The weather was finally on Team Rubicon Canada’s side last night as the humanitarian organization hosted a large event in Ottawa to raise awareness and support for the tremendous work its volunteers do to help people affected by natural disasters.
Retired network news anchor and Canadian journalist Kevin Newman and former U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, came to town to serve as emcee and guest speaker, respectively, for the Salute to Service event.
The sponsored reception, held at scenic event space 50 Sussex, offered tasty bites from different regions of Canada and featured an immersive experience called Calm in the Storm. Everyone got buffalo plaid-hooded blankets as parting gifts, not that you needed them with the summer-like temperatures that stuck around that night.
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Yves Tremblay and Sylvie Villeneuve have an extensive history of philanthropy and community involvement in Ottawa. It’s clear that being generous and making an impact have long been important to
Team Rubicon Canada has completed 100 missions since it first formed in 2016 in response to the Fort McMurray, Alta. wildfires. More recently, its volunteers have been serving communities in Nova Scotia, helping with the cleanup after flash flooding, wildfires and post-tropical storm Fiona.
“When trouble comes, they run toward it,” said Newman. “When there are natural disasters – and we all know that those are happening more often – they get the call, they pick up their go bags (survival kits) and they head toward them. Most importantly, they stick around, and they stick around longer than most other organizations do.
“They cut the trees, they remove the trees, they drain those basements, they help restore power, they help sift through the rubble of people’s lives to find mementos that matter to them. It’s the kind of strong and sustained help that really nobody else provides.”
The stage upon which the speakers stood that night was surrounded by dozens of symbolic sandbags.
Team Rubicon Canada has two board members from Ottawa: Kristina Davis, senior director of corporate communications and government relations at Calian (it delivers a wide range of services and solutions to the aerospace and defence industry) and board vice chair Paul McCarthy. He used to work for the Minister of Veterans Affairs as director of policy, and can appreciate how important organizations like Team Rubicon are for creating veteran engagement. Many of its volunteers have served in the military.
“Oftentimes, when people leave the (Canadian Armed) Forces, they’re very successful in private life; they’re gainfully employed, but they still have that thing that’s missing,” McCarthy told OBJ.social of the renewed sense of community, identity and purpose that Team Rubicon Canada provides.
Canada’s chief of defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, and deputy minister of Veteran Affairs, Paul Ledwell, attended. So did Ottawa business and community leader Mark Zekulin, who last year pledged $25,000, plus a promise to match another $10,000 in donations, to Team Rubicon Canada when it was cleaning up debris following the violent derecho storm that hit Ottawa and other regions. Zekulin, former president and CEO of Canopy Growth, is executive chair of Invert, a specialized carbon emissions reduction and offsetting company.
Heyman spoke of the volunteers as “heroes” for the time and effort they give to provide disaster response and community support. “These women and men who already served their country with unwavering commitment continue to serve as a beacon of hope and resilience in a time of crisis.”
He praised the volunteers for the sense of normalcy they bring to people’s lives when chaos reigns, and for the compassion and empathy they give to all those they help. “I don’t need to tell all of you that we’re in a world where division seems to grow stronger every day, but they remind us of the power of unity and solidarity. They bridge gaps, they create connections, they inspire others to join in on their mission,” said Heyman, who’s currently co-chair of the advisory board for the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, the largest policy research program on Canadian affairs outside Canada.
Heyman touched on recent climate events, focusing on the Canadian wildfires and the resulting smoke that decreased air quality and created health hazards across the United States, including in his hometown of Chicago.
“Disasters don’t know borders. We’re kind of in this together,” said Heyman while pointing to Team Rubicon as the perfect example of people working together to make a difference. “It’s a symbol of the best of humanity.”
Team Rubicon got its start in the United States in 2010. It has 30,000 trained veterans and first responders, and goes on missions throughout the U.S. and around the world. The room heard from co-founder and executive chairman Jake Woods via video.
Heyman’s remarks revealed that his fondness for Canada remains strong. He took a moment to thank his friends and neighbours to the north for their support during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. “Thank you, Canada. Thank you for being there for us in our time of need. Thank you, over and over and over again.”
As well, the crowd heard from Team Rubicon Canada’s CEO, Bryan Riddell. The veteran of the Canadian Army and Special Forces served 12 years in the military, including operational deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s also a former professional lacrosse player.
Riddell shared a story that blended different accounts of how Team Rubicon volunteers have helped victims of natural disasters. “The story illustrates more than just the harrowing power of nature or the unpredictability of life,” said Riddell. “It underscores the immense difference made by individuals … It’s about human connection, resilience, and the incredible lengths to which we can go to uplift one another in the most dire of circumstances.
“We’re all capable of stepping up, of lending a hand, of being the voice on the other end of the line saying, ‘We are here for you’. We cannot control the storms life throws at us but we can choose to be, like each of these sandbags, a source of reinforcement to help communities not merely survive but thrive through adversity.”