A night sleeping on the floor for the youth
At South Western Group, we pride ourselves on general excellence in customer relations and service. We are equally committed to making a tangible difference in our community. Our social committee consistently contributes to food banks and helps fund youth centers. On November 17th I participated in Covenant House’s annual Sleep Out: Executive Edition, a special fundraiser that has a direct impact on our youth.
Introduced to me by Mike George, Trisura’s CEO, Covenant House Toronto is a branch of Canada’s largest homeless youth agency. It’s more than just a shelter — while it certainly provides a welcome refuge, it also presents disadvantaged young adults with the support they need to get back on their feet (services like education, counseling, and job training). With extensive help from donors, who contribute more than 80% of the program’s budget, Covenant House has served more than 90,000 young people from very diverse backgrounds. After talking to the managers and hearing about their mission firsthand, I was completely won over by the significance of their work. Touring the facilities and witnessing the amount of support needed to give at-risk youth a second chance really inspired me to get involved.
Becoming acquainted with Covenant House’s facilities and hearing its youth speak about their experiences opened my eyes to the flaws in our social infrastructure. When you think about what the program does and who it serves, you realize there’s a big gap in our service system. There’s a lot of support established for children and working-age people, but there aren’t many programs in place to serve young adults. Covenant House is one of those rare institutions that does just that. Sleep Out, which is designed to simulate a night as a homeless youth, brought me face-to-face with the harsh realities of life on the streets. Participants are only allowed to bring a small knapsack, a sleeping bag, and a piece of cardboard. While the conditions may be taxing, the experience is certainly worth far more than a night’s rest. Covenant House ended up raising more than a million dollars that night. I’m proud to say that South Western Group was responsible for over 11,000 of that sum. Community service is important to me. As an executive, I consider it our responsibility to set an example for other community leaders by giving back. In addition to bringing our corporate teams together, locally-oriented service allows us to make a directly positive impact on our neighborhoods and towns. It’s is an easy way for Toronto business people to do good instead of simply talking about it, to let our actions speak for themselves, and to galvanize our peers into improving the society we all share.
South Western Group intends to take part in more large community service projects on this scale. In February, we hope to participate in the Guts + Glory Corporate Challenge, which involves rigorous exercise and team competition. We are planning to get staff involved; this event can do easily double duty as a company spirit-building exercise for a good cause. We’re all extremely excited about being able to fundraise in this demanding, innovatively athletic setting. Philanthropy means a lot to our company. After all, our business is insurance. We consider it our duty to help provide our community members — and especially our youth — with the safety and security they need. John A. Barclay