The complimentary meal served yesterday morning by Chop Steakhouse & Bar was everything that breakfast dreams are made of, from eggs Benedict and buttermilk pancakes, to crispy bacon and assorted fresh fruit, to coffee of the bottomless cup variety.
The delicious spread of food was for local business leaders to enjoy, specifically those who have supported Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ottawa (BBBSO) over the past year.
The idea to host the breakfast was led by the reputable restaurant’s general manager, Trenton Wilzer-Jones. He’s a big believer in the organization and the work it does to provide one-on-one youth mentoring that helps underprivileged kids stay in school, avoid risky behaviour, and ultimately reach their potential.
“If I can help to be part of a bigger reach, why wouldn’t I?” said Wilzer-Jones at the inaugural breakfast funded by Chop Steakhouse, which is located on Hunt Club Road, near the airport. He told OBJ.social how excited he is about the new collaboration with BBBSO. “I’m hoping this is just the start of a really, really great relationship.”
The breakfast was a chance for attendees to learn about the good work BBBSO is doing to help children and youth through its various mentoring programs, and to consider getting more involved in fundraising activities, such as the organization’s charity pickleball and golf tournaments. BBBSO has celebrated the one-year anniversary of its new thrift store, Thrive Select Thrift, at 1547 Merivale Rd. The social enterprise includes a youth employment readiness program.
Since Big Brothers Big Sisters was launched in Ottawa in 1970, there have been more than 11,500 matches. It has expanded to include more diverse programs, including for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
On hand for the breakfast were BBBSO executive director Susan Ingram and members of her board, including vice chair Michelle Alfieri, a partner at Deloitte Canada. The event was emceed by marketing, communications and PR professional Carrie Irvine, who, having recently joined the organization’s board at the same time as Cody Sorensen from Welch Capital Partners, joked about being upstaged by the two-time Olympic bobsledder.
Irvine beckoned Irfan Ahmed, vice president of IT growth and strategy at Altis Technology; Aaron McFarlane, owner and founder of RÄNDĀ VO͞O business network social club; Yasser Ghazi, director and team lead with Meridian Credit Union; and Ted Carty, a local musician and vice president of business development and co-founder of Tech Army, to the front of the room to talk about how each has been supportive of BBBSO. In the process, McFarlane offered a $500 donation to the charity. His gift was subsequently matched by Ahmed. Ghazi one-upped them, barely, with a donation of $501.
The businessmen’s generosity was in keeping with Irvine’s theme of A Little Less Conversation. It was inspired by the Elvis song that is essentially a call for action. The catchy tune did make a playful entrance at the end.
Alexandre Malboeuf, 29, who works as chief of staff for Transport Canada’s chief economist, shared his story of how the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentorship program changed his life for the better.
He was a kid growing up in Vanier when he was matched up with his Big Brother, Marc Gervais. His sole-parent mom believed he would benefit from having a positive male role model in his life.
“In my little eight-year-old mind the biggest hurdle we had to jump over was that Marc was a Habs fan,” joked Malboeuf.
The guest speaker shared stories of his time with Gervais, beginning with their inaugural outing together to see the Ottawa 67’s play hockey. It was his first professional sporting event. The tickets had been donated to BBBSO. What he remembers most from that night was: holding Gervais’s hand, so that he wouldn’t get lost in the crowd; talking Gervais’s ear off like a chatterbox; watching the 67’s win; and striking up a new friendship that continues 21 years later.
He also told a funny story from when Gervais replaced his “god-awful” old Buick sedan with a Honda Civic but intentionally didn’t tell him. It was part of Gervais’s joke to fool Malboeuf into thinking he was stealing an unlocked parked car. It worked. “There were plenty of those good times,” said Malboeuf of his mischievous mentor.
But, Gervais was also there for the challenging periods, like when Malboeuf’s mother passed away eight years ago from cancer, at age 58. “Marc was there for me. He was a very valuable support system for me, in good times and in hard times.”
Malboeuf, who studied political science at the University of Ottawa, grew up in a family where his mother was the youngest of 12. He was the first of his relatives, including his cousins, to go to university. “I credit Marc for that,” said Malboeuf. “I started working in politics, on The Hill, and then made my way into the public service much like he did. Again, I credit him for guiding me through that process, giving me very sound advice about my career and helping me to get to where I am today.”
BBBSO has launched a Building Futures campaign to raise funds for its mentorships programs. Malboeuf went beyond anecdotes to talk about how mentorship programs like the ones run by BBBSO increase participants’ chances of getting a better education, finding jobs and earning more money than they would without the extra guidance and support.
Young people are more likely to thrive, be happier and gain confidence if they have mentors. They’re also more likely to give back and volunteer, said Malboeuf before asking the room of supporters to keep the organization “in your hearts” for 2024 as it works to impact the lives of youth in the community.