Food literacy programs to help youth access the meals they need to thrive. Horticulture therapy to make life a little easier for older adults who live with dementia. Grants to help kids participate in sports and arts programs many of us take for granted. Life skills and social programming for adults living with developmental difficulties. Mental health hubs and tools for children and youth. These are just a handful of the many wonderful examples of how charities in our community are making a remarkable difference in Guelph-Wellington every day. These are just a few of the reasons The Oak Tree Project exists.
With our family’s involvement in the creation and development of the Guelph Community Foundation, philanthropy comes very naturally to us. We have been involved with charitable giving both professionally and personally for generations because, simply, we believe we all share responsibility for the well-being of others.
We began The Oak Tree Project in 2014 to not only give back but empower Guelph and Wellington charities with funds and stories about their impact, helping to offset operating costs as well as programs to strengthen their roots and further their long-term success and growth.
What we love most about this initiative is that we’re not just handing over a cheque to a worthwhile organization: we encourage the community to identify the needs that matter to them – and we hear some amazing stories of impact along the way that help local charities spread the word about their work long after the contest ends.
This initiative stemmed from an article we read in the Economist about the emergence of a new trend in philanthropy. Instead of solely giving away money, the article proposed that there is greater value in engaging with the community through the process. We wanted to come up with a way of giving differently, to magnify the impact. This was the germination of The Oak Tree Project. We wanted to build capacity for charities and change the way of philanthropy for the future, not only address immediate needs.
The idea of a friendly competition is a foundation of this project, so that we can help everyone who participates move the needle on their own by contributing financially to a cause that matters to them, if they can, but also tell the remarkable stories of the work of our community’s unsung heroes. It’s also essential that the community’s collective voice helps us choose the causes we support, alongside a team of experts to bring guidance, not only to our final funding choices but, through their leadership and knowledge, to the charities themselves.
Each year, we change the focus to ensure we take a fresh look at the emerging and urgent needs in our community, and to help shine a light on the work of various charities. The previous themes are still of utmost importance, but given the vast selection possible, The Oak Tree Project helps us broaden our understanding and shape where we are going as a community.
What has surprised us the most with Oak Tree Project are the impact stories that we receive. Through written examples, pictures and even video, we’ve head heartwarming, incredibly personal and always impactful direct examples of the power of charity. It is easy to get cynical, and these stories break through that and really help you connect at a different level. Hearing the actual impact charities have had on members in our community is what drives us to keep moving forward with this initiative. We are so thankful for the continued support from our community and are excited to see what comes.