When fans think about the Ottawa Senators Foundation, a few things initially come to mind: The excitement surrounding the annual gala, the thrill of purchasing 50/50 tickets at Senators home games, and the Foundation’s efforts in growing the greatest game in the world.
But depending on who you talk to, the Ottawa Senators Foundation takes on a completely different meaning. In and around the National Capital Region, there is an entire community of children, youth and families benefiting from these popular fundraisers and a host of other initiatives — and it’s all changing lives for the better.
“We are a community team, and it takes a community to ensure that there is community health,” says Danielle Robinson, president and CEO of the Ottawa Senators Foundation. “Advocating on behalf of causes is something we take a lot of pride in, and we’ve been able to make a difference with some of the larger issues affecting our community.”
With a focus on investing in social recreation, education and wellness programs, the Foundation is now reaching upwards of 60,000 children and youth per year. During the 2018-19 season alone, it provided more than 500,000 hours of recreational programming to these recipients, who otherwise may have never had such an opportunity.
The Foundation makes this possible with the help of Senators players and staff, countless volunteers and numerous charitable organizations that have “demonstrated the ability to produce programs with impact,” according to Robinson. It partners with the Boys and Girls Club, United Way, Youth Services Bureau and many others to put all donations it receives to the best possible use.
“I think we really are seen as community collaborators,” says Robinson. “We’re very experienced at bringing a variety of different groups together and making a difference within the community.”
Thanks to the support of dedicated fans, corporate partners and donors, the Foundation has built 15 outdoor SENS RINKS (Recreational Investments in Neighbourhoods for Kids), with plans to build five more in the near future. It also teaches kids how to skate and provides free equipment to youth hockey players to see them through their season.
But the impacts extend far beyond the ice. Every summer, the SENS Campership Program covers the cost of sending less fortunate children and youth from 46 total communities to camp. The Foundation also maintains the SENS Sport and Leadership League, Ottawa’s only no-fee, year-round competitive athletic league for Boys & Girls Club members. It features organized sports like ball hockey, basketball, soccer and baseball.
“We’re also helping youth with drug and alcohol addiction, and we’re investing in college scholarships for military family members with help from our corporate partners,” says Mark Bonneau, chief revenue officer for the Ottawa Senators. “Those investments go beyond hockey and sports — they are simply the right thing to do to support our society and community.”
Chris Schwarz, conditioning coach for the Ottawa Senators, agrees. Since joining the team in 2009, he’s been heavily involved with the Foundation, assisting with programs entailing nutrition, children’s health and the importance of athleticism. He also inspires children and youth by sharing his career journey, reminding them that they can accomplish whatever they put their minds to in life.
“Our players are always commenting on how important they think these programs are,” says Schwarz. “They all grew up in a healthy lifestyle with supportive parents who helped them secure opportunities when they were young. Not all children are that fortunate.
“Teachers, coaches, and parents say that they’ve seen a light turn on in their children after participating in a Sens Foundation program,” adds Schwarz.
The Foundation’s efforts are currently moving ahead at full steam with the 2019-20 season underway. It held the highly anticipated Senators Soirée fundraiser on Nov. 23 and is currently preparing for 24h Tremblant from Dec. 6-8.
With events like these, as well as the popular 50/50 at both Ottawa and Belleville Senators home games, the Ottawa Senators Foundation has been able to invest more than $115 million into at-risk children and youth. What Robinson is perhaps most proud of is the continual and unwavering support the Foundation receives from its donors.
“From children who donate their birthday gifts to us, to our corporate partners, to the fans who participate in our 50/50 — they all allow us to do the great work we do,” says Robinson. “The generosity of our community makes me really proud to live in Canada’s capital.”
“The future of any community or society is based on its youth,” adds Bonneau. “The Foundation has built a strong reputation of making a difference, and that makes our partners proud, fans proud — and certainly our employees proud.”
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Nicole Sorce is a hockey writer and photographer based in Ithaca, New York, who covers the Ottawa Senators Foundation and the Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League.