“I want them to feel great!”: The impact of HCF donors

In our final instalment, Celeste Licorish talks about what she loves most about her job at HCF.

Part of what you do at HCF is to advise donors. What’s your favourite aspect of this work?

CL Blog_4In my role as donor advisor at HCF I have the opportunity to talk to existing and potential donors. What excites me the most about this is to be able to talk to them about the impact of their contributions – what those gifts mean now and what they will mean forever. I think a lot of people give out of good will and they trust the Hamilton Community Foundation with their donations. What they may not immediately realize is that they’re actually changing outcomes for people.

When donor investments make their way into priority neighbourhoods through HCF, connections are made, skills are attained and residents end up working together on projects they never would have imagined. And it’s because of donors who have trusted the Foundation, with its research and resources, to be able to invest in the right places. These donors really are changing lives.

How do you make this impact tangible for donors?

It’s exciting for me to be able to share impact stories with donors to let them know what’s actually happening on the ground. For example one of the developments that is really exciting right now is McQuesten Farm. Living in a nearby neighbourhood, I got to hear about this woman who had this amazing urban farming idea, and now as an employee of HCF I’ve actually seen this working farm with its windmills, big harvests and beautiful vegetables!

It’s great to be able to let donors know about the real difference that they’re making. And also to let them know that residents are feeling more connected to each other because of their donations. Giving is one of those things where you can’t help but feel good about it. I want them to feel GREAT when they know about the real connections that they are helping to create.

Building community from the ground up

In part 3 of our Q&A, Celeste Licorish reflects on her experiences with the Neighbourhood Leadership Institute.

Neighbourhood Leadership Institute is an HCF initiative that enables residents in Hamilton neighbourhoods to get together and work on projects that help improve those neighbourhoods in different ways. Can you talk a little bit about your own experience with NLI?

Two years ago I had the opportunity to participate in the NLI program as a resident. I had a partner who had a great idea, a project about rehabilitating Lake Ontario and it was really an amazing experience.

CL Blog_3Through the 10-week process, I met other neighbours, we travelled to different areas of the city and we learned how to think through challenges. After we’d developed our project idea, we had to figure out things like how to get support from community stakeholders, how to develop a business plan, how to pitch an idea to someone, how to articulate the vision in ways that are going to be engaging.

What was your best takeaway from NLI?

The biggest benefit I got out of NLI was the network, the people that I met. Some of them I’d met before but by going through an intensive program, spending 10 weeks with them, and then graduating with them, it made me feel like I was part of a really rich alumni. We’d developed these great ideas and then through NLI we were able to go forward and realize them. So any time I hear that one of my NLI alumni is working on a project, my first thought is how can I help them, how can I support them.

And this is a very motivated network of people.

Absolutely! NLI has made me feel more connected to community and even more proud to be a Hamiltonian because I was just blown away at how creative and courageous and inspired people are! And just how much goodwill there is to make the community a better place – not based on experience or money but just a passion for making things better for people. When you’re around that energy and you have inspired leaders from the community who are coming in to support and nurture that energy, you can’t help but be excited and want to do your best.

NLI has been one of the very best processes I’ve been a part of to build the community from the ground up. So for residents who maybe don’t have connections to the community, NLI is a great place to establish them.
Recently, NLI collaborated with McMaster Centre for Continuing Education for the Professional Development stream of NLI. What’s the value of this new stream?

Sometimes community engagement and leadership are talked about in vague terms. NLI on the other hand is grounded in the kinds of research and best practices that will make a huge difference for participants in the way they are able to engage with others, empower others and add dignity to processes for people who come from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences. I think the PD stream is a fabulous way to offer the professional credentials and confidence for people who are going to go and do this kind of work in a meaningful way.


In next week’s final instalment, Celeste talks about what she loves best about her role as donor advisor at HCF.

ABACUS lets youth imagine new possibilities

In part 2 of our 4-part Q and A, Celeste Licorish reflects on HCF’s signature education initiative in Hamilton – ABACUS.

CL Blog_2ABACUS is an HCF initiative that focuses on the middle school years for kids. What is the impact of ABACUS at a broad level?

What I love about ABACUS is that it focuses on changing the trajectory for families who are trapped in cycles of poverty. Parents in these types of situations are not always able to inspire their kids even to consider post-secondary education.

ABACUS takes a long-term view on these kinds of issues which tend to recur in families. If parents did not finish high school or university, it decreases the likelihood that their children will even think of post-secondary education as something they can do, whether or not they actually have the academic ability to do it.

ABACUS turns this on its head and looks at the middle school years for kids who typically wouldn’t have the opportunity to go for a post-secondary education. By leveraging resources like the Community Fund and the knowledge and connections the Foundation has, we can ask ourselves, how can we get kids to think about their lives differently?

How do you think ABACUS addresses poverty specifically?

ABACUS helps to break the cycle of poverty because kids will be enabled to finish high school and then go into either the trades, college or university.  It presents options that can change their lives.

It’s a good example of how we work.  The Foundation looks at a big problem – kids aren’t graduating – and asks how can we change this completely, change the direction? This is the brilliant thing about ABACUS. For example, we have Grad Track co-ordinators who are actually in the schools talking to kids every week, getting to know them and finding out what is going to help them think differently about themselves. This then aligns with what we do with scholarships and bursaries since these same kids are coming through after graduation. So ABACUS plays a key part in how we can accurately and effectively change outcomes for these kids.

In part 3, Celeste talks about her personal experiences with the Neighbourhood Leadership Institute.

‘A beautiful thing to behold’: Hamilton Community Fund connects the community

celeste-2016We sat down with Celeste Licorish, Advisor, Philanthropic Services at HCF to talk about what she loves about her job and the work that the Foundation does (and there’s a lot to love!) 

The Hamilton Community Fund is the fund which gives the Foundation the flexibility to meet the city’s greatest needs.  What do you see as the impact of this fund?

The Community Fund is a really powerful tool. Directing money into specific programs and to particular organizations is good and important work but HCF also has to be able to tackle big social issues and make big changes.

My favourite example is poverty reduction. Fifteen years ago the Foundation decided that poverty was a crucial issue in Hamilton that needed to be addressed. In concert with the City and other key players in the community, it was decided that the best way to tackle poverty was to look at the long term and look for ways to make systemic changes and not just to look at piecemeal or short-term solutions.

Because of the Community Fund, HCF was able to undertake research to determine some of the best options for tackling poverty here in Hamilton, like the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and other initiatives. The research also allowed HCF to look at specific neighbourhoods and working along the lines of projects like Code Red, HCF identified certain pockets where for example, some people were living 20 years less than in other places and how we make meaningful change there.

What was your personal connection to this kind of work from HCF?

I saw this change first hand from living in the Sherman neighbourhood where residents decided to set up a community. This was the way that I actually became connected with the community – meeting neighbours, hearing about a new café that opened up, attending neighbourhood meetings and realizing that this was a community that actually cared. And at the time I had no clue that Hamilton Community Foundation was behind any of it – I just knew that there were other people that were committed to seeing positive changes in the community.

The “aha” moment for me in coming into the Foundation as a staff person was to realize that all of that work, from seven or eight years ago, and everything I was experiencing as a resident in the neighborhood, was actually thought through and developed by the Foundation.  This was a beautiful thing to behold.
Next time Celeste talks about ABACUS, HCF’s signature education initiative.

Audacious but achievable: Maple Leaf Foods CEO tackles food insecurity

sm_blogI recently had the privilege of hearing Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, talk at a Canadian Club luncheon in Toronto.  He began his speech with “My idea is simple.  Everybody in Canada should have enough to eat.  People in this country – with all our wealth and abundant farmland – should have affordable access to nutritious food.  This is the most basic human need”.   Mr. McCain went on to present the staggering data about the extent, nature and impact of food insecurity in Canada – a surprise to some in the room, hopefully uncomfortable and unacceptable to all.

What may sound like a simple idea, of course, often requires a complex and multi-faceted solution.  As Mr. McCain told his audience, it requires leadership from all sectors, supported by effective public policy, and empowering new and sustainable strategies.

Following a thoughtful process of research and strategic planning, Maple Leaf Foods, has identified the role that it can play in achieving the vision of all Canadians having affordable access to nutritious food.  It has launched The Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security, a not-for-profit organization that will strive to have an impact on the issue of food security through advocating to raise awareness, sharing knowledge, and investing in new approaches.  Hamilton’s own McQuesten Urban Farm is one of the first three projects the centre will support.  Maple Leaf’s goal, working collaboratively with all stakeholders, is to reduce food insecurity in Canada by 50 percent by 2030.  Audacious, but achievable, in the view of Michael McCain and his team.

So what can we all take away from this?  For me, it underscores the important elements for creating the positive change we want to see: find the issue that you think is important and care about; do the research to understand what will really make a difference; bring all your resources to bear – time, money, networks, influence; and work collaboratively with others who share your vision.

Mr. McCain, I was inspired by your talk and strategy.  I hope others were too.






Sheree Meredith is Vice-President of Philanthropic Services

Making a difference in Hamilton through philanthropy

“The world has changed and so must we.”

This is the mantra of progressive community foundations throughout North America.  Deploying more of our assets to achieve our mission, forging new and unconventional partnerships to understand and tackle complex social problems, and playing more active leadership and catalyst roles within our communities are a few of the strategies that community foundations are implementing as they strive to increase their impact and maintain their relevance.

Hamilton has been receiving increased attention across the country for its revitalization as a city.  This positive trajectory has been fuelled by innovation, collaboration and strengthened self-image of what we want in our city.  This has created an ideal platform for expanding the power of philanthropy to “do good” and Hamilton Community Foundation has stepped up to the plate, playing a variety of roles including: catalyst, funder, advocate, strategist, and service providers in our combined efforts to build a strong and vibrant city.

We believe this is the right thing for us to do.  We also believe, and survey results support, that this is what donors want and expect from the charities they support.  Donors want their gifts to have impact.  While it is important to address immediate needs, donors also want to ensure that complex issues are better understood and strategies that create transformative change are implemented.  And finally, donors expect leadership.

Philanthropy is making a powerful difference in our community.  Perhaps there has never been a more critical time for this type of leadership, investment and voice.  Thank you to all the generous Hamiltonians who help make this possible.  You are making a difference.

Women 4 Change more important now than ever

ritaOver 100 people gathered for breakfast on November 16th to celebrate women’s philanthropy, an annual event hosted by Hamilton Community Foundation’s Women 4 Change initiative.  The theme was Driving Positive Change is an Art and the audience was treated to three powerful performances using video, poetry and music that spoke to important issues that affect the lives of women and girls in Hamilton.  Among the themes explored were sexual violence; why we laugh at things that are clearly not funny; and the difference between “them and us” which very often results from nothing more than circumstance and opportunity.   Audience members shared their personal experiences, affirming the themes presented by the artists.

hyp-croppedThe artistic vehicles served to heighten both the poignancy and the urgency of the issues.  So too did the conversation that followed in which a number of people spoke of the impact the recent US presidential campaign and election results have had on their sense of who we are and want to be as a society.  Some expressed that the gathering and the artists’ messages gave them hope for the first time since the election – and strength that came from being in a room where others shared their experiences, concerns and commitment to change.  There was an energy in the room following the performances that was palatable and invigorating.

We all need these opportunities to be reminded that we cannot become complacent in our desire and efforts to create a society where all have opportunity and are treated with respect.  Philanthropy is one vehicle we have to identify what is important to us, use all of our assets (time, talents, treasure and ties) to make a difference and then to join with others who share our interest and leverage our impact.

Perhaps there has never been a more important time for philanthropy’s leadership and for all of us to raise our voices about the kind of society and communities we want to have in Canada.

ABACUS helping low-income students stay engaged

In today’s economy, there are no guarantees of a financially secure adulthood for anybody, but chances improve dramatically with more and better education. It is therefore more essential than ever for students to obtain post-secondary education – college, university or a skilled trades apprenticeship.

Earlier this year, the Ontario Government announced that it would begin providing free tuition for low-income students to attend post-secondary school. This is welcome news, of course, but by itself it likely will not do much to change rates of post-secondary attendance for low-income students.

There are lots of reasons why children from lower-income families attend post-secondary school at lower rates than children from higher-income families, and lack of funds for tuition and books is only one of them. There is a whole network of economic, institutional and cultural barriers that keeps children from achieving their potential.

Far too many Hamilton children are being held back by this network of barriers. While the percentage of Hamilton adults who have not completed any post-secondary education is falling (from 15.7% in 2006 to 13% in 2011), there are still a number of Hamilton neighbourhoods in which low educational attainment is highly concentrated. In other words, there is a lot more we can do to set the next generation of students – every student – up for success.

A new collaborative initiative of the Hamilton Community Foundation and The Fairmount Foundation called ABACUS aims to identify and remove those barriers to open up better educational opportunities for more children.

ABACUS has the ambitious goal of aligning Hamilton’s school boards, post-secondary institutions, municipal government and community service providers around the specific goal of ensuring that more students complete high school, graduate and go on to post-secondary education.

Research into the effectiveness of early intervention strategies for students finds a number of components that are most commonly part of successful programs: a dedicated mentor who guides the student toward success; a curriculum personalized for the student’s learning needs; awareness and sensitivity of the student’s family culture; a positive, supportive peer group; financial assistance through incentives that include scholarships and grants; and a long-term commitment to maintaining the intervention through the student’s school experience.

Taking its cues from the evidence, ABACUS takes a proactive approach, starting early with children in middle school (grades 6, 7 and 8) to support children through this challenging period of development for a successful transition into high school.

The goal of the intervention is to: get both students and their parents thinking about post-secondary opportunities; encourage students to meet challenging, realistic goals for their education; help them prepare by developing their academic skills; support them with mentors, counsellors and extra-curricular activities; and provide financial supports where needed.

Instead of duplicating other efforts already underway, ABACUS is working with existing community programs that support its core intervention pillars to expand their reach, refine their delivery methods and foster better co-ordination between service providers.

For students who face the biggest challenges, a pilot program called Grad Track aims to deliver more intense programming and support for both the child and their parents to ensure they stay engaged with school.

But it’s not enough just to work directly with students. ABACUS also recognizes that the school and community systems in which students live and attend school need to be designed to ensure success for everyone. ABACUS works with educational providers to identify the gaps that kids can slip through, develop policies to close those gaps and then advocate for the changes that are needed.

There are a lot of systems that shape the lives of children attending school – the policies of the school board, of course, but also the way the municipality plans the child’s community, the availability of college and university outreach programs, and institutional decisions about where and how educational resources should be deployed.

Hamilton Community Foundation has a long and proud history of bringing various stakeholders to the table to tackle complex, difficult social challenges, and I’m especially proud of the work we’re doing with ABACUS.

That work would not be possible without the generosity of The Fairmount Foundation, established by Heidi Balsillie, who wants ABACUS to be a “game changer” for Hamilton’s future. As Heidi explains, “This kind of change does not happen quickly. But it has the potential to transform the whole community.”


Terry Cooke is President & CEO at Hamilton Community Foundation.

Terry Cooke


Originally published in Urbanicity July issue.

Broadening the conversation on newcomer mental health

International migration is driving Canada’s population growth. 19.8 per cent of Canada’s population is made up of immigrants, with women accounting for 52 per cent of the international migration. Locally, Hamilton has seen a 20 per cent increase in migration between 2011-2012.

Despite the growth, immigrant women encounter challenges integrating in a new country, as the McMaster University School of Social Work has identified. Gender relations, intimate partner violence, intergenerational tensions, trauma, loss and economic exclusion are some of the challenges that immigrant women face. Research also shows that immigrant women face acculturative stress as they adapt to changes in diet, climate, language and more. These challenges can affect their self-esteem, sense of identity and belonging, and their mental health.

Through the Community Health, Education and Research Fund, McMaster launched a research project to learn ways to enhance the mental health of immigrant women in Hamilton. The overall purpose of the project is to help build a healthy, caring and inclusive community and foster social and economic integration of immigrant women. By partnering with community organizations that have direct contact with immigrant women and knowledge of the local settlement sector, such as the Immigrants Working Centre, this 18-month research project also aims to strengthen campus-community partnerships and broaden ways to share outcomes gained from the research.

The project will utilize popular theatre as a way to share findings from the research. This art form is both educational and empowering, as it involves the audience as participants. Immigrant women themselves will perform the skits and this serves as an entry point to a larger conversation about the intersection of immigrant women, mental health and wellbeing.

While the project looks at mental health of immigrant women locally, McMaster hopes to use this study as a stepping stone to encourage integration of best practices in health and social services, and to inform local and municipal policy.


Helping youth on the road to wellness

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, we’re sharing a grant story from our archives as part of the conversation on mental health. We’re proud to continue our support to this critical program that helps reduce barriers to mental health services for Hamilton youth.

It’s described, at least on paper, as a mental health program. But for the high school students seeking help, the first visit is often about something low-risk and straightforward—a sore throat or a sprained ankle.

Nurse practitioner Sue Grafe works part-time at the clinics, one at Sir John A. MacDonald and the other at Cathedral. Once students know it’s safe, they’ll open up about other issues, she says. Depression. Anxiety. Bullying. Their experiences as newcomers to Canada.

Community Foundations of Canada’s national Vital Signs report, some 3.2 million Canadian 12- to 19-year-olds are at risk for developing depression, yet three out of four children and youth who need specialized treatment services do not receive them.

“Provincially, one in five students has a mental health problem,” says public school board trustee, Judith Bishop. “At one of Hamilton’s schools, 31 per cent of students don’t have a family doctor. They tend to be high users of the emergency healthcare system, and that’s not the best care for these kids.”

“I think there’s a disconnect between the need and the resources of the community when it comes to adolescents,” says Sue. “There are just so many barriers to navigate. We’re filling the gap between what they need and where they need to go.”

The pilot program started in September and was busy from the beginning—one school had 81visits at nine half-day clinics. Partnerships with McMaster’s School of Nursing, Newcomer Health and the school boards have created a strong foundation. With HCF’s support the pilot will continue until school endsr. “To be able to carry on until the end of exams is very important,” Sue says. “That’s the students’ time frame.”

The program goal is to connect the students to the larger healthcare system. “It’s not about setting up a separate, parallel service,” says Judith. “We want this to be linked and integrated.” Sue agrees. “We’re opening doors for students. We’re establishing the connections that will help them achieve in the long run.”