More than 250 community leaders devoted an hour of their day to learn about the progress the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa is making to ensure all children and youth in our community are given the same opportunity to reach their full potential.
The event organizers and the kids who got involved in the ninth annual charity breakfast must have done a convincing job; the benefit blew past its original goal and netted $175,000.
The breakfast, presented by Mark Motors Audi dealership, was held in the gymnasium in the west end Ron Kolbus Clubhouse. It featured testimonials, a lively performance from the club’s dance crew, a young keynote speaker and details about some of the free after-school and weekend programs offered by the non-profit organization.
The BGCO runs seven clubhouses (plus a summer camp) located in at-risk neighbourhoods of Ottawa. Its Police Youth Centre Clubhouse on Prince of Wales Drive is currently undergoing a $3.8-million expansion that will allow it to serve 60 per cent more kids. Once the renovations are done, it will be renamed the Tomlinson Family Foundation Clubhouse.
One of the best stories was told by executive director Colleen Mooney as she emphasized the life-changing role the BGCO plays in helping new immigrants.
“We have parents tell us that they’re sending their children to the Boys and Girls Club to learn how to be Canadian,” said Mooney.
“I was reminded last summer just how much trauma some of these children have been through and just how important our support is,” she said while recalling a pre-Canada Day visit to the Police Youth Centre Clubhouse by local MP Catherine McKenna, who was also at that day's breakfast.
“She asked the kids what they like about living in Canada. One little boy who looked about eight years old, sitting in the front row, put up his hand. He was a relatively new member of the club and was from a war-torn country.
“He said, ‘I like it here because no one is shooting at me and I feel safe’.”
Research shows, the audience heard, that communities get an excellent return on their investment when they support the Boys and Girls Club, with lower costs from health care, social services and the criminal justice system.
Last year, the BGCO had more than 100,000 visits by 4,500 members. Its popular homework club had more than 50,000 visits (it gives many kids the kind of access to computers and Internet that they don't have at home). The programs collectively help children in the areas of education, physical activity and healthy living, creative arts, and leadership and social skills.
On hand was BGCO board chair Stephen Beckta, majority partner of the Beckta, Play Food + Wine, and Gezellig trio of restaurants. He’s also an alumnus of the former clubhouse in Centretown.
He spoke about the different ways BGCO is able to assess its positive impact, from the growing number of kids that it serves, to the awards and public recognition that it's achieving.
“For me, personally, the best way to measure the impact of the club in our community is to spend some time with the kids themselves and see how they are becoming strong, resilient, proud and hopeful for the future.
“It’s obvious that the club does incredible things for so many children and at-risk youth. It inspires and enables all young people to realize their full potential as productive, engaged and responsible members of our community.”
Attendees included members of the leadership team from Shopify, including BGCO board member Brittany Forsyth. Former long-time BGCO board chair Graham Macmillan was there, along with board member Michael A.R. Wilson who helped raise awareness by sharing numbers and graphs that were, I kid you not, interesting and informative.
There from the sports celebrity world were Daniel Alfredsson, former NHL player Brendan Bell and current Ottawa Senators player Cody Ceci. He and his girlfriend were guests of custom urban builder and BGCO board member and table captain Roberto Campagna. His new luxury residences being constructed along the Rideau Canal are coming along quite nicely. He's working with architect Barry Hobin, who was also at the breakfast and was one of the 22 table captains.
As the punctual event wrapped up, guests were encouraged to take home a small pot of thyme, planted by the kids. The young club members also made sure to give visitors a proper send-off by bidding them farewell at the exit, with high fives, good vibes and a pair of cookies — one to be enjoyed and a second to be shared.