Philanthropy is alive and well on the Coast

Cathie Roy/Associate Publisher / Staff writer
November 1, 2013 01:00 AM

Bob and Rosemary Johnston are long-time donors to the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation.

November marks national philanthropy month in Canada. It's a time to reflect on the generosity of fellow Canadians, a time to find out what drives many to donate hard-earned cash or precious recreational hours to benefit causes dear to the donors' hearts.

For Coasters Bob Johnston and his wife Rosemary, the answer is simple - because they can.

Bob, who came to the Sunshine Coast 20 years ago with his then wife Janet, is a firm believer is giving people a hand up not a hand out. A child of the Depression, he was the youngest child by many years in a Saskatchewan family. When the time came for him to go to university, his by then elderly parents packed up the farm and moved to Saskatoon so their son would have a place to live while he pursued his education.

The selflessness of his parents' action and the many small scholarships from the local businesses and charitable community that enabled him to go to university made a huge impression on Bob's heart.

A teacher for 31 years, he gave back to the Saskatoon community in many ways.

For several years he coached in various sports. When it came time to decide where to donate money, he opted for the Saskatoon Community Foundation. The way the Foundation managed its resources and the fact that many different groups benefitted from the organization appealed to him.

Now the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation (SCCF), which just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is a beneficiary of the Johnstons for many of the same reasons. Bob likes the opportunity to have a direct say in who will benefit from his donor-advised fund.

"I didn't want to wait until I was dead for the community to benefit. This way I can decide myself where there's a need in the community," he said.

Rosemary is quick to add that she also has a big input into where the funds will go. The pair, who married "three years, four months and 20 days ago," are thrilled they have found each other, both widowed after their previous happy marriages.

"Now our needs are less and less, and although we like to travel, we asked ourselves, 'how much money do we really need?'" Bob said.

Over the years the pair, through the SCCF, have given to such diverse groups as Happy Cat Haven and the Gibsons Coast Guard. They favour causes that are "practical and concrete," and both hold St. Bart's Anglican Church in Gibsons in high esteem. The church is important to them for both worship and its social outreach. In the last few years, the Food Bank operating out of St. Bart's has been a recipient of their generosity as well.

The Johnstons appreciate the way the local Community Foundation has worked with them to make sure their wishes were respected. Bob gives former SCCF board chair Peter Bogardus special credit for his help in setting up the Johnston fund.

"[Bogardus'] manner pleased me to no end," Bob said.

Ultimately their reasons for giving is simple - "it makes you feel good."

According to Statistics Cana-da's Canadian Socials Trends, the Johnstons are in the same age and social demographic as the most prolific of Canadian givers.

The statistics point to an increase in both the amount and number of donations with age and religious affiliation. Bob, at 81, with his strong Anglican faith, fits the picture well. Also the most generous of Canadians live in the three western provinces. Alberta, followed by Saskatchewan and B.C., had the highest amounts donated to various charities in 2010. Another story the statistics tell is that folks who volunteer their time are more apt to also donate monetarily.

Local couple Debbie Mealia and Jim Budd, while younger than the Johnstons, have been volunteers and champions for social change since their youth.

Mealia began her social activism when she was young, as do many philanthropists. And while she may no longer campaign on the world stage, her passion for caring hasn't dimmed one bit. Now you would be hard pressed to find a more ardent supporter of the Sunshine Coast Association of Community Living (SCACL).

"Jim and I have always been interested in social justice. I find that being involved with SCACL allows me to learn about the values of humility and openness that the people we serve so freely offer us," Mealia said.

Glen McClughan, the executive director of SCACL, first got to know Mealia through her work with Investors Group.

"At one time, all our staff's RRSPs were held by Investors Group (different government policy has since changed this). I was so impressed with Deb. She would meet with every single staff member and make sure his or her future financial needs were being met.

"One day it dawned on me she would make a great board member. Because she wasn't a parent with someone we were serving, she brought a different perspective to the board. She's taken us away from our dependence on government assistance to social enterprise. That increases our wealth from within," McClughan said.

The success of the Midtown Complex next to Capilano University is one example of SCACL's venture into enterprise. In addition to business space for rent and purchase, the complex has apartments for the developmentally challenged adults whom SCACL serves. The latest venture, Persephone Brewing, was entered into in the hopes that not only would the beer sales prosper, but that there could be jobs for the SCACL clients as well as healthy produce grown on the property, which could be sold or used to feed clients.

Mealia's visionary ways have made her the board chair for 12 years (for life, McClughan jokes). Recently she was honoured with an award from Investors Group for her dedication and generosity to SCACL and the Sunshine Coast.

Mealia's husband Budd has also made a big difference in the lives of many on the Coast. Several times the golf tournament (Sans Bruno) he runs yearly at the Sunshine Coast Golf and Country Club has contributed half the net purse to SCACL.

In addition, the couple makes a sizable cash donation every year to SCACL, their charity of choice.

"Both Jim and Deb feel they've been fortunate in life, and when they give back they feel great. They're just very generous, family oriented, community oriented people. We're so lucky to have them," McClughan said.

© Coast Reporter

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