United Way's Schmoozefest draws hundreds for night of networking

Annual fundraiser is hosted by GenNext initiative to build next generation of community leaders

If the old saying is true, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know," then the place to be Thursday was at United Way Ottawa’s annual networking extravaganza, Schmoozefest.

Roughly 400 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, filed into the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park to mix and mingle the evening away with other local and like-minded professionals.

The fundraiser was hosted by United Way’s GenNext, a group of next-generation influencers, philanthropists and change-makers with a shared love of community. It featured an eclectic lineup of P2K (People 2 Know) from social enterprise, the arts, business and government.

For several hours, people participated in face-to-face conversations that exceeded 140 characters, that didn’t rely on emojis and that weren’t measured by the number of “likes” garnered. 

“Ottawa is small, but there are also so many different pockets of people,” said Erin Blaskie, one of the 70-plus P2Ks in attendance and the director of marketing for Kanata-based L-Spark, a business accelerator and incubator that helps entrepreneurs build their startups.

“This event is really cool because it brings together different groups that might not necessarily ‘play’ together normally,” said Blaskie. “It’s a good mix.”

It was the third year Blaskie attended as a P2K. It’s a rewarding experience, she said, because of the shared common interest everyone has in bettering their community. “It’s not just about the networking," she said.

Schmoozefest
From left, Jamie Blades (Homicity Inc.) with Erin Blaskie (L-Spark), Rebecca Stanisic (bitofmomsense.com) and Alex Wood, a member of the GenNext Advisory Cabinet and an environmental consultant with Golder Associates, at Schmoozefest. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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United Way Ottawa board member Danya Vered, who's expecting her first child in early February, with her husband, GenNext Advisory Cabinet member David Glick-Stal, at United Way's Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at Lansdowne's Horticulture Building. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Schmoozefest
From left, Fahd Alhattab with GenNext Advisory Cabinet chair Kathleen Kemp at United Way Ottawa's Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Not shy about attending for his first time was P2K’s Darcy Walsh. He's senior vice-president and Ottawa general manager of communications marketing firm Edelman. He was joined by his senior account director, Matt Salvatore, who was “looking forward to meeting someone I haven’t met before."

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From left, Darcy Walsh and Matt Salvatore, both P2K, at United Way's Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at Lansdowne's Horticulture Building. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Among the food and drink sponsors was Coconut Lagoon, which, OBJ.social learned, is expanding. Its award-winning owner and chef, Joe Thottungal, is opening Thali, a new 70-seat downtown Indian cuisine restaurant at the corner of Laurier Avenue and O’Connor Street in l’Esplanade Laurier. He expects to be open for business in mid-November.

Schmoozefest
From left, Chantale LeClerc, executive director of Champlain LHIN, with Coconut Lagoon executive chef and owner Joe Thottungal and United Way Ottawa president and CEO Michael Allen, at Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Maxine Patenaude, host and lead organizer of CreativeMornings Ottawa, with Taline Jirian, senior manager of experience marketing with United Way Ottawa, at Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Mahdi Ismail (Assent Compliance) and Johanne Nemr (Assent Compliance) at United Way Ottawa's Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips

From presenting sponsor Accenture was Michelle Alfieri, who was particularly interested in meeting members of the GenNext Advisory Cabinet. It's led by Kathleen Kemp, manager of eHub at her alma mater, the University of Ottawa.

“They’re here because they want to be, and they spend their time thinking about how they can make a difference in their community," said Alfieri of the GenNext volunteers. "Those are people I want to know.”

One of the new friends Alfieri made that night was Michelle Somers. The women learned that they shared something in common: sons who required cochlear implants to address their profound hearing disability.

“We immediately added each other on Facebook and plan to stay in touch,” Alfieri told OBJ.social. “It was honestly the best connection I’ve ever made at a networking event.”

The evening also included an interactive fundraiser that saw guests fill in a map of Ottawa with pieces of yarn.

Schmoozefest
From left, Melissa Somers and Michelle Alfieri at United Way Ottawa's Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Lisa Deacon (Datafest Ottawa) with Kenny Leon (Ottawa Board of Trade)  at United Way Ottawa's Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Aaron van Eeden (Your Urban Carpenter) participates in a string installation involving a map of Ottawa, at United Way Ottawa's Schmoozefest, held Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne. Photo by Caroline Phillips

— caroline@obj.ca