A heroic cancer patient who makes every moment count, a pair of former high tech executives that lead by example and a local auto dealership that follows in the benevolent footsteps of those who came before it were just a few examples of the admirable acts of altruism shared at last night’s AFP Ottawa Philanthropy Awards.
Eight recipients in total were honoured at the 300-person dinner, held at the National Arts Centre, for their outstanding contributions of time, money and/or expertise toward making our community a better place for all.
The 29th annual awards dinner, colloquially known as The Phils, was organized by volunteers from the Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The event was co-chaired by Jacqueline Belsito, president of the Senators Community Foundation, and her colleague, Jennifer Cameron, director of events and fundraising relationships. “What a combo,” said an impressed Dan Greenberg, long-time sponsor of The Phils, president of Accora Village and a former award recipient.
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Greenberg kicked off the evening nicely by getting everyone to raise their glass together in a unifying gesture for “a better community, a better world”.
Derick Fage, host and producer of Rogers TV’s Daytime Ottawa, brought his genuine warmth and charisma to the role of master of ceremonies, taking over from colleague Sam Laprade, who was busy that night being inducted into the Order of Ottawa.
Foundation WCPD was back as presenting sponsor. It was represented by Peter Nicholson, president and founder of the philanthropy tax planning firm. His vice president of marketing and communications, Jeff Todd, is president of the AFP Ottawa board.
Memorable moments included the presentation of a special Inspiration Award to Sindy Hooper for recently raising half a million dollars for cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital. Everyone was on their feet to deliver robust applause. Some attendees discreetly wiped away tears as Hooper, who’s terminally ill, accepted her award. It was sponsored by the Ottawa Business Journal and presented by publisher Michael Curran.
The ultimate goal of philanthropy is to make every dollar count, yet there’s another precious commodity to consider — time. It’s something Hooper, a wife, mom and triathlete, has come to appreciate since she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in January 2013.
“To hear the words ‘you have cancer’ is shocking; to hear the stats for pancreatic cancer is devastating,” she said of a disease that kills 75 per cent of its patients within the first year. Only 10 per cent survive to five years, she told her audience.
“We were terrified,” she said of not being able to find anyone who’d made it past two years.
Hooper not only underwent invasive surgery and heavy chemotherapy and radiation during her first year, but she completed an Ironman Canada involving a four-km swim, 180-km bike and marathon. Her finishing time was 16 hours and 38 minutes.
And she did it while raising money for cancer research. “That was the beginning of my fundraising,” said Hooper, who would go on to recruit a team of runners to help with her philanthropic efforts.
Beating the odds is what helped to motivate Hooper to give back and to publicly share her story, thereby creating a following around the world while inspiring hope.
Her running team is called MEMC, as in Make Every Moment Count. “This is how I’ve lived my life the last 11 years,” Hooper said, tearfully. “CT Scans every six months to check for cancer return, and then packing as much fun as we can into the next six months, grateful for everything, knowing that I’ve inspired others to live this way.”
Sadly, Hooper learned a year ago that her cancer had spread. “I now have a new prognosis of only four months to live,” she said to a crowd so hushed you could hear the slightest clatter of cutlery.
“Receiving this award means so much to me,” said Hooper. “It recognizes every person that’s supported me in my desire to give back, to inspire other survivors to have hope, to encourage people to get active and fundraise, to inspire others to live life to the fullest and make every moment count.
“I couldn’t have done this on my own,” she said in recognizing the “extraordinary” amount of gratitude she has for her family, friends and community. “Thank you.”
The evening was filled with lighter moments, too, such as watching Rob Mews, co-owner of Myers Automotive Group, triumphantly raise his award into the air upon receiving it. “I haven’t had a trophy since minor league hockey,” joked Mews, who, with his brother Harry and their senior leadership team were named Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist, sponsored by Brazeau Seller Law. The award recognized their $1 million donation to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation and their long-time support of the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation, including a $1 million gift to help it create its Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit.
Mews was joined at the dinner by Myers’ former CEO, Cyril Leeder (now back as president of the Ottawa Senators) and current CEO Geoff Publow, both of whom he credited with taking Myers to “the next level”. As for their corporate philanthropy, Mews said: “You have to give back to the community, and that’s what we learned from our late father [Hank Mews]. We’re following in his footsteps.”
Long-time philanthropic leaders Yves Tremblay, a retired executive from former JDS Uniphase, and his wife, Sylvie Villeneuve, were honoured with the Outstanding Individual Fundraiser Award, sponsored by marketing and branding agency McGill Buckley. The award recognized their commitment to Montfort Hospital, Ottawa’s only French-language teaching hospital. The couple made a historic $1 million donation to its new Aline-Chrétien Health Hub in Orléans, followed later in the campaign with another $500,000 gift. “This ground-breaking donation, coupled with Yves Tremblay in his role as chair of the campaign, set the tone and propelled the fundraising campaign to a new level,” said foundation board chair and community leader Robert Rhéaume.
The couple was joined by three of their four children. Each of their kids has four children of their own. “That makes us happy grandparents of 16 grandchildren,” said Tremblay before delivering one of the funniest lines of the night. “You can guess the demand that there is on us and our resources, so we are very lucky to be here with you, and not babysitting somewhere.”
Another former high tech executive, Sandy Foote, received the Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser Award, sponsored by boutique accounting firm TAAG, for his long-time leadership of the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival and its foundation. The festival, which has raised more than $5 million for 75 local charities, “showcases the transformative power of making fundraising not only a mission but a celebration,” said Foote. “It’s about instilling the sense of excitement, competition and friendship that brings people together for a common cause.”
There was a strong turnout from Hobin Architecture, winner of the Outstanding Small Business Award, sponsored by RBC. It was nominated by Carleton University for its support of its school of architecture and urbanism (firm founder Barry Hobin is an alumnus and former Carleton Ravens football player).
The award also recognized Hobin Architecture’s deep commitment to community and to charities across Ottawa. “The firm believes very strongly in philanthropy,” said Hobin, who’s seen the business grow to 45 people since he founded it in 1979.
“We are blessed to be able to design buildings in our community,” said Hobin. “We are blessed to participate with groups that make a difference in our society. I would suggest to you that our challenge moving forward is mentoring that next generation about participating and thinking about what they can do to make Ottawa a better place.”
About that next generation: sixteen-year-old Riley McBrine, a student of St. Mother Teresa High School, landed this year’s Outstanding Youth Philanthropist Award, sponsored by Ashbury College. The founder of Riley’s Walk for Cancer raised more than $25,000 for The Ottawa Cancer Foundation (formerly the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation).
The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) in Ottawa was named Outstanding Philanthropic Group, nominated by Carleton University, for helping women and girls to receive a higher education through annual scholarships and bursaries, including in the disciplines of STEM, medicine, nursing, business, music, social sciences and the humanities. Recipients are outstanding achievers, sole-support mothers, students with disabilities, women demonstrating financial need and, as of last year, refugee women. Their award was sponsored by the University of Ottawa.
Natalie Benson, director of fundraising for Christie Lake Kids, spoke about having her “dream job” as she was honoured that night with the Outstanding Fundraising Professional Award, sponsored by Trinity. “ I really can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said of having a career that’s allowed her, over the past 10 years, to see children grow, both physically and emotionally. “And that’s probably the best and most stressful part of my job. I’m so invested in our work and see the difference it makes that I take it to heart when we both receive funding and get declined — a punch to the gut.”
She thanked a whole host of people, including CLK executive director Adrienne Vienneau and her husband, Jeff Benson, who always reminds her to breathe when things get hard and to stop and savour her successes. “And so for you, Jeff, I’m going to live in this moment and just feel really, really grateful.”