Cue the ocean waves and the foghorn sounds. Citizen Advocacy’s Evening in the Maritimes sailed straight into the national capital region Wednesday, bringing along music and entertainment, a hearty lobster dinner, and heart-warming stories of genuine friendships involving one of our most vulnerable and isolated populations — people with disabilities.
Ontario Senator Vern White — a Cape Breton boy at heart — was back as honorary co-chair with David Cork, director with major sponsor Scotia Wealth Management. It was fitting that the nautical-themed evening was emceed by an anchor, as in Graham Richardson from CTV News Ottawa.
Global pharmaceutical company Lundbeck was once again the presenting sponsor of Evening in the Maritimes (EiTM), which raised in the neighbourhood of $135,000 and drew some 600 attendees to the Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau.
So successful was the 25th anniversary evening that it netted even more money than last year (that's because one of the big-ticket-item bidders in 2018 was unable to later honour his winning bid).
Spotted were such loyal supporters as: Senator Jim Munson, former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps and her husband, Austin Thorne, Scotiabank vice president Frank Billodeau, and Citizen Advocacy board chair and Ottawa lawyer Kirk Boyd. Worthy of special mention is lawyer Warren Creates for donning lobster fisherman overall pants. Only he could pull that look off at a gala dinner.
There was a shout out to Gord McMillan for the 10 years of pro bono work his Ottawa marketing agency, McMillan, previously did to help with the branding of Evening in the Maritimes, which is one of the premier charity galas in the region.
New faces included Citizen Advocacy executive director Heather Lacey. She was born and raised in Ottawa but, more recently, worked for a non-profit in Edmonton that helps the poor and homeless. She also ran a child and family services agency for a First Nations community on the Pacific Coast.
Lacey took over from Brian Tardif, who so competently captained Citizen Advocacy for 33 years before retiring last September. He continues to do some work for the organization. He also volunteers on the EiTM organizing committee.
The committee is co-chaired by Jeff Snyder, vice president of sales and solutions at Capital Office Interiors, and Barry McKenna. He and his wife Jackie McKenna came up with the idea to create the Evening in the Maritimes fundraiser for Citizen Advocacy, following their experience at the St. Ann’s Lobster Supper in Prince Edward Island.
Twenty five years later, the gala remains stronger than ever. “For some reason, and I can’t put my finger on it, it’s always had the right vibe,” McKenna told OBJ.social. “People seem to really enjoy it.”
Said Snyder: “We get really positive feedback every year from people who say, ‘This is one of my favourite, if not my favourite, charity events to go to’.”
Snyder started volunteering with Citizen Advocacy in 1994, right after moving here as a young man from Halifax to work for Capital Office. He’s been involved with the charity ever since.
One of the highlights of the night was hearing Debbie Applebaum sing her heart out on stage to the classic show tune Getting To Know You.
She and Neena Kushwaha are part of Citizen Advocacy’s Everyday Champions program that provides greater inclusion and support for people with disabilities by matching them up with community volunteers. It currently has a waiting list of more than 300 names.
The room heard about all the fun stuff the women do together, from shopping, to going to the movies, to eating out, to gabbing over coffee, to attending Citizen Advocacy events. Kushwaha has been an advocate for Applebaum while also reaping the rewards of being a volunteer.
“She has helped me in so many ways,” said Kushwaha. “I have learned to see the world through a different lens — ‘The Debbie Lens’ if you will.
“Debbie looks for the good in everyone. She gives people the benefit of the doubt. She always wants to help. She provides joy through her singing and dancing. She truly sees the wonder in this world.”
Attendees also heard from volunteer Richard Kastler and his match, Greg Robillard, who consider each other family. “I might not even be here if it wasn’t for Richard; I might not have had the courage to go on,” said Robillard, who spoke about the increased confidence and self-esteem he’s gained from their 23-year-long friendship.
The evening featured more than $60,000-worth of silent auction items, as well as nine live auction items that were sold off by Ottawa lawyer and charity auctioneer Lawrence Greenspon. The items included embassy dinners and a stay at a vacation penthouse in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (tequila included!), donated by Copps and Thorne. It sold for $4,000. Casino du Lac-Leamy’s food and wine-tasting night for eight at its five-diamond restaurant La Baccara went for $4,500.
A spectacular 10-night East Coast trip from One Ocean Expeditions sold for $8,000 to former Citizen Advocacy board chair Mike Giunta. The cruise company also donated again this year its highly popular 10-night Antarctic adventure, which raised another $17,500 for the cause.
It was perfect timing for Belden sales director Shawn Bailey to win the grand prize of a pair of Air Canada tickets, during the balloon pop raffle. It was his wife's birthday the next day and he'd yet to buy her a gift.