Going global to embrace local

Game-changers. They’re often necessary and certainly, transformative. They can make what may appear big —small, what’s complicated—easy and what’s global —local.

Closeup on a group of five young children leaning into the camera

That’s why at United Way, we’ve decided to get more deeply local with a global, mission-driven, digital platform: Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud (SPC), a change that will enhance what we do best, and that’s bringing people together to solve local issues.

Because like you, we believe community matters.

This is why we’ve partnered with Salesforce.org.

We’ve heard first-hand that you love your neighbourhoods—from Malvern to Mississauga, from Gerrard to Georgina—and you care about local issues. You’re passionate about unignorable problems like growing income inequality, poverty, and a labour market that isn’t providing a clear path to opportunity and good-paying jobs. We understand too that you want to be part of the change that makes the neighbourhood you live and work in a thriving, happy place.

SPC places you and what you care about most front-and-centre, provides more options at your fingertips, and allows you to personalize how and where you choose to give your support.

Now, you’ll be able to take action with just one click. SPC will help everyone—from donors to volunteers to community partners—to easily connect with each other, share inspiring content, and create a powerful network of change-makers, all working together to tackle local poverty.

Sometimes you have to go really big to get really small.

Find out more about SPC and and if it’s right for your workplace here.

4 ways to make office giving fun

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This week, as we feature a few of our generous corporate partners with the 5th annual Keeping Good Company, we thought it a perfect time to share these original ways to breathe new life into your office fundraising efforts. Raising funds for important causes is serious business. So you might as well make it fun, right?

Promote your pets

Social media has taught us that adorable animals have huge marketing potential, so why not capitalize on their cuteness? Try hosting a cutest pet contest, where employees pay an entry fee to share a best-in-class picture of their pet. Participants then vote on which furry companion is most adorable, and all proceeds go to the winner’s charity of choice. A variation on this event (despite throwing fairness straight out the window) might be allowing multiple photos and votes for a larger donation. Of course, that’s in lieu of bringing pets right into work for a meet and greet.

Captive for a cause

For a new take on supporting the arctic conservation mission of the World Wildlife Federation, advertising agency FCB stranded their employees on a virtual iceberg. They were instructed that the iceberg was shrinking due to global warming, and in order to save themselves, they needed to use their phones as lifelines: they had to convince family and friends—anyone—to donate $50 to the charity. Not only did the activity succeed in generating donations, but it informed both employees and their donors about the cause. With a few small changes, this “cool” activity could be applied to virtually anything!

Donate a day’s wages

It’s common for donors to share a slice of their earnings from every paycheque to support a cause they care about. However, in 2004 Dr. Jane Philpott (who is now Canada’s federal Minister of Indigenous Services, but was then a doctor at Markham Stouffville Hospital) conceived of a new idea: Give a Day to World AIDS. Through this fundraiser, she encouraged her colleagues to donate a day’s pay to the Stephen Lewis Foundation or Dignitas International. (Something that inspired Michael Fekete and his Toronto law firm, Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt, to follow suit. It’s a clear winner on the easy scale. All you have to do is pick a day.

Give gourmet

If the time-honoured tradition of the workplace bake sale has gotten, well, stale, why not step up your culinary efforts by hosting your own Iron Chef competition? Ask budding chefs to bring in their dishes, and charge everyone a flat fee to sample the deliciousness and vote for their favourite. A variation is an office potluck where everyone arrives with a non-perishable good for a local food bank. Whatever you do, it’s sure to take goodness to a whole to new level: in terms of lunch and charitable giving!

4 (fun!) ways to volunteer with your friends

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We’d like to kick off National Volunteer Week by thanking all our incredible United Way volunteers who are at the heart of our region’s largest-ever Uprising of Care.

Whether it’s rolling up their sleeves to help out at a Day of Caring, rising at the crack of dawn to volunteer at UP, the CN Tower Climb for United Way, or lending their big brains as part of a volunteer committee or board, it takes all of us to fight local poverty and ensure that people and families across the GTA can build a good life.

As many of our volunteers will tell you, giving back feels great! Especially with a group of friends. We’ve put together this list of four group volunteer activities across the GTA where you are guaranteed to have fun and do good at the same time.

JUBILEE DESIGN 
Group with paints learning to silk screen at Jubilee Designs
Based out of the Yonge Street Mission’s Evergreen youth drop-in centre, Jubilee Design is a social enterprise that employs homeless and at-risk youth artists to lead crafting workshops as well as produce hand-made products that they then sell online. Jubilee offers fun group activities (with easy online registration), like a two-hour silk-screening workshop, where you can customize canvas bags, baby onesies and T-shirts with your own designs. They can also arrange tours of the centre so you can learn even more about the good work they do. In terms of costs, there is a minimum charge for groups to cover the cost of the supplies, as well as wages for the staff and youth artists. You can purchase pieces to silkscreen or bring your own from home for free.

DAILY BREAD FOOD BANK
Woman putting carrots into a bin at Daily Bread Foodbank
In addition to their research and advocacy work to reduce poverty in Toronto, Daily Bread collects food donations and distributes millions of pounds of food to more agencies supporting individuals and families across the city who are experiencing hunger. There are number of different group volunteer opportunities available that include everything from sorting food and repackaging bulk food into smaller portions, to helping out in the “clean room,” where donations of farm-fresh produce are prepared for distribution to the more than 200 food programs supplied by Daily Bread. These activities also include a tour of the facility so you can witness the behind-the-scenes workings of this Toronto landmark. Note: some of the volunteer opportunities on offer require heavy lifting, so be sure to let them know if that might be challenging for your group.

KNITTED KNOCKERS OF CANADA
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If your group of friends enjoys knitting, or is looking for a good reason to try it out, this program provides breast cancer survivors with soft, comfortable knitted prosthetics. To get you started, Knitted Knockers of Canada provides patterns and wool requirements for the project. You just need to bring the knitting needles, knitters, and a fun setting for your knitting party. Then simply drop off or mail your finished, unstuffed knockers to yarn store partner locations, and Knitted Knockers will make sure they get to the people who need them. There are yarn store partners across Canada, including spots in Newmarket, Toronto and Mississauga, and some stores even offer yarn discounts for Knitted Knocker volunteers.

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
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For those friends who may be construction-inclined, this well-known charity operates in Brampton, Caledon, Toronto and York Region. If you’re looking for a volunteer activity where you can really see the impact your group is making, there are few opportunities like building houses for low-income families. As most building sites need volunteer help during the week, this is an ideal team building idea for an organization that is looking to do some good in the community by creating not just houses, but homes, for families in need.

How our merger makes us stronger

Peel. Toronto. York Region. No matter what part of the GTA we call home, we’re all facing the same challenges: deep-rooted poverty in all its forms.

That’s why United Way Peel Region and United Way Toronto & York Region have merged—effective April 1, 2018. As the backbone of our local community-services sector, the new United Way Greater Toronto will be better positioned to fight local poverty with even more fervor. Here’s how:

More donors, volunteers and partners: More thinking—and acting—on solutions to social challenges is inherently beneficial: combined resources. But, with that also comes the cross-pollination of ideas; for instance, solutions that work for a community in Mississauga might be the “missing ingredient” for a community in Markham facing similar challenges. It’s a regional lens that brings even stronger local impact.

Watch the video to hear from Daniele Zanotti, President & CEO, on how the merger will fuel a more powerful Uprising of Care within our region.

More supports for people, close to home: Just as Steeles Avenue delineates the “divide” between Toronto and York Region, there are prescribed—but otherwise invisible—boundaries that separate Peel from Toronto and York Region. The merger will only deepen the connection between our 200+ funded agencies across the region, helping them work more collaboratively and efficiently on the front lines of our communities.

More innovation and impact: Our groundbreaking research often encompasses Greater Toronto, revealing shared and urgent issues that we must collectively overcome. Working together, we can be more holistic and innovative in our response to these issues. Examples include our ongoing support of Community Benefits Agreements—ensuring that local residents are employed on local infrastructure projects—and the expansion of our Career Navigator program (as well as our partnership with NPower Canada), which gives young people the education, training and support they need to build meaningful careers.

Ways to make a difference in the GTA this March Break

When kids do their part to get involved with their communities, the benefits go way beyond the people they’re helping. They’re also more likely to get good grades, experience a self-esteem boost and even prioritize civic engagement in the future. But kids may not always see why volunteering is so important, for themselves or their communities.

Luckily, there’s a solution: use March Break as an opportunity to combine fun activities with a lesson on the joys of giving back. Encourage them to participate in activities that allow them to engage with their local community, and they’ll soon learn exciting new things and a little about themselves, too—like how full their hearts can feel when they do something good for others. Here are our best bets for ways to make a difference.

Combine collaboration and innovation—with camp

MakerKids is the perfect organization for kids who are ready to kick-start their journeys as changemakers. The organization, which uses STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) to teach kids to innovate and inspires them to make a positive difference in the world, is hosting its annual March Break day camp at the Toronto MakerSpace in Bloor West Village. All week long, kids aged eight to 12 will discover how to be creators, not consumers. They’ll work in teams to solve problems and also have a chance to create their own mind-blowing designs and inventions. The camp advances kids’ skills in communication, leadership and critical thinking—and, best of all, they get to dabble in gaming, coding and robotics.

Create eco-aware kiddos

Show kids how they can help the environment by creating their own drop-off boxes for hard-to-dispose-of items. Let neighbours know that this March Break, you’ll take recyclables like batteries, electronics, light bulbs and other items that can’t go in the regular blue bin. Mark each box clearly so everyone knows which items go in which box. At the end of the week, take the kids on a trip to drop off the boxes at local depots, big box stores or other facilities that will take the items. Make a game of it and see who can collect the most for a prize of their choice. Maybe an afternoon matinee or a bowling bash?

Embrace a new neighbour

Helping newcomers to Canada learn about the events, resources and activities available to them is a great way to help new neighbours feel included in the community—and this is the perfect week to get started. From taking a family of newcomers to a maple syrup festival to bonding over superheroes at ComicCon to simply helping them access services, there are plenty of ways to help.

Take part in the #marchbreakcharitychallenge

Challenge your kids to support their favourite local charity. It’s a great opportunity for them to get creative or learn a new skill while supporting a local cause—and they get a prize at the end! Participants sign up for the Wish and Give March Break Charity Challenge, which allows kids to set their own goal and choose what charity they want to support. Maybe they want to try to read five books? Create a masterpiece? Or learn to make a new recipe? Whatever the goal, they must collect pledges and complete their task by end of March Break. That’s when the charity gets their donation and the kids get their prize. What a great way to wrap up the week!

Women who lead

It’s International Women’s Day! To celebrate, we put together a list of some awesome women who inspire us. These remarkable individuals live right here in the GTA—leading the charge on changing lives and making our community a better place to live each and every day.

1. Maayan Ziv, 27 | CEO & Founder of Access Now

What started as her Master’s thesis project at Ryerson University has grown into an internationally crowd-sourced app that maps more than 16,000 locations spanning 32 countries, telling users whether they’re accessible—or not. Access Now, an app that maps the accessibility (or lack thereof) of locations like bars, stores, coffee shops and train stations, isn’t just for people with disabilities. “Whether you sprain your ankle and are on crutches for a couple weeks, or you want to go somewhere with a grandparent who uses a walker, we all have a relationship with accessibility,” says Maayan, who lives with muscular dystrophy. “Maybe you’re a new parent with a stroller—you’ll suddenly see the subway system differently because you realize only half the stations are accessible.”

2. Ceta Ramkhalawansingh | Retired civil servant, active volunteer

As a 19-year-old undergrad in 1970, Ceta became a driving force behind the creation of a Women’s Studies program at the University of Toronto. From there, the immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago devoted her career to fighting for social justice and human rights at City Hall, where she worked for 30 years championing causes like breastfeeding on city grounds, zero tolerance for racial profiling in policing and better access to social housing. As a councillor for Ward 20 in 2014, she put forward a motion to change the words of “O Canada” to be more inclusive, and in 2015 she co-founded the Campaign for Gender Equality in the Senate, urging the PM to fill 22 vacant seats with women. Today, when she’s not spearheading efforts to revitalize Grange Park, she’s volunteering at her alma mater as an honorary member of the Women and Gender Studies Institute.

3. Crystal Sinclair, 53 | Social Worker

“Most of my work involves empowering others, particularly the Indigenous community.” Crystal founded the Toronto chapter of Idle No More to protect Indigenous rights and, as a social worker, has worked with women and Indigenous men in the shelter system, as well as with homeless youth at Covenant House. She’s currently a board member with FoodShare,  a United Way-supported agency, where she assists Northern communities to help make fresh food accessible and affordable.

Want to meet more inspiring, changemaking women? Head over to Local Love—your guide to living well and doing good.

Ask the Expert: Is volunteering good for my health?

Every day, Jeff D’Silva, chief storyteller for Propellus, the volunteer and non-profit resource centre of Calgary, hears stories of people selflessly serving others. Take Gertie, who is 102 and volunteers her time to read to schoolchildren. Or James, 45, who was born with congenital cerebral malformations and is now devoting his life to volunteering. (He’s already at 5,800 hours and counting.)

People like Gertie and James are passionate about why they do what they do, but don’t expect—or want—recognition. “Volunteering gives people confidence, community and a sense of purpose,” says D’Silva. “And, when you do good things, you feel good.”

Volunteering can enrich every aspect of people’s lives, he says, from reducing social isolation for seniors and helping them feel engaged and connected, to offering new Canadians an opportunity to build networks in their communities. “No matter what you end up doing, it’s a chance to meet people and learn new skills,” he says. “In the end, you get back more than you could ever possibly give.”

Researchers have found plenty of evidence that he’s right. A 2015 study from the University of British Columbia found that doing good deeds could reduce your social anxiety levels, while a report by University of Toronto researcher Dr. Nicole Anderson found that seniors who volunteer are happier and healthier. In Anderson’s report, volunteers had fewer signs of depression, fewer functional limitations and better overall health. They even lived longer!

If you’re not sure what kind of volunteering is right for you, D’Silva says a good way to get started is to think about what is most meaningful for you, and look for opportunities that reflect that. If you’re an avid reader, consider volunteering with a literacy program for newcomers. If you’re a foodie, sign up to prepare or serve lunch or dinner at a local community centre. “It’s less about the role or specific task you’d be doing and more about what you’re most passionate about,” he says. “When you tap into what you love, it leads to more meaningful and lasting connections.”

10 unexpected ways to volunteer this winter

Camara Chambers has been giving back since she was 16, when she volunteered in a local charity shop in the United Kingdom. “I realized then that volunteering isn’t just a chance to make a difference; it also gives you skills and learning opportunities you might not find anywhere else,” says Chambers, who is Executive Director of Volunteer Toronto, a United Way–supported agency. And it’s a fantastic thing for families to do together, she adds, especially once the holidays are over, since the need is greater at other times of the year. Here are 10 ways you and your family can change someone’s life for the better.

1. Supporting seniors: Sometimes families have a harder time finding volunteer opportunities that are a good fit for younger children. Chambers recommends looking into your local Meals on Wheels  or Friendly Visiting services. “Elderly people, especially those living in long-term retirement homes, can feel especially isolated, and spending time with them is a lovely opportunity for everyone involved,” she says. “It’s a nice way for children to meet the people they’re helping.” You can connect directly with long-term care homes in your neighbourhood by checking out the volunteer pages on their websites, or by going to local community sites, such as York Region’s CIVICYork page. Search for “long-term care facility volunteer positions” to learn about opportunities.

2. Kids helping kids: A great way to get teens involved—and give high-school students their requisite hours of volunteer service—is to encourage them to give after-school tutoring a try.

3. Call a shelter: Tight on time but driven to do something? Contact your local shelter and ask them what they need. “In the colder months, shelters are often desperate for socks, warm coats and blankets,” says Chambers. Personal-hygiene kits with toothbrushes and shampoo are almost always in demand, too. You can also visit Warmest Wishes to give the gift of warmth to someone in need.

4. Share a meal: If you enjoy entertaining, why not invite a family that’s new to Canada over for a holiday feast? You can do it independently or through an organization like Share Thanksgiving, which pairs newcomers with Canadian hosts to share a festive evening with new friends and family.

5. Everyone loves books: Free libraries continue to crop up all over the city, and they’re great places to donate your used books. “It’s such a wonderful way to make books available to people who may not have access to them otherwise,” says Chambers.

6. Be their guest: Some of the city’s Syrian refugee women have started up a grassroots “newcomer kitchen” to share their passion for cooking Syrian cuisine with Canadians. “It’s an opportunity to meet some of the country’s newest citizens and to experience their food and culture,” says Chambers. Even Justin Trudeau has dropped by for a newcomer brunch.

7. Build a gingerbread house: Every winter, Habitat for Humanity GTA hosts a gingerbread house-building workshop for kids. Participants pay $50 for a kit, which comes complete with assembled or unassembled house (depending on how ambitious you feel!), icing and plenty of candy. Proceeds fund the organization’s building projects.

8. Pass on your points: Did you know you can donate your Airmiles points to charity? Most people don’t, Chambers says, but it’s a quick and easy way to give back.

9. Out of the Cold: Every winter, many of the city’s churches open their doors to the homeless, offering some respite from the bitter temperatures outside. And there are lots of ways you can help, from simply being on hand to greet people and answer questions to handing out hot drinks. Log on to the Out of the Cold website to find a program near you.

10. Hit the ice: Evergreen Brick Works is a volunteer mecca year-round, but in the winter the organization needs extra help once its skating rink is up and running. You can pitch in lots of ways, from helping out in the skate shop to being a rink ambassador.

If you’d like to find more ways to volunteer with your kids, check out Volunteer Toronto’s site; their Suitable for Families (with Kids under 14) page is routinely updated with non-profit organizations that could use your help. You can also find additional winter volunteer opportunities on the site’s Holiday volunteering page.

4 ways Community Hubs can help a friend in need

If a friend mentions they need job hunting tips, legal advice, or even housing help, do you know where they can access resources? In many cases, the answer is the same for each of these issues: their local Community Hub.

Community Hubs provide everything from seniors’ programming to English classes for newcomers to information for parents, all within one space.

“Many people might not even realize that their neighbourhood has this wealth of resources all under one roof,” says Alex Dow, United Way’s Director of Neighbourhoods. And even if they can’t directly help, Community Hubs can connect an individual with further resources.

Here are four reasons why it’s worth checking out your local Hub:

1. Hubs address multiple needs

Often someone who needs help in one area could use a hand in other ways as well. A newcomer who needs English classes can also access employment support. Someone who is struggling with parenting can get support along with counselling services. In fact, these “wraparound” supports provided by Community Hubs are vital to overall well-being and help create a strong social safety net across our neighbourhoods. United Way’s Hub in Rexdale, for example, provides everything from health services to social programs, as well as legal help and cultural assistance.

2. The whole family can find support

All of the hubs offer a variety of programming specially tailored to local residents. Go to United Way’s Bathurst-Finch Community Hub and you’ll find seniors’ programs, breastfeeding support and childcare. AccessPoint on Danforth provides health care, LGBTQ+ programs and youth peer mentoring. “The Hubs are really designed for people of all ages,” says Dow. “You might come in looking for a program or a service for your child, but if an elderly parent lives with you, you’ll find activities for them, too.”

3. They create opportunities to volunteer

Don’t be surprised if your friend wants to continue going to the local Hub after receiving the help they needed. “After accessing services, many people like to give back,” says Dow, and there are many different types of opportunities to pitch in, including working in a community garden, running classes, helping with promotions, participating in workshops, or leading cooking classes or playgroups.

4. Hubs help people connect

The connections and friendships that can come from Community Hubs are one of their biggest advantages, says Dow. That’s because meeting neighbours and learning more about the community’s needs can lead to increased engagement with the neighbourhood and a better understanding of the issues that are affecting it—not to mention a desire to help.

Looking to access services at a Community Hub near you? Try calling 211, a helpline supported by United Way, to connect with one of these vital community resources in your neighbourhood.

Surprising ways community centres can help

When you’re searching for help—whether you need legal advice, mental health resources or financial aid—Cynthia Drebot, Executive Director of the North End Women’s Centre in Winnipeg, says you should look first in your own community. “It’s not just a matter of convenience,” she says, “it’s because the organizations often understand the needs of their community and tailor their resources to suit them.”

One of the best ways to find these resources, she says, is by asking other people in your network. In fact, community organizations get most of their clientele by word of mouth, and that can often lead to resources that you may not realize are right in your own backyard. Case in point: family resource centres, which offer a variety of services, from helping people access food and housing to programs for literacy and social activities.

And once you find an appropriate organization, you may be surprised by the extent to which they can help, says Drebot. Many of the organizations work to decrease the barriers that prevent people from being able to get help in the first place—for example, the North End Women’s Centre provides transit tokens for those who need help getting to the Centre to attend workshops, and free on-site childcare for women who are accessing its programs. Through the Centre, women can work at a thrift shop in exchange for the organization paying their damage deposit or their hydro or phone bill.

“We have women who come to our drop-in who may have originally walked in the door not knowing what we do, but we can set them up with up to a year of free counselling to work through the challenges they may be facing, such as domestic violence. They can also sign up to take a mindfulness or self-esteem workshop with a group of other women,” says Drebot. “And that idea of connecting with other women is huge—it reduces that sense of isolation.” That’s something that is valuable to everyone.

By connecting with others in your neighbourhood, you may receive far more than you expect—not just a solution to that original problem, but a circle of support that will help in all areas of your life.

3 ways to spend more time with seniors

As we age, one of the biggest threats to our independence is social isolation. And the need to keep seniors mentally engaged in their communities has never been greater. Kahir Lalji, the provincial program manager of Better at Home and Active Aging, an organization dedicated to helping senior citizens with day-to-day tasks so they can continue to live independently in their own homes, says there are close to 900,000 seniors in British Columbia alone, and by 2031 one in four of us will be an older adult. “No one wants to be forced to leave their community because they can’t access the services they need,” says Lalji. “But this is something we see happening in communities across the province.” That’s where the rest of us come in. Connecting with seniors provides a meaningful—and mutual—learning experience—and it doesn’t take much. “We’ve seen volunteers and clients build lasting friendships, and we’ve seen transformations in communities, too,” says Lalji. Here are three things you can do to connect:

1. Be a good neighbour

Lalji recommends becoming part of a “natural system of social support,” which means you’re getting involved not because it’s your job, but because you genuinely care about your neighbours. For instance, if you’re going to the grocery store, pop by to check in on a senior down the street to see if he or she could use a carton of milk. “It’s a way for neighbours to monitor the health of older adults in the community,” says Lalji.

2. Leverage your skills

Think about what you do best and use your skills as a way to get involved. Great at knitting? Start a club at a local seniors’ residence or community centre. If you’re an accountant, set up a financial planning clinic for older people. Using your own interests as a starting point for volunteering makes the experience more meaningful for everyone. “It’s a great opportunity to bring your understanding, knowledge and skills to the community,” says Lalji.

3. Strike the right balance

It’s not always about doing things for seniors; it’s about doing things with them, says Lalji. Often the best relationships start with providing a service (such as shopping, yard work, minor repairs or transportation) in order to develop a more meaningful relationship. “Providing these types of services is a place from which to build a rapport,” says Lalji. “Then it can be about having a cup of tea, playing cards or going for walks together.”