Thoughts of a Toronto-based PR consultant. A focus on the PR profession and the charitable sector, with forays into arts, society and politics.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Planned Deputation for Toronto Budget 2012 Public Hearings Dec. 7

To the Budget Committee:

Before you make any budget recommendations on this matter, I encourage—I beg—all the committee members to join our community this Saturday morning at Fairmount Park Community Centre and the surrounding park, which are always filled with children and families.

I want to stress that our community centre is not made of numbers, it’s made of people. And looking at charts of numbers enrolled in registered programs will not give you the full information you need to responsibly make this decision. Ask any parent in our community and they’ll tell you that we’re all hungry for more programs at Fairmount. Build us more programs, and we’ll come. So cutting programs is the exact wrong thing for our community.

But you couldn’t know that, looking only at registration numbers. Those numbers alone will not tell you what you need to know about the incalculable benefits of our community centre to the children and families in our neighbourhood, who treasure not only the community centre and pool as vital community assets, but also the dynamic Fairmount Park that surrounds it.

Visit us next Saturday morning, and you’ll see preschoolers in ballet costumes fluttering through the front door, and kids in their martial arts gear with their proudly coloured belts, and people of all ages with backpacks stuffed full of swim gear. All ages, all cultural backgrounds, all economic circumstances. Then come and sit in the pool gallery and watch eight swim classes happening—all at the same time—in our relatively modest-sized pool. It’s always crowded, always in demand. You’ll see fat little babies in the arms of their parents, you’ll see skinny awkward preteens developing the swim skills that may well someday save their lives and will go far in keeping them healthy, fighting obesity with a lifelong love of athletics. And here I’m talking about kids from all cultural and economic backgrounds, all in the same facility and sharing the benefit of our vital and much-loved community asset.

But then come outside. On any given day, year-round, you’ll see kids and families zipping between the park and the community centre, using the bathrooms, sitting at tables to work on homework, meeting up with family members and friends. None of this will be in your charts of registration numbers, but it’s all vital to the health of our community, and our city at large.

In the park surrounding Fairmount at any time, you’ll see families enjoying the park, you’ll see permitted baseball teams playing games, you’ll see the tennis courts hopping, and the wading pool filled to the brim with kids. In the winter a volunteer-run skating rink bustles with activity and the hillside is thick with tobogganers. But your data in front of you doesn’t capture that. Your data won’t tell you that this is an extremely heavily-used city park, and that all of our families rely on the community centre to make it work. Perhaps most importantly, our children know when they’re playing in the park that the community centre is a safe place to turn if they’re harassed, hurt, or threatened in some way. It provides safety, and refuge, and eyes on the park in a neighbourhood that has seen some troubles, as most neighbourhoods have, from time to time.

We all want our city to be fiscally careful. So even in the name of fiscal caution, please don’t close our community centre. We have an active community that is willing to roll up our sleeves and find efficiencies and ways to engage our community to limit waste. But you can’t responsibly make this decision without weighing the deep value of all that is not tracked by your registration numbers in front of you.

We love our park and the community hub that Fairmount provides. It’s working. It’s great. Don’t destroy this, because in the long run, it will cost all our citizens far more if we have to rebuild what has taken generations to create.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Never underestimate the power of a group of moms with cupcakes

My headline today comes from today's Toronto Star editorial by Brandie Weikle. And it's absolutely true, though I know some dads baked, too. Our household contributed (what seemed like) a bajillion lemon-coconut cupcakes for Haiti, baked by me and rigorously tested by the kids, with Brian tackling the Herculean clean up (me + KitchenAid + bag of icing sugar = big white kaboom).

I'm very proud of the achievements of our little school community this weekend: Thanks to the incredible vision, energy and organization of our fearless leaders Susana Molinolo and Nancy Botelho, we raised $9,800 which will be matched dollar-for-dollar by CIDA, meaning that Medecins sans Frontieres has nearly $20,000 more to do its vital work in Haiti.

I cannot write about Haiti. It hurts. There are no words. But baking... that I can do, no matter how heavy my heart. I remember a friend telling me that "baking is the sixth stage of grieving," and I believe she was right. When I grieve, or people around me grieve, I pull out my grandmother's recipes and my flour tubs and get busy. So I'm so grateful to Susana and Nancy and all the other parents for giving me a meaningful way to channel my inner sad baker.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A holiday lesson from a child

"The law of love could be best understood and learned through little children." --Mahatma Gandhi

This week in his Macleans blog, Andrew Potter posed the questions "What percentage of your income do you give to charity, and why?"

He cited some figures: According to the Fraser Institute's yearly study comparing generosity in Canada and the US, 24.0 percent of Canadians give to charity each year, and we give, on aggregate, 0.73 percent of our personal income. We are much less generous than our neighbours to the south.

When I reflect on what our family gives, at 1.4 percent of our income (and since my husband and I mainly work for charities, our income is likely lower than it would be in the for-profit world), I generally feel satisfied that we are doing our part. Possibly even smugly so. But the stats out of the US are shaming-- in Utah, for example, residents give 3.66 percent of their aggregate incomes to charity. Are we really so noble?

I was recently taught an important lesson on generosity, courtesy of my eldest son Lucas, who is seven. (Yes, this is a proud mother launching into brag mode. Indulge me.) Each week we have given him $1 for discretionary spending, plus $1 for savings and $1 for "helping kids who need it," the phrase he coined when we first explained charity to him. In September we decided to increase his spending money to $3, in recognition of some new responsibilities. But he has never accepted this. Each week he resolutely puts the extra money in his "helping kids" jar, and each week I gently remind him that he is not obliged to do this, that the extra money is for him. He had trouble articulating why he wouldn't accept the extra money until last week. "I NEVER can put more money in my spending jar than in my helping kids jar," he said. "Those kids need food and medicine more than I need Hot Wheels, right?" The logic, and love, of my darling boy is impossible to refute.

So, this year, in honour of the many people we cherish, our family has substantially increased our annual gift to UNICEF to assist children affected by HIV/AIDS. To be honest, it's a dollar value that makes me gulp, and as I filled out the online form, I truly did hesitate. But then I thought about the lesson taught to me by my son's loving heart. We are blessed, and so we give.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tolerating Twitter-lite, for the tweets that rock my world

There are times I rue ever venturing into the Twitter universe. So many of the tweets are so light, so ephemeral... do I really need to know that a fellow PR-type here in Toronto really enjoyed the grilled fish at some restaurant that probably waived his bill for the mention?

But then there are flashes of brilliance, that demonstrate how rich the universe of Twitter can be. I followed the Iranian democracy protests via Twitter, and I now avidly track the tweets by Nicholas Kristof, the extraordinary foreign correspondent for the NY Times who with his wife and fellow Pulitzer-holder Sheryl WuDunn (wouldn't you love to sit at their dining room table??) wrote the stunning book/wake-up-call to the world "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide."

Last week Kristof's tweet read thusly: <<A Kenyan girl's question echoes in my mind: "Should I keep sleeping with the man who pays my school fees?">> That 140-characters-or-less statement hit me like a ton of bricks. Her simple question says so much about this upside-down world. I just can't shake thinking about her, and the millions of other children in the world facing equally awful dilemmas.

And now, my admission: despite my lifelong love of the NY Times, despite my interest in women's rights in the developing world, I had never heard of Kristof until Stephanie Nolen's tweet sent me to him. I now read his columns in the Times avidly, and my copy of "Half the Sky" is on order. I fully anticipate that it will rock my world.

So I'll continue to tolerate the annoyances of Twitter-lite, for these flashes of brilliance.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beauty, eh?

This Tuesday, November 3 is Art with Heart at the gorgeous Carlu. It's Casey House's biggest fundraiser, a 16-years-strong auction of contemporary art raising funds for their services to people living with HIV/AIDS in the Toronto community.

This year's collection has a fun, edgy Canadian slant we're dubbing "Contemporary Canadiana." The art is absolutely glorious, and the bidding spectacle always makes me giddy.

Want a feel for the night? The event website includes a promo video that I co-produced with the amazing Lisa Lightbourn Lay.