Shirley Elford – a celebrated glass artist known for her stunning Juno Awards sculpture, beautiful angels, one-of-a-kind pieces, and her commitment to the Hamilton community – holds back tears as she describes how she felt when the first grants were made from her fund at Hamilton Community Foundation.
“ I was so happy I sat down and cried,” she said about the three grants made last December to support children’s mental health. “It felt so good to know the fund was already making a difference.”
When she established The Angel Fund in 2003, Shirley planned to finance it from a life insurance policy in her estate. But this year, she chose to make an outright gift when she discovered she had cancer.
“ I realized that I wanted to begin to see the impact of my donation in my lifetime,” she says, “and I’m so glad I did. The joy I get from knowing this fund is already supporting mental health is profound. And the idea that it will keep giving and giving and giving is just wonderful.”
A member of Hamilton Community Foundation’s board of directors from 2001 to 2006, Shirley is a passionate advocate of HCF and many other Hamilton organizations. Her volunteer résumé is as full and varied as her award-winning artistic career – a career that started late. She was already 36 and the youngest of her children had entered high school when she applied to the Ontario College of Art.
“ I needed something that was just me,” she says of that time in her life. “I was Bill Sinclair’s daughter, I was a wife, I was a mother. I craved an identity that was just me.” Shirley excelled at OCA and discovered the very difficult medium of glass. Her stunning body of work is proof that she mastered the challenge.
Describing herself as “just an ordinary person who gets a lot of joy out of giving,” Shirley stresses that philanthropists don’t have to be wealthy. “I guess my brother and I learned about giving from my father. Dad was a generous man in his time. He always said that, if nothing else, you can give of yourself and then you’ll really find out what you’re worth. I don’t have millions to give, but I feel like a multimillionaire in my heart because my gifts come back to me tenfold.”
In 2010, Shirley created the Gift of Today Fund choosing turquoise, the signature colour for ovarian cancer, to represent the fund’s purpose. This fund supports a diverse array of initiatives that increase the scope and availability of assistance and education both for those experiencing ovarian cancer and for friends, families and professionals involved with their care.
Excerpt from 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 Annual Reports