, to encourage others to give during a time of need. “Where he used to be a very quiet donor, he decided that for the benefit of our community he was going to get loud, he was going to tell people about the difference that he has made financially and through his generous donation of time,” said BGC Ottawa board chair and restaurateur Stephen Beckta.
The room heard how Wilson has been a remarkable member of the board with BGC Ottawa. He’s the treasurer and finance chair for the non-profit organization, which runs safe and inclusive programs at no cost to roughly 4,500 kids living in 19 underserved communities throughout Ottawa.
Wilson gave a big shout-out to the BGC Ottawa team, calling it an inspiring organization that he’s proud to be part of, before also praising the room full of fundraisers for the work they do. It’s much easier to give than to ask, said the philanthropist. “I have, from time to time, put on the fundraising hat and that’s really, really hard.”
Wilson, along with wife Jacqui Wilson, was born and raised here. He spoke about the responsibility we have to make sure Ottawa stays healthy and vibrant. “I know everyone has their own cause, and I think that’s totally cool, but I think the important thing is that everyone does something.”
This year’s Outstanding Youth Philanthropist Award went to Sir Robert Borden High School student Zaina Karak for her impressive community work through the Kiwanis Key Club.
La Serata Italiana won the Outstanding Philanthropic Group Award for raising more than $1 million in support of the Kidney Foundation of Canada. Fundraising efforts were started by the late Agostino Monteduro, who became a kidney patient as a result of a construction accident. His La Serata Italiana legacy is being carried on by his daughter Anna Monteduro and a group of fellow volunteers. “How many fundraisers do you know have been around for almost 40 years?” asked Anna proudly.
Next, the audience learned how “helping is a calling” for Shepherds of Good Hope Foundation vice president David Gourlay, winner of Outstanding Fundraising Professional. He joined the organization at the start of the pandemic. His tireless efforts helped the Foundation see its two best years of fundraising in its history, said SGH and SGH Foundation president and CEO Deirdre Freiheit.
Gourlay spoke of how “humbled and grateful” he was to be “in a room full of people who care about this community, who care about Ottawa” and of his ongoing commitment to help the organization achieve its goal of ending chronic homelessness through supportive housing. Gourlay has a strong history of community involvement, earning him an Order of Ottawa for 2014.
It was a touching moment when he singled out two special women, his wife Danielle McGee, for her love, support and guidance, and his boss, Freiheit, for being such a warm, passionate and empathetic leader.
The room heard how luxury real estate team Sezlik.com never fails to bring its enthusiastic A-game to every fundraiser it supports for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Foundation, whether it’s getting kids to fire hockey slap shots at CHEO Bear at its Teddy Bears’ Picnic or wowing judges with its prized Christmas-tree decorating skills at Trees of Hope at the Château Laurier. They were this year’s winner of the Outstanding Small Business Philanthropist Award.
Owner Charles Sezlik thanked his team and commended his wife and business partner Dominique Laframboise. When COVID first hit, she completed her training to volunteer and “to this day, maintains a regular shift” at the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region to help people in need.
He spoke about his parents as philanthropic role models (his mom, Cindy Sezlik, who passed away in 2019 at age 91 had also been a business partner). It was really sweet when he pretended that she was calling him on his cell phone, from up above, while he was at the podium. As for his dad, “My father always said, ‘Don’t tell me, show me’. Actions speak louder than words,” said Sezlik.
The Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award went to Thomas d’Aquino and his wife Susan Peterson d’Aquino for their decades’ worth of fundraising efforts for the performing arts and fine arts. D’Aquino, who was the founding CEO of the Business Council of Canada, was the longest-serving board chair of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation while Peterson d’Aquino is on the board of the National Arts Centre Foundation (the nomination package put together by the two organizations included letters of support from former prime minister Joe Clark and former Gov. Gen. David Johnston).
D’Aquino spoke about how pleased he was to see the awards dinner recognize philanthropy in the arts. “Sometimes, the arts is forgotten, and what I mean by the arts are those things that inspire us, those things that help us understand ourselves and our country in a time of crisis,” he said, while pointing out how lucky residents are to have the NAC and NGO based in Ottawa.
The final award of the night, Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist, went to Richcraft Homes.
The room heard how the Singhal family, who have been building homes in Ottawa since 1983, made a transformational gift to Shepherds of Good Hope that led to a new 42-bed supportive housing residence on Montreal Road. The home, which opened last year and bears the Richcraft name, has provided a safe and stable place for individuals to move out of the shelter system.
The Singhals also take a hands-on approach to philanthropy. “You serve food in our community kitchen, you donate nutritious meals and bring groceries to help us reduce food costs, you inspire others to do the same, and you do all of this without asking anything in return,” said Freiheit after recalling her initial phone call with matriarch Manju Singhal.
The Singhals have provided millions of dollars in support over the years to local organizations focused on homelessness, health, social services, education and recreation. You can spot the Richcraft name on other buildings around the city, including at hospitals, hockey arenas and at Carleton University.
Jennifer Conley, chief advancement officer of award sponsor Carleton University, shared a lovely story of when the Singhals did ask for “one wee thing” before the official unveiling of Richcraft Hall. “They very respectfully and modestly asked for one key request — that all the guests at the event, and especially the students, be very well fed. The Singhals asked, ‘Might we bring some samosas?’ And they did.”
The dedication shown by Kris Singhal and his wife, Manju, to give back to their community is one of Richcraft’s core values, said Richcraft COO Steve Grandmont at the podium. “Kris and Manju view success as a life rich in service, community involvement and spirituality.”
Their willingness to help the less fortunate is among the values that they have passed on to their daughters, (executive vice presidents) Monica and Angela, “who are equally as passionate and committed to giving back to the community,” said Grandmont.
At the end of the evening, Belsito asked guests to reflect on the evening and then share with others, after they leave, what about the night inspired or resonated with them. “My invitation is for you to remember some of these wonderful things that you learned today and tell somebody else.”
A selection committee consisting of mostly former award recipients chose this year’s winners. Its members included Rachael Wilson (Ottawa Food Bank), Glenn Sheen on behalf of RBC, Dan Greenberg, Derek Noble (Huntington Properties), chef, author and restaurateur Joe Thottungal, and Rob Gottschalk (The Ottawa Hospital Foundation).