What a catch Jim Kyte turned out to be as honorary chair of the 27th edition of Evening in the Maritimes.
The former pro hockey player-turned-dean of Algonquin College’s school of hospitality and tourism was, by all accounts, one of the reasons ABLE2’s signature fundraiser on Thursday night was so successful.
The evening, held at The Westin Ottawa hotel, grossed an impressive $341,377 in support of the non-profit organization and its programs to help people living in our community with disabilities. It also drew a crowd of about 550 attendees.
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Kyte reeled in many amazing auction items and prizes, including dining experiences, getaways, hockey swag, and more. Cumulatively, everything was worth $118,000.
His contribution to the evening was “ginormous,”Jeff Snyder, vice president of sales and solutions at Capital Office Interiors, told OBJ.social. “I couldn’t say enough good things.”
Snyder co-chaired the event with Rob Meredith, a financial planner and wealth management coordinator at RBC Dominion Securities (RBC was out in full force, having purchased four dinner tables). Meredith is also president of the board for ABLE2 (formerly called Citizen Advocacy).
The evening, hosted by local news anchor Graham Richardson from CTV News Ottawa, was full of East Coast party vibes. On a serious note, however, guests collectively observed a moment of silence in honour of OPP Sgt. Eric Mueller, who was shot and killed in Eastern Ontario that morning.
For those who arrived to the event by foot, it was like stepping off the hotel escalator and onto a practical oceanside pier. The decor included old wooden lobster traps, fishing nets, faux seaweed, fisherman lanterns and one of the most iconic East Coast landmarks of all — a lighthouse.
Also featured were fiddle and bagpipe music, cold beer served right from wheelbarrows, and an ocean-themed backdrop for taking selfies, or “shell”fies. The gala even had its own cute and cuddly crustacean mascot, dubbed Larry the Lobster.
The raffle featured 400 small sea creature plush toys, which was a creative twist on ordinary raffle tickets. If organizers needed the crowd’s attention, they simply sounded the loud foghorn sound effect.
Come dinnertime, the four-course meal included seafood chowder and a lobster dinner, as well as other foodie options for the landlubbers in the crowd.
The gala’s event manager, Krista Benoit, founder and CEO of iSpark Consulting, said their goal was to create an evening that offered an authentic Maritimes feel. Benoit, who does a lot of work in sports event management, is originally from Truro, N.S.
“We really want people to walk away with memorable experiences that they’re talking about the next day and sharing on social media,” she told OBJ.social. “We want them to feel like they’re having a unique experience that doesn’t just feel like a fundraising gala.”
At the start of dinner, Kyte and his event co-chairs were piped into the room, each holding a large flag from one of the three Maritime provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (Newfoundland and Labrador, despite its seaside location, is not considered a Maritime province, mainly because it was the last to join Confederation).
Kyte, who is the first and, to date, only legally deaf person to have played in the NHL, took to the stage to welcome everyone and to thank attendees and donors for their support. He can read lips and also wears two powerful hearing aids. “The next step for me is a cochlear implant,” he told his audience.
“But, I’m not alone. Twenty-two cent of the Canadian population identifies with a disability, and everyone in this room at some point in their life will struggle with a disability, whether it’s temporary or permanent, and that’s why ABLE2 is such a special organization.”
ABLE2 supports people of all ages and across the disability spectrum, and their families, as well, said Kyte, who is a strong voice for accessibility and inclusion.
There was real-time captioning on the screens that night, as well as a sign language interpreter.
The evening highlighted the organization’s matching program, which pairs up a community volunteer with a child, youth, adult or senior with a disability, to help reduce feelings of isolation or loneliness. The program currently has 250 matches, according to ABLE2 executive director Heather Lacey.
ABLE2 also now offers legal referral services for people with disabilities. Reach Canada recently merged with ABLE2.
Among the business leaders who were “very happy” to be out supporting the cause and feeling inspired to want to do more was Chris Atack, chief operating officer of I4C Consulting. He used to be a student of Kyte’s in the sports business management program at Algonquin College.
“When Jim made the ask and shared the details of the programs that ABLE2 runs, it hit home for me,” said Atack, whose seven-year-old son, Hudson, was born with cerebral palsy as a result of a birth injury. The original prognosis was that he likely wouldn’t ever walk and would have to rely on a wheelchair.
“With Hudson, we started physiotherapy when he was two months old, and we had lots of support from friends and family members, and so on,” said Atack. “We tried numerous different therapies that eventually got him actually walking.”
Hudson now attends Huntley Centennial Public School in Carp, which has been very accommodating of his disability, said Atack.
“The more we can do in the community to make life as accessible and as inclusive for people with disabilities, the better,” said Atack. “Whether the disability is physical or mental, it doesn’t really matter; if you’ve got something that doesn’t allow you to live a fully normal life, having these programs in place to help those people be happy and be part of the community is so important.”
Ryan E. Watson from Raising the Bid sold off an Ottawa Senators package for 30, courtesy of the Senators Community Foundation. There was also a trip to the Rockies to stay in Fairmont hotels, worth almost ten grand, and a West Coast experience with accommodations provided by Fairmont hotels in Whistler and Vancouver, also valued at $10,000.
Finally, there was a $24,000-Maritimes package for four that included travel from Via Rail. It featured car rental, hotel and resort stays, golfing, and dining. It sold for $22,000 during a bidding war won by business partners Paul Butcher and Jim Stechyson from HostedBizz. “It’s a good cause,” they later told OBJ.social.