AFP Luncheon Celebrates 25th Anniversary and Honours Nine For Philanthropy

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Nine benevolent individuals and organizations were honoured at the silver anniversary edition of the Philanthropy Awards luncheon, presented by the Greater Toronto chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), proving once again that golden hearts are not defined by class or stature.

Outstanding philanthropists Sonja & Michael Koerner; outstanding volunteer Laura Dottori-Attanasio; outstanding corporation Sobeys; outstanding foundation Laidlaw Foundation, Mo Davies Award for excellence in fundraising by a small organization Homes First Foundation; outstanding youths in philanthropy Jasmine de Pencier and Jett Jardeleza-Toole and outstanding fundraising professional Ken Mayhew were all feted with plaques and videos for their various accomplishments at the Metro Convention Centre on Nov. 27.

As guests enjoyed a main course of seared salmon over crushed brie and leek potato, wilted greens, seasonal vegetables and chive cream, a salad that include artisan lettuce, roasted apples and pears and shaved vegetables and a dessert of Satsuma orange tart, white chocolate Chantilly and fresh raspberry, host and Global news anchor Farah Nasser presided over the presentations.

“I think the reality is that we live in a time where it’s so easy to let things divide us, where often times we’re hearing rhetoric of division and folks are trying to divide us, even divide our humanity,” said outgoing AFP Toronto Chapter president Caroline Riseboro in her opening remarks. “But I would say that everybody in this room and everybody who is part of AFP, whether you are a fundraiser or you are a philanthropist or you are a volunteer or a supporter in any way, we are actually here to unite humanity at what is a critical time, and for that I think we are all truly grateful. That is what I mean by the power of philanthropy – to continue to unite humanity and really try to create a better world for everybody.”

Outstanding philanthropists Sonja and Michael Koerner were the first to be recognized for their magnanimous support of the arts, healthcare and education.

Implementing a strategic entrepreneurial approach in their benevolence over the course of 50-plus years, the Koerners’ contributions have included a $20 million leadership gift to the Royal Conservatory of Music that also resulted in the construction of the sonically pristine Koerner Hall; the funding of the 21C contemporary music festival and several scholarships at the Glenn Gould School. The couple also gave the Art Gallery Of Ontario $10 million and established the Michael and Sonja Koerner Conservation Centre to contribute to the revitalization and expansion of the premier cultural institution. The National Gallery of Canada also received $2 million towards the Canadian Artists of the Venice Endowment Fund and contributed to the renewal of the University Of British Columbia’s (UBC) Museum of Anthropology.

On the medical front, the Koerners have funded research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) – establishing the first Koerner New Scientist program to study mechanisms of risk for mental illness – and have also donated to the neurological research programs at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health at UBC and established the Sonja N. Koerner Hearing Regeneration Laboratory at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto.

At both Michael and Sonja’s alma maters – M.I.T. and Wellesley College – the Koerners have funded three M.I.T. professorships in science, music and business and a senior curatorial position at Wellesley College. A UBC endowment also created the Michael and Sonja Koerner First Nations Fellowship, awarded to a First Nations student in Commerce and Business Administration.

Additional investments of money and time by the Koerners to The Banff Centre, York University, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the Bata Shoe Museum, New Music Concerts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Shaw Festival have enabled those organizations to maximize the impact of attracting further contributors, volunteers and specialists to help ensure their fiscal sustainability.

The Koerners explained the philosophy behind their transformational philanthropy.

“I think of philanthropy not simply as writing cheques,” said Michael Koerner. “I think of philanthropy as trying to improve and help institutions in the philanthropic field and try to spread our support because we’re interested in medical issues; we’re interested in artistic issues and we’re interested in general education.”

“I enjoy what I do, sharing or helping or whatever it was, I enjoyed it,” added Sonja Koerner. “I never saw it in terms of what it’s doing for me. I thought of what I was doing was for whoever and I was perfectly happy. And I always thought, if I have it, I should share it. Money or wealth is something that goes through, and I shouldn’t be hoarding it over here, I should be doing something with it. So, that’s what we do.”

Sobey’s, the $25.1 billion national grocery chain with more than 1500 corporate and franchise stores across the country, is the AFP’s Outstanding Corporation in 2019.

The retailer has contributed more than $3.8 million in finance and in-kind support to Special Olympics Canada since becoming a platinum-level partner in 2016, and promotes the abilities of individuals with intellectual disabilities through a nutrition series for athletes, coaches and caregivers.

The grocery chain also contributes more than $11 million to 900 Canadian communities and has been a proud partner of the Daily Bread Food Bank since 2002.

They have pledged $1m towards building a new SickKids Hospital in Toronto and have also partnered with the Jays Care Foundation to ensure children with cognitive and physical disabilities learn about nutrition and life skills through Challenger Baseball.

“Giving back to the community is in our nature,” Renée Hopfner, director, community investment, Sobey’s. “We have a deep history of more than 112 years of giving back – and every day, every month of the year, it just grows and grows.”

Laidlaw Foundation  - outstanding foundation – is celebrating its 70th birthday, and through its seven decades, has dispensed grants totaling $44.4 million through 2100 youth-led and youth-serving initiatives.

Tamer Ibrahim, Laidlaw Foundation youth collective impact manager, says the charity’s mandate over the next five years will focus on the systems of child welfare, education and justice.

“We think that young people have a lot to say and their voices need to be heard, especially when addressing some of the systemic barriers that they’re experiencing,” says Ibrahim. “And it’s important for foundations like Laidlaw to be able to channel some of the voices that young people are trying to advocate for across Ontario.”

One of the projects that Laidlaw supports is the Yellowhead Institute – an Indigenous think-tank based at Ryerson University’s Faculty of Arts – and their Red Paper Project, which offers indigenous alternatives to land and resource management.

Designed for young leaders between the ages of 16 and 29, Laidlaw Foundation’s youth leadership and training program is another initiative to provide young people with tools, mentors and education to encourage positive social change.

Despite its limited resources, the Homes First Foundation – recipient of the 2019 Mo Davies Award for excellence in fundraising by a small organization – has done great work in helping break the cycle of homelessness in Ontario.

“Homes First Foundation was established in 1983 with a housing-first methodology, to help address issues of the chronically homeless, who  - until then and even currently – had very few places to go to be referred because they have been living rough for many years,” explains Shirlene Courtis, the foundation’s executive director.

“Many have mental illness or serious addiction issues, and so through the methodology-supported programming, stabilizing their housing, Homes First is able to provide the individualized supportive programming for each resident that’s required to help them get to a stage where they can manage their own housing.”

Among the HFF’s many accomplishments include providing over 120,000 nights of emergency shelter to those in need and supporting Wanda’s Arts Therapy & Awards Programs, which encourages healing and wellbeing through creative expression.

In 2019 alone, HFF utilized 19 buildings in nine Toronto neighbourhoods, served over 400,000 meals and placed 6000 referrals to community partners, health care providers and support networks. Since 2015, HFF has raised $2.45 million to end homelessness.

The Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, the Centennial Infant and Child Centre Foundation and the United Way Greater Toronto are just three charities that have benefitted from the involvement of outstanding volunteer winner Laura Dottori-Attanasio.

Known as “the Mother of Care” in her role as major and individual giving chair at the United Way Greater Toronto, Dottori-Attanasio  has helped raise over $37 million for the charity. She has personally raised $80,000 and helped the Centennial Infant and Child Care Centre Foundation realize a successful $10 million capital campaign.

She also served as a board member of  the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada between 2007 and 2016, personally donating $250,000 to spearhead the charity’s $60 million fundraising campaign and providing a further $150,000 with her family to provide post-secondary scholarships for youth involved with child welfare.

And she accomplished all this while holding down her position as chief risk officer at CIBC and as a busy mother of four.

“I think it’s so very important to always be prepared to give, not just financially, but give of your time,” stated Dottori-Attanasio on video. “All of us, regardless of where we come from and how great our lives are, we all need help in some point in time. We all need someone to support us – and that’s why I think it’s important that, when we can, we should be supporting and helping others.

“Then again, it’s just how you have a very solid community, a solid society. It’s just important that we all give back.”

Jasmine de Pencier and Jett Jardeleza-Toole – 2019’s outstanding youths in philanthropy – were only 9 years old when they approached their parents with an idea of saving endangered species in Canada.

Thus, the Kids’ Run For Nature was born, with funds raised earmarked for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada. Their first race, a local event that involved 200 children aged 4-12 jogging for the cause, raised $6000. In the four years that have followed, the Kids’ Run For Nature has been transformed into a nationwide event and has thus far raised $400,000 for WWF Canada.

“The team at WWF Canada is in awe of the leadership shown by Jasmine de Pencier and Jett Jardeleza-Toole,” said Megan Leslie, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada. “They took their concern for endangered species in Canada and turned it into action. Five year later, the Kids Run For Nature is in 27 communities across the country and over 6500 young people have been involved. We were honoured that they came to us to turn their idea into a reality. And the money that’s raised goes towards supporting WWF Canada’s conservation work, supporting endangered species and their habitats. We thank Jasmine and Jett for creating this platform for young people to take action.”

The final honouree, Ken Mayhew, is the president and CEO of the William Osler Health System Foundation and AFP’s outstanding fundraising professional of 2019.

A former president of the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter Board of Directors and currently Chair of AFP Canada Communications Committee, Mayhew has helped raise over $100 million for the Osler Foundation’s You Have The Power campaign, and spent over 20 years previously fundraising for the MS Society of Canada.

“There is so much need – and I can only see it getting greater,” Mayhew declared during his accompanying video. “And between the philanthropists and the fundraisers, we make a huge impact every single day in ways that are visible and ways that aren’t. As time goes by, I only see the need getting greater and the impact getting greater. What we do truly matters- fundraising is such an incredibly important part of Canada.”

In his follow-up acceptance speech, he told Philanthropy Awards luncheon attendees:

“I have a profound belief in the importance of the AFP. I completely agree that in times where people don’t hesitate to be cynical, the people in this room as philanthropists, volunteers and as practitioners believe in the need and the ability to change the world. It is a fantastic thing. And the AFP as an entity is really a bit of insulation against the inevitable up-and-downs and doubts that come with doing anything that matters. It’s a great organization.”

Usually the festivities end there, but there were a couple of presentations for members departing the AFP fold.

After 30 years of behind-the-scenes service, Cynthia Quigley, director, AFP Canadian Services and Greater Toronto Chapter, is stepping down in January – and after 21 years of hosting the AFP Philanthropy Awards luncheon, TV personality Gord Martineau is stepping away from the podium.

Quigley, who was presented a plaque for her efforts, did not offer a speech, but Martineau, who was presented a hardcover book of photos from his numerous AFP hosting duties over the years, did deliver some parting words, quoting the wife of a famous U.S. President.

“As the great Eleanor Roosevelt once said – and she was a shining example of philanthropy and volunteerism and leadership – she said, “never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world because, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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