putting our money where our heart is

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Isn’t Everyone Already “Aware” of Cancer?

cancer_more-than-ribbonA good friend of mine posted, “Everyone is aware of cancer!” She was reacting, as were countless people, to trends that have been proliferating through social media under the guise of cancer awareness. In the case of the No Make-Up Selfie, even the guise was lost as the campaign morphed from cancer awareness to a celebration of natural beauty. Are people getting so caught up in acts of “awareness” that they are ignoring the reasons behind it all?

Have you ever wondered what percentage of men who grow facial hair for Movember have actually contributed to any funds raised for the cause or to an increase of men going in for prostate exams? Or should we move our scrutinizing eyes over to that other now famous campaign involving such clever placement of men’s socks? And as entertaining as that is, there are so many more campaigns and fundraisers vying for our attention through their swag and humour. The “sexy” cancers are perhaps the biggest examples of this – anything involving a taboo area is bound to be treated with irreverence. Have you heard these clever taglines, “Save a life, grope your wife,” “Save Second Base” or “Save the Ta Ta’s?”

With so many attention-getting gimmicks, clever word plays and excuses to see men and women in and out of their underwear, I can see how these campaigns would not only get a giggle but raise a lot of money too. So what happens in September during Children’s Cancer Awareness Month? I bet the laughing stops there.

In fairness to the North Americans who confused the trend, the No Make-up Selfie originated in Europe benefiting Cancer Research UK. There are many different months in the Cancer Calendar and they vary around the globe. As campaigns go viral and international, it makes sense that something might be lost in translation.

I too thought the No Make-up Selfie was just a new trend of women who were being dared to show their natural face, just for the sake of it. When I saw an article that urged women to “put their faces back on,” I had to find out why the author was discouraging women from showing their natural selves. When I learned the reason, I thought it was fantastic that someone went out of their way to remind us that the point had not only been lost but that an important cause was being forgotten along the way.

After reviewing a series of eye-opening reactions, enlightening images and informative websites, I did eventually learn that the No Make-Up Selfie was actually an incredibly successful campaign, having raised £8m in six days.

Obviously, it’s great that people participate in discussions, awareness campaigns, events and fundraisers – even if they are silly and saucy – just don’t forget to give if you can.

It’s not hard to find a cancer organization to support but in case you’re looking – I’d like to recommend two of them. I’m currently working as the Special Events Manager at InspireHealth – Integrative Cancer Care. In describing what we do, staff have talked about the difference between treating the cancer itself and treating the person’s whole health so that they are strong enough to support the process of fighting the cancer and healing from it. In addition to supporting whatever treatment the patient is going through, we have doctors, nurses, nutritionists, exercise therapists and counsellors who are able to offer a full compliment of care.

A story that helped me to understand how our centres (there are three) help people, was about a young couple that came in together for support. They were married and just had their first child. The young wife had received a terminal cancer diagnosis. She was facing the fear of her own death. He had to come to terms with raising their child without his beloved wife. Together they feared for their daughter who would grow up without her mother. Their experience, and understanding the many ways InspireHealth is meeting their needs, beyond the immediate medical concern of treatment, was what really brought it home for me.

Donations are very welcome and we have a lot of opportunities for you to have fun and help raise money at our events in the months to come – starting with Inspire Health in April on April 5th.  A percentage of sales from our “Inspired Shopping List” at seven Choices Market locations will go to InspireHealth.  I’ll continue to share news of our events as they happen.

Earlier this year I worked for the Canadian Cancer Society to help recruit volunteers for the April Daffodil Campaign. Volunteer canvassers will be hitting the pavement all over Canada collecting donations. You can give at your door or online. I’ve started my own virtual canvassing and you can even make a donation on my very own page.

Happy Pink Monday!


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Yellow Monday in Honour of the Daffodil Campaign

online picI’ve been making calls for the past month to recruit canvassers for the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Campaign in April. I decided to sign up as an Online Canvasser and encourage my friends to make donations. If you sign up in a hurry, you’ll see your name as the top online canvasser!!!  Mine was the only name in the list when I signed up. I think it’s because I was the first person to make a donation.  🙂 Pretty cool.

One of the things I love about not just having one cause to support is that you just never know what your friends will respond to.  One of my friends has signed up to take a kit to work to collect donations from her co-workers (Thanks Tracy ;). One of my co-workers has pledged a donation already. I have a third friend who I forgot to call back (and I’m going to do that tomorrow!) because she indicated she would also be interested in supporting the campaign.  Cancer is just one of those things I guess. It’s touched all of us and many of us know cancer survivors.

I live in a condo and I’m not super keen to knock on doors myself (I know, how can I talk other people into it???) so I decided to become an online canvasser instead.  It’s great that the campaign has all these options and that some are less pressure. I mean, not everyone is up to it but I’ve talked to people who really like going door to door every year and they enjoy connecting with their neighbours.  I talked to a woman last week who doesn’t want to fundraise but she said she really hopes her neighbour Mike is going to do it again because she really looks forward to his visits!  I haven’t successfully signed Mike up yet but I left him a voice-mail to let him know Margaret said to tell him she is really proud of him. It’s moments like those that makes all the hang-ups worthwhile!

But if you’re not like Margaret or Mike and maybe you’re a little more like me, check out my page for starters and maybe make a donation while you’re there or get yourself registered and start inviting friends and family.  My goal is $100.  Care for a little friendly challenge?  Think you can raise more than me?  I’d love to see you try. Sincerely!

Happy Pink Monday!


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Impressive Teens Pitch Environmental Business Ideas

Students formed teams with different schools to network and learn team-building skills - like building the highest tower using only spaghetti and marshmallows!!!

Students formed teams with different schools to network and learn team-building skills – like building the highest tower using only spaghetti and marshmallows!!!

It’s JA day on Pink Monday! How could it not be? I’m back home after two days of incredible events hosted by Junior Achievement of British Columbia. It took nearly every live body at our organization to pull this off!  I was the manager of registration (aka The Pentagon).

It’s our biggest annual student event – The JA Innovation Jam (formerly the BC Business Challenge).  Students from all over BC came to Vancouver to compete for the best business pitch with an environmental innovation theme. Last night we had a reception for all the out-of-town kids who were staying at the Coast Coal Harbour Hotel. Many of them had never been to Vancouver before.  Some of them from remote communities had never flown on a plane before!  What an amazing opportunity for these kids to come downtown and be part of what turned out to be two pretty amazing days.

Sam Thiara was our guest speaker at the reception and he was truly so inspirational that he was surrounded by a mob of kids after the event. Like a rock-star, they all wanted photos with Sam.

A highlight for me was a group of three teen girls who fearlessly approached me, hands extended, formally and confidently introduced themselves and told me about their school and their team and asked me what I do at JA. Networking is a big part of what we’re encouraging them to do at events like these. If you’re like me, you know it takes guts to go up to strangers at networking events and start conversations.  These girls are already pros at it.  I was so impressed!

My alarm went off at 5:00 am today as the event began for me just before 7 – getting ready for 123 students to mob my registration desk at 7:30 am.  It’s been a long day but I have that wonderful feeling you get after a well-run event – pride mixed with relief that it’s all done!!!  

During the day the students were led through workshops, a lightening round of presentations, breakout groups and filming of their pitch.  They were judged by panels of JA sponsors and a dozen members of the Top Forty Under 40. The top four teams were chosen and presented to the group.  Tomorrow morning there will be links on Youtube where everyone (even you!) can vote for the best pitch for a kind of “people’s choice” award. I love that the theme was environmental innovation and they came up with some incredible original ideas!  I’ll all a link to this post tomorrow.

So, I’m tired, I’m happy, I’m behind on my database entries back at the office.  Tomorrow will be filled with unpacking and catching up on all that was neglected in the last day or two before the event.  Like processing some of our most recent donations!  Speaking of which – if you like the idea of preparing youth for the world of work through business education and financial literacy, you might like to support Junior Achievement.

Happy Pink Monday!


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Consider The Gift of Encouragement


One of the many ways supporting the Daffodil Campaign makes a difference – summer camp for kids with cancer – Camp Goodtimes!

I’ve started Telerecruiting for the Canadian Cancer Society and have decided never to hang up on a telemarketer/recruiter ever again! It’s true, I’ve just dropped the receiver many times as soon as I realized the person calling me in the safe haven of my home was not a friend or family member. I feel no guilt when I hear the pause-click of an automated dialing system which is a recording anyway half the time, but hanging up on a real, live, actual person – that’s cold isn’t it?

We’re calling people who have fundraised in the past for the Daffodil Campaign – raising money that will go towards research and support services to people fighting cancer and to their families as well. There are some pretty amazing programs like –

  • the Peer Support Service where you can connect with someone over the phone and talk about what you’re going through. This service is available online as well.
  • There’s a wig bank – and if you have 8″ of hair to donate, imagine what a treasure that would be to someone who’s gone through chemo and lost their hair.
  • Patients who must travel to receive treatment can apply for financial help for travel and accommodations.
  • There are volunteer drivers who can take you to appointments if you don’t have someone else available to help.
  • There’s the Jean C. Barber Lodge offering accommodation for patients and family at a reduced rate compared to hotels – it includes nursing supervision, 3 meals a day and is walking distance to treatment.
  • Imagine if your child had cancer? There’s a safe summer camp with medical supervision where kids and teens can enjoy some summer fun.

Can anyone really argue that these services aren’t worth funding? I don’t really think so. But I too have felt invaded when someone calls my home and don’t even get me going on someone who knocks on my door, but at the same time, I feel pretty strongly that there’s a difference between selling products and fundraising.

Besides the feeling of invasion, sometimes it’s just about dollars and cents. For me personally, I really do wish I could give every time I am asked, but I just can’t. We’re only 12 days into the new year and I’ve already been asked to support 5 charities. I want to give to each and every one of them! Instead, I will pick and choose as I have a budget to adhere to, not to mention I think I have SAD and really need to save up for a sunny vacation!

So today, besides my usual recommendation that you donate to or volunteer for worthy organizations, I’d like to suggest another way to contribute – by boosting the morale of those tele-recruiters out there! I called about 100 people on my first 4-hour evening shift and most either weren’t home or said they couldn’t help but I did reconfirm two past volunteers and signed up three brand new ones who had never done it before. I sincerely feel it was worth my time to accomplish that. So next time someone calls you at home, consider this – we don’t mind if you interrupt us to say “no thank you” but wish us luck and tell us if you appreciate the work we do. It puts a smile on our face and gives us that little extra boost of encouragement for the next call we’re about to make. In this small way, you can still make a difference! Believe me!!!

Happy Pink Monday 🙂


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Do You Know A Classroom In Need?

Help students learn drawing and anatomy with a disarticulated skeleton

Help students learn drawing and anatomy with a disarticulated skeleton

Just before Christmas, I included information on a project in the US where a teacher needed funds to help with books for her classroom. My friend Yvonne thought it was a great idea and wondered if there were similar projects in Canada. I promised her I would find out and today I began a google search. My first attempt yielded no results and I started to think that this would be the perfect new charity to start up because everyone knows a teacher whose classroom is underfunded! I tried again, and this time I found exactly what I was looking for right away. Guess I’ll have to wait for the next great idea to start a charity of my own.

My Class Needs Foundation is a registered Canadian charity that lets teachers all across Canada submit project ideas for various needs in their classroom. This crowdfunding platform was launched in 2012 and so far only 4 provinces are involved and the majority of projects are in Surrey, BC.  Projects have to meet a list of criteria for approval and must be reported on by the teachers afterwards. If you donate to a project that doesn’t reach it’s goal, your donation is refunded in the form of a credit and you can choose a new project to fund.

Teachers submitting a project for the first time are limited to $1,000 and unfortunately, my teacher friend Catherine will be disappointed by this, you can’t ask for cash or perishable items like food.  Catherine is always fundraising for her school’s lunch program.

I saw a lot of requests for iPads which put me off a bit.  I’d rather donate towards books.  I’m not sure why I have this bias as I do 99% of my reading on a Sony E-Reader.  I’ll have to get over that perhaps.  Also, in some provinces (Ontario) you can’t fundraise for textbooks anyway (it’s against their school board fundraising policies), so why not fund some iPads? I saw projects for kids with disabilities, literacy barriers and sensory processing issues.  I learned a thing or two about what techniques are being used in the classroom to help kids learn. For example, I did not know that shape puzzles and toys used in math are called manipulatives!

My favorite pitch was by Mrs. Johnson from Frank Hurt Secondary in Surrey.  She’s raising funds to purchase a disarticulated skeleton to guide observation in anatomy drawing.

“Natural curiosity and engagement with the human body teaches a keen sense of observation and attention to detail, allowing students to wonder where these bones belong and how the body fits together,” says Mrs. Johnson in her project description.

If you know a teacher, or have kids and are familiar with the challenges teachers face meeting their classroom needs, this kind of giving might be for you.  Browse their projects and I’d love to hear if you found one worthy of your support. If you’re a teacher – I bet you have a need you could start crowdfunding for!

Good luck and Happy Pink Monday!


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A Meal In Their Shoes


“There is no darkness but ignorance.” William Shakespeare

For Christmas, one of the gifts I gave to my husband was a date night at Dark Table restaurant. Dining at Dark Table happens ENTIRELY in the dark. The darkness is absolute and more surprising than I could have ever expected.

I imagined being completely focused on the food placed before me, trying to identify it first by smell and and then by taste. I pictured an experience where the act of eating, something I often do mindlessly in front of the TV or computer, would be one that reminded me what I take for granted about food and the pleasure you gain from it when you take the time to truly appreciate the talents of a good chef.

Dark Table certainly offered that experience but it also offered a taste of something else – something completely extraordinary that I could never have anticipated – a glimpse into the world of blindness.

Before entering the restaurant, we ordered our meal outside in a heated and lit area. Two courses of the meal would be a surprise but we could chose our main. We were introduced to our server, Rose, who is blind, as are all of the servers there. Rose asked us to form a single file line behind her, placing our left hand on the left shoulder of the person in front. We first entered an enclosed foyer and only after the outside door was completely closed so no light could penetrate the darkness, we entered the restaurant relying on Rose to guide us to our table.

Arriving at our table after a shuffling of small, tentative steps and some disorienting turns, Rose placed my hand on the back of my chair and I felt the edges to figure out which way it was facing and how to sit down. She led Carlo to the rest-rooms and while I was there alone, I explored the table. It was round with a table cloth and another smaller, frilly-edged cloth. There was no glassware yet, just our plates with a napkin, a single serve butter packet and a knife and fork on either side. As I waited for Carlo I struggled to identify whether I did indeed have some limited vision or if the light shapes I was seeing were merely retinal afterimages.

I recognized Carlo’s voice in the darkness and as they returned I felt relieved to have them back with me. Rose ensured we knew where to find everything we would need and soon returned with fresh baked bread. If I could only smell one thing for the rest of my life, it might be this. I brought my bread to my face and smelled it for an inordinately long period of time – a pleasure I would have denied myself in a lit restaurant.

With butter inevitably on both our bread and our hands, Carlo and I shared our initial reactions to the restaurant. We both felt a heightened sense of alertness and laughed when we realized we were unable to sit back and relax in our chairs. We were both leaning forward over the table, in a state of constant anticipation of when the other might say something. With no visual cues, it took a bit of time to develop a comfortable pace of conversation. We had to make adjustments like enunciating more clearly and helping each other to know that what we said was heard and understood by placing a deliberate “oh” or “ok” or “wow” as appropriate when the other finished saying something.

I felt as though I had to be ready for anything because I had no way of telling what was going on around me. I didn’t know how big the restaurant was, how many people or tables there were or where the walls were. We were regularly surprised by other guests bumping into us as they were led past by their servers. All the times Rose checked on our table, I didn’t once hear her approach and her voice beside us was always a surprise. Luckily a pleasant one as Rose was a lovely person. Still, your body responds to so much unknown in ways you can’t control – you may find your first response is fear.

“Fear causes the organism to seek safety and may cause a release of adrenaline, which has the effect of increased strength and heightened senses such as hearing, smell, and sight.”
Wikipedia on self-preservation

A friend who’d been to the restaurant before me said, “It freaked me out and I had to leave half-way through the meal.” At the time, I couldn’t understand how the darkness could freak you out that much but as I sat in the restaurant, the retinal afterimages now gone, truly understanding that I couldn’t see a damn thing, adrenaline coursing through my body, floating in a sea of utter blackness, I too was a little freaked out.

There was a large group of people to my right. At least, they sounded like a large group but could have been only four people. I marveled at how relaxed and jovial they were and decided that we must come to the restaurant again because knowing what to expect, we might enjoy it even more the second time around. At times, their raucous laughter was jarring and distracting and made it difficult to hear Carlo – something I found a bit stressful as I also couldn’t see him.

I kept feeling a need to reach out to Carlo to regain a sense of how far away he was. While any light producing devices are forbidden, and in fact one guest was asked to put his phone away, Carlo would push his sleeve back and reveal the glow-in-the-dark hands on his watch and this gave us both a bit of comfort – being able to confirm that we could still actually see. At one point I even felt a bit sad but at the same time, talking through all of this with Carlo, we found ourselves on conversational journeys that were among the most stimulating and interesting we’ve ever had. While coping with this feeling of vulnerability, able to vocalize it and process it intellectually, I forged ahead as above all else, the main feeling I had was excitement.

I won’t tell you what our surprise starter was because I’d love for everyone who reads this to go there and wouldn’t want to spoil it! My main dish was ravioli in a cream sauce with some kind of cheese stuffing and an herb I couldn’t recognize. It smelled and tasted amazing but without my sight, I had trouble pinning down all of the ingredients. I was happy with my choice as the ravioli was easy to stab with my fork and perfect bite sizes so it wasn’t too messy. Carlo ordered a stuffed chicken with seasonal vegetables and potatoes. He had a little more trouble with his dish, even though the chicken was sliced. We used our hands a lot and needed more napkins from Rose – her most popular request.

Our dessert was also a surprise and if I hadn’t asked at the end of our meal, I never would have known what it was because we both guessed wrong! We were very close but we could tell we were off a bit. Combining my guess with his, the result would be closer to what it actually was but we were still missing some key flavours. Despite not knowing exactly what it was, it too was delicious.

After dinner, I called out for Rose, as was the protocol, and asked if she could lead me to the ladies room. As we walked, Rose asked how we were enjoying the experience. I told her that I was finding it absolutely amazing. There were so many things that I’d never thought of before that people without sight must experience. Rose replied, “Thank you for saying that. A lot of people don’t even know we’re blind.”

I asked if Dark Table was connected to a charity and Rose told me that they are a business but that there was a fundraiser there recently that raised a lot of money for the blind. She also said that a program called CareerConnect Canada (a program through the Canadian National Institute for the Blind) helps to find employment for blind people at places like Dark Table.

“With an unemployment rate of 70%, the blind face obvious challenges in a society that is preoccupied with visual communication, but in a dark dining environment, the tables are turned—the non-sighted servers guide the sighted.”
O’Noir website

My research at home revealed that Dark Table is owned by Moe Alameddine whose two similar restaurants in Toronto and Montreal, O’Noir, share profits “to support local associations that serve blind and visually impaired people of all ages.”

I would definitely recommend supporting the CNIB with a donation but of course, they also have volunteer opportunities and other ways to get involved.

When I thought of blindness before, I thought mainly of the barriers to mobility, of my love of visual art and how much I would miss it, and of difficulties finding work and making a living. Now, what strikes me the most is wondering if blind people ever really get over that sense of fear in public places. I can’t quite imagine ever getting so used to it that it wouldn’t bother me at all though I can see how you would have to learn to cope with it in order to live your life. I think the hardest thing for me would be feeling vulnerable.

I can’t tell you how Rose feels but I can tell you that she was young and beautiful, she had a lovely gentle voice and she was a fantastic guide. When we began the experience I admitted to her that I was a little nervous but mostly excited.  We were already in the dark at that point.  Rose said she was excited for us and I could tell she was smiling and genuine when she said it.  At the end of the night, I thanked her and again told her how much I enjoyed it.

As we walked away and said goodbye to Rose, she waved at us.  Carlo waved back and instantly realized she couldn’t see his wave.  She slipped back inside the restaurant and we walked on, eyes wide, soaking in the sights of the street and indeed the entire world, once again available to us.

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Where is your heart today?


My dad, who we lost to Cancer on November 27, 2001.

Since I started this blog I have been keeping notes on news and information about various charities and this week there were so many things to make note of!

Just now, I read that the remaining members of the band Pussy Riot, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, were released from jail.  They weren’t due out till March so it is possible this is being done to improve Russia’s public profile in advance of the Winter Olympics in February.  I’m happy for them and I can’t help but wonder, will they continue to express their political views?  Will they stay in Russia?  This article on CBC’s website said that, ”Tolokonnikova said that she and Alekhina will set up a human rights group to help prisoners.”  I am looking forward to hearing more about them in the future. What does this have to do with Pink Monday?  Well, I was thinking about Amnesty International and all the work they have been doing to help political prisoners including Pussy Riot.  Quite worthy if you are looking for a charity to support this Christmas.

Yesterday I volunteered at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre with my friend Angela.  We set up a Christmas crafts table and were there for 2 hours.  About 7 women came and went from our table.  Some sat wordlessly and colored.  Some didn’t stop talking!  I helped one woman make a Christmas card.  I helped her to spell “Year” and “Daughter”.  She broke my heart a little.  While I was there, a woman came into the centre wailing and needing comfort from the staff.  From what we could glean, she had been threatened by a dealer who was going to cut off all her hair as punishment and to send a message to others about not paying back your drug debts. The workers there really are on the “front lines”.  The centre has a shelter and showers.  I saw meals handed out.  I saw a mountain of gifts in the office downstairs, and was told another truck-load was coming for the women on Christmas day.  I saw a table full of loaves of bread for the taking and another full of scarves and hats.  A truck came by and gave out winter coats to anyone who needed them.  I had to tiptoe down one hallway because there was a room where a yoga class was in session. At our crafts table, I made origami Christmas boxes and Angela colored a mandala.  I thought about how the crafts were meditative and calming and how maybe just a few minutes of that could be enough to offer a bit of peace to someone who was having a bad day. If you’re interested in supporting them, check out their website. They may still need food items for the holidays and you can call them at 604-681-8480 x 226 to find out what hasn’t been donated yet.  If you keep receipts, you’ll get a tax receipt for spending over $20.  They are also trying to build up contacts in the food industry who might be willing to donate so if you know anyone, ask them if they’d be interested in connecting with the centre.

Perhaps you heard a news story last week about Tom Christ?  He’s from Calgary and he won $40 Million dollars last May and he’s donating every penny! He’s kept it quiet till now, he didn’t even tell his kids, but Lotto Max wanted their publicity so the news is out. He was golfing when he heard the news and he said he knew immediately where the money was going. Two years ago, he lost his wife to cancer.  She was young and fought cancer for 6 years but in the end it took her from Tom and their children. It was difficult listening to the emotion in Tom’s voice as he talked about losing his wife. He never wanted all this media attention.  He said there were a lot of charities he wants to give to and get his kids involved with. He plans to give most of the money to the Cancer Society because of how close he is to the cause.

It’s a cause I’m rather close to myself. I’ve lost many family members and friends to cancer so I guess it’s appropriate that I’ve recently signed on to a new temporary part-time job at the Canadian Cancer Society.  I’ll be telerecruiting volunteers for the Daffodil Campaign in April. I’ll also be supporting them with a donation at that time.

Today’s post is dedicated to the loved ones I’ve lost: My dad, Willard Olson, my Grandma, Dagmar Hermanutz, my Auntie, Phyllis Dzus, friends, Tim King and Rona Castagnier, and to all the wonderful survivors I have in my life who might not be here today if it weren’t for the research dollars donated by people all over the world. Thank you!