Imagine you are a six-year-old girl. You have been in and out of the hospital since you were just 10 days old. Your entire life has been spent in X-rays, surgeries, and chemotherapy, and all you ever wanted, before you died, is to experience the magic of Disney World and eat breakfast with Cinderella.
This was the life of Angelina, a six-year-old girl who has spent her whole life in and out of remission from stage three neuroblastoma. Her future seemed bleak, and then, one day, in 2009, after she had regained her strength from her latest surgery, she received word that, thanks to a local charity and the help of a group of college students, her dreams would soon come true.
Since 2007, the event management program has held a partnership with the National Capital region’s chapter of the Children’s Wish Foundation, which they call, “Creating Magic.”
Since the partnership began, 286 students have raised a combined total of over $200,000 for the CWF through 49 different fundraising events that helped grant the wishes of many local children just like Angelina.
And on Nov. 15, the City of Ottawa recognized the hard work of the staff and students of the program by presenting them with the city’s award for “Outstanding Philanthropic Group” at the 16th Annual Ottawa Philanthropy Awards gala at the Chateau Laurier.
When CWF’s fundraising coordinator, Lynn Noel, nominated the program, they were one of 200 nominees in the category. But, after tremendous support from the community, the city presented the award to the programs coordinator, Sylvia Densmore, and four of her graduates – each representing their year of the partnership.
“This is such a prestigious award,” said Densmore. “We’re really very honoured to be receiving it. This really is the perfect partnership.”
“All of the credit goes to the faculty and students for their amazing work,” said Noel, who has acted as a mentor to all the students since the partnership began. “That’s why we nominated them,” she said. “To show how amazing they really are. We are so honoured to work with them as a charity recipient.”
Since the event planning component was introduced to the program seven years ago, students have had to plan an entire fundraiser for a local charity, start to finish, with no starting budget.
“The students create the concept, then plan and execute the event,” said Densmore. “But it’s not just about the money. For us, it’s about what the students are learning. It’s all about teaching the students how important it is to get involved and give back to the community.”
Originally, the partnership was only supposed to be for one year, but it was seen as such a success in the community that it has continued each year since.
“The partnership just rang so true,” said Noel. “The community responded to us as a partner, and the students really got what it meant to have a wish and be part of that magic.” Noel said she received many letters from the community in support of the nomination; both from parents of wish kids, and from people and businesses who worked with the students at their events, including Liam McGuire and Max Keeping.
Elise Schimtz, who represented her graduating class of 2008 at the gala, was part of the first group from the program to work with the CWF. And for her, the partnership had extra significance.
“[Working with the CWF] was really special for me because my cousin had cancer twice,” she said. “The first time when he was three, and then again at 16, and [the CWF] did a lot for him when he was in the hospital. They did a lot for many of the kids [in CHEO]. The CWF is really quite dear to my heart and I’ve never done anything more fulfilling in my life. All the teachers and students deserve [the award] 100 per cent.”
The partnership, which has been the largest with CFW in it’s 25 years in Ottawa, has not only been a success for the organization, but for the program as well.
“When I started 10 years ago, we were at 35 students,” said Densmore. “This year, we were maxed out at 95 for the Fall semester. And, [in 2010] we also added a winter semester, which has 35 students.”
“I learned things I couldn’t have learned from university,” said Ben Dinh, who represented the graduating class of fall 2010. “It was a great experience.”
The program, said Densmore, is a prime example of experiential learning; a hands-on learning concept popular at the college.
“It was such a fantastic experience,” said Lesley Hoyles, who represented both her 2009 class, and spoke on behalf of all of the students at the gala. “It definitely prepared me for the work I’m doing now and was a great introduction to philanthropic giving. I’m so glad this partnership is getting the recognition it deserves, it’s such a unique take on co-op and an amazing initiative. It really is a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
“I was totally floored that we were nominated,” said David Kirk, one of the program’s most recent graduates, who represented the winter class of 2010 at the gala. “We, as students, are often over-looked. But we’ve proven that, above and beyond the program, we, as a collective, are able to go out into the community and make a difference.”