It turned out to be a million-dollar morning for the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa as a community of engaged entrepreneurs and caring citizens participated in the nonprofit organization's annual BGCO breakfast.
The event was streamed online Tuesday morning to hundreds of registered participants watching along in their homes, offices or favourite hangouts. It hit 1,000 views by that afternoon.
Ottawa philanthropist, business leader and long-time BGCO board member Gary Zed has been chairing the event for 11 years. More recently, he’s been sharing the role with his fiancée, Liza Mrak, executive vice-president of Mark Motors Group. The local family-owned business has a number of high-end luxury car dealerships in Ottawa and has been the title sponsor of the breakfast for the past eight years.
Zed said his interest in the cause really begins with the kids.
“There are so many children in this city who are in need,” said Zed at the Audi City Ottawa dealership at Lansdowne, where he and Mrak were doing live video hits during the breakfast.
The event not only raises funds for the BGCO, he said, but it also boosts awareness and helps to build a lasting network of support. Some of the BGCO’s most generous donors were first introduced to the organization through its annual breakfast, he noted.
This year's breakfast was hosted by BGCO board member Jock Climie, a law partner at Emond Harnden and a former CFL player.
For the Mrak family, fundraisers like the BGCO breakfast are a way of giving back to a community that welcomed its Slovenian-born patriarch, the late Louis Mrak, after he immigrated to Canada from Austria in the 1950s with little more than his suitcase and a knack for fixing cars.
“It’s sort of in our blood that we have to do something,” said Mrak, noting that their company is proud to have some BGCO alumni on staff.
The breakfast normally takes place in the springtime with several hundred invited guests at a BGCO clubhouse. But, there was no getting together under one big gymnasium roof this year due to health officials’ warnings against large gatherings during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
For those who don’t like to drink alone – even if it’s just coffee– there were some 50 micro-breakfasts held throughout the city Tuesday.
French Ambassador Kareen Rispal had a small group over to the embassy for breakfast. BGCO board member and community leader Derek Noble, a partner with Huntington Properties, invited more than 50 early-morning risers to join him at his tent-covered outdoor location on Wellington Street West for a breakfast catered by nearby Petit Bill’s Bistro. In attendance was BGCO board chair, proud alumnus and well-known restaurateur Stephen Beckta.
The Mark Motors Porsche dealership on Montreal Road hosted a bunch for breakfast, including Porsche Cars Canada president and CEO Marc Ouayoun. He presented a cheque for $7,500 to the BGCO during the event.
Porsche held a competition with its centres across Canada, asking them each to submit the name of a charity that they really care about. Porsche Canada chose a winner from each region, with the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa being one of its top picks.
“When we read what Liza provided to us, we were immediately smitten by the cause,” Patrick Saint-Pierre, public relations manager at Porsche Cars Canada, told OBJ.social.
The public support for the BGCO has been “fantastic,” said Adam Joiner, the new CEO of BGCO. “We’re very lucky that we have a board of directors and great supporters and sponsors that truly believe in the work that we do, and see the impact of what we do and what it does for the community.”
Event organizers were aware that they were putting all their (softboiled) eggs into one basket, hoping to pull it off with this year’s breakfast. With so many fundraisers being cancelled, these are tough times for charities.
“We’re really counting on this breakfast to help us finish off this year strong,” said Joiner. “Gary and Liza have put in so much effort to make this successful. Our staff have, as well.
“It’s challenging for all organizations right now, in terms of ensuring that we have the resources we need to offer the services that we provide.”
The BGCO is back up and running, offering after-school activities – both in-person and online. The organization is following the public health guidelines very closely to keep everyone safe and healthy. Unfortunately, its overnight camp wasn’t able to run this summer. It had to shut its facilities down for at least a few months when the pandemic first hit. It ran free online programming, instead.
“Isolation has been incredibly hard for everyone, but when you reinforce that with the fact that you may not have a tonne of opportunities and choices, outside of coming to the Boys and Girls Club everyday, it’s so important that we’re offering services,” said Joiner, speaking at the Don McGahan Clubhouse in Vanier.
“Some of our members – not all – face tremendous adversity. They’ve been so resilient, and I’m proud of them, but they need support now more than ever.”
The clubhouses can feel like a second home to some of its members, Joiner also said. He would know – he became quite attached when he was a kid to the Tomlinson Family Foundation Clubhouse, as its now known, on Prince of Wales Drive. He eventually got a job at the clubhouse and worked his way up the organization. The rest, as they say, is history.