Oak Tree 6

The Oak Tree Project was launched in 2014 to demonstrate how philanthropy is changing by engaging communities and strengthening local non-profits.

Improve life... together

2020 was the year where adaptability was crucial, and plans changed often as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. This was no different for the Oak Tree Project where we evolved our original plans many times since the beginning of the planning process. Thanks to our funding partners, local charities, and the University of Guelph we found a creative way to help support our community. We needed to work with charities to help finance their innovative ideas that would help the community regain our strength as we recover from the crisis.

The overall goal of the sixth Oak Tree Project was to build community capacity, for now, and for what comes next.

For the Now

With a year that brought so much uncertainty, we recognized that charities needed help instantly to meet our community’s immediate needs. To that end, we worked with our partners to raise immediate funds and direct them to the Guelph Community Foundation to help support the GCF/United Way COVID relief effort. We proudly committed $30,000 for instant COVID relief and charities were able to apply for funding.

Focused on the Next


What made this year great was the partnership we had with the University of Guelph, our largest one yet, which introduced us to the Community Engaged Scholarship Institute (CESI) and ICON.. CESI brings together faculty, students and community through collaborative research partnerships focused on putting knowledge into action. Through CESI, we were able to connect with the ICON course, one of the University’s most hands-on and innovative teaching programs. ICON teaches students valuable interpersonal, team, and communication skills, while fostering innovative ideas for today’s most pressing challenges.

The plan originally was to include three finalists, but four of the submissions were so compelling we decided to include a fourth finalist. These finalists were paired with students from ICON to build on their original submission, strengthening ideas and exploring new angles to prepare a pitch.

Similar to other events, there was a period of public voting and then a grand finale event to finalize the grand prize.


The winner of Oak Tree Project 6 was Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington to support its youth mental health hub project, Integrated Youth Support Network, now called The Grove.

According to the final student report: “During the pandemic, rates of mental illness among youth have increased with nearly two-thirds of Canadian youth reporting a negative impact on their mental health. The IYSN is working to transform spaced across Guelph and Wellington County to become a one stop shop for every type of service that is vital to the well-being of youth. However, the current system requires that youth reach out to adults when and if they need to connect with a service provider. As a solution to this, youth have identified a missing piece: a program delivered by youth for youth where peers ages 12-26 can support each other and direct them to the services they need.”

We received over 400 comments about the work IYSN does in the community and how important the proposed initiative would be for youth. “This transformational program, designed by youth for youth, is much needed in our community. IYSN is an excellent example of community collaboration” says one of our community members.

This charity was awarded a $7,500 cash prize and a business plan developed by the University of Guelph ICON program through the Community Engaged Scholarship Institute. The other three finalists received a $2,500 cash donation from Oak Tree Project and its partners.

Watch the finalist submissions below.