Ronald McDonald House

Ronald McDonald House has accommodated 10,000 families in just five years

Many Ways to Give Back

From one-time donations to targeting societal problems, these charitable foundations find innovative ways to help you make an impact

Clasina van Bemmel lives by the statement, “You never know what’s possible until you go beyond it to the impossible.” It led her to establish the Compassion in Action Fund at Vancouver Foundation, which supports the most vulnerable women and children from urban centres in B.C. Van Bemmel, 74, says of the Fund, “It’s about me using my own experiences to provide others with the help to meet life’s basic needs.” Van Bemmel’s own history, which involves a heartbreaking tale of child abuse, made her a champion for women who are fleeing domestic abuse and struggling to overcome other issues. “How can you even start to fight without having the basics like food, safety, and shelter?” she asks. At 16, van Bemmel escaped from an abusive family life in the Netherlands and became a nanny in England, Germany, Switzerland and France. She moved to Vancouver in 1975 and started what would become The Vancouver Trolley Company. She’s accomplished a lot in her professional life, but none of it makes her so proud as the Compassion in Action Fund. Van Bemmel has supported numerous charities, but now she believes it’s time to take more of a back seat, “so that when I am gone the Fund can continue to assist women.” Today, van Bemmel says of her past, “Having those experiences made me fearless. They allowed me to empathize with others in similar situations and provide them with the tools to succeed.” Creating a fund like Compassion in Action is just one creative way British Columbians with a lot to contribute can help give back to the community.

Clasina van Bemmel

Bridging the care gap

Giving kids a chance to thrive: this is what Variety – the Children’s Charity has been doing in B.C. for 53 years now, thanks to legacy donors from all walks of life. “Thanks to them, we’re able to step in where health care ends and help children with special needs,” says Variety CEO Cally Wesson.

As families with special needs children can attest, this particular form of legacy giving is crucial. “As comprehensive as our health-care system is, unfortunately the government doesn’t cover everything, nor do benefit plans,” says Wesson. “For instance, if a child needs $5,000 worth of speech therapy, or a special wheelchair, things can get difficult – and not all families have the means.”

Since 2010, Variety has distributed more than $25 million in funding to families and organizations in communities all across the province, and a recent Show of Hearts Telethon offered several examples of how children benefit from the organization’s intervention. One example concerned Johannes, a severe Type A hemophiliac who suffers internal bleeds in different parts of his body. When surgery was required to remove dried blood from his spinal column along with several vertebrae, Variety gave him a special brace that would help ensure the proper growth of his spine, as well as an easy-to-push wheelchair that would enable him to attend school instead of staying at home.

The telethon also showcased Judah, who was born premature at just under two pounds and whose survival was credited to the Variety-funded Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Variety also came to Judah’s aid by providing him with a standing frame, which allows the toddler – whose fundamental muscle function is slow to grow – to develop the ability to take weight on his legs, giving him the best chance to stand and eventually walk.

There are innumerable stories of how donations to Variety have positively impacted lives, and Wesson points out that “Letting kids be kids is one of the greatest gifts anyone can bestow.

“Legacy givers to Variety help multiple families, not just one. We welcome all support as we look forward to another half-century of making young lives better in B.C.”

A new generation of donors

Everyone knows the Salvation Army – or at least, that’s the common perception. But as is the case with icebergs, most people only see the tip and not the huge volume beneath. That’s why the Salvation Army in B.C., which has provided compassionate support and practical assistance to the public for over 100 years in over 52 communities, is focusing more attention on sharing its story with younger generations.

Vicki Raw, divisional director of development for the Salvation Army’s B.C. divisional headquarters, explains, “Older generations donated to us because their parents did, and there was usually an association with our wartime activities. By contrast, many of the younger generations who are passionate about cause-based philanthropy only know us because of our thrift stores, or our Christmas drives. I think many of them would be surprised by our scope of activities.”

In the realm of social services alone, these activities range from hunger relief and shelter to domestic abuse programs, after-school programs and life-skills classes. Raw concludes, “We’re very fortunate to be named in a significant amount of wills, and as the donor base ages, we’re excited about millennials and others discovering our impact in the community.”

Families together—when they need it most

Legacy giving has enabled Ronald McDonald House BC and Yukon to post some impressive outcomes in 2019. “Since opening our 73-room facility five years ago, we’ve served about 10,000 families,” says Shannon Kidd, RMH BC’s vice-president of external relations and development.

Helping keep more families of sick children from across the province together as they undergo treatment in the Vancouver area is the core function of RMH BC, which in 2018 saw 395 volunteers help serve the families and assist with office work. (Also, community groups pitched in last year to serve 222 home cooked meals.)

While the altruism of so many people is the fuel that fires RMH BC, it still costs the non-profit organization $125 per night to accommodate a family – and therefore generous donations are crucial in ensuring that nobody is turned away.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have a large group of very dedicated donors and supporters, but as a stand-alone organization that is a catalyst for positive momentum, we’re always grateful for new donors,” Kidd says. “For those concerned about leaving a legacy, the money used to help loved ones stay together during one of the most difficult situations they will ever face has a powerful, lasting benefit.”

Towards a breakthrough

Arthritis is more serious than you think. It’s not just aches and pains associated with aging; it causes life-threatening complications like heart attack, stroke, blood clots and hip fractures. Over six million Canadians of all ages struggle with this debilitating disease.

Arthritis Research Canada is focused on finding answers and saving lives. “Arthritis can have a serious impact on a person’s quality and length of life,” says the organization’s scientific director, Dr. John Esdaile.

As the largest clinical arthritis research institution in North America, Arthritis Research Canada’s scientific team is currently conducting over 75 studies aimed at arthritis prevention, early diagnosis, better treatment and improved quality of life for those with arthritis. The team is addressing the more than 100 forms of arthritis via disciplines such as rheumatology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy, biostatistics, pediatrics, and knowledge translation.

Legacy giving plays an important role in advancing research. “By leaving a gift to Arthritis Research Canada in your will, you can make a big difference in the lives of those with arthritis for generations to come,” says Esdaile. “You can help us create a future without arthritis for your children and grandchildren.”

Disrupting the cycle of illness

The singular effort of granting sick children a wish via the Make-A-Wish Foundation has long lasting impact. A study by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital recently examined quality of life and health-care utilization among patients who received a wish and a control group that did not. The study found patients who were granted a wish were more likely to have fewer unplanned hospital and emergency department visits. 

Stuart Chase, director, marketing and communications for Make-A-Wish BC & Yukon, points out that when children are battling a critical illness, so much of normal childhood is taken away from them. But a wish is something that gives children the opportunity to restore a sense of childhood and normalcy.

“Contributing to Make-A-Wish helps children overcome illness and give them a future. It really goes to the heart of the intent of legacy giving,” he says.

Hope for those afflicted

Janice Williams, manager, estate and gift planning for the Canadian Cancer Society BC & Yukon, points out that research funded by her organization over the years is changing the perception of cancer as a deadly disease. “The breakthroughs in research have led to enhanced treatments and vastly improved outcomes, to the point where although a cancer diagnosis may fundamentally change a person, it doesn’t define who they are. That’s why we say life is bigger than cancer,” she says.

Considering that legacy gifts and estate planning are the ultimate forms of forward thinking, Williams is grateful to Canadian Cancer Society’s many donors who have included a bequest. “Cancer prevention and treatment has come so far even in the past few years that it’s exciting to think what lies ahead,” she says. “Cancer affects everyone in some way, but together we are stronger.”

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