It was Mission accomplished as this year’s Blue Door Gala drew its largest crowd ever and raised by far its highest amount yet in support of an organization founded more than 100 years ago by a group of Christian businessmen wanting to help other men who were facing tough times.
Today, The Ottawa Mission not only provides food and clothing, along with shelter for men, but it offers free life-changing programs to struggling individuals hoping to turn their lives around.
The sold-out crowd of 570 gathered at the Infinity Convention Centre on Thursday night, grossing $238,000 — more than double last year's amount of $107,000. Thyme & Again catering and gourmet food shop owner Sheila Whyte and her business partner, Michael Moffatt, were back to co-chair the gala with prominent lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who also served as the live auctioneer. Key to the fundraiser's tremendous success was Jennifer Graves, events officer for The Ottawa Mission Foundation.
The returning presenting sponsor was real estate developer Caivan Communities, represented by its director of sales and marketing, Jonathan Wiseman.
One of the highlights was listening to keynote speaker Dylan Critchley. The graduate of The Mission’s Food Service Training Program (FSTP) shared his personal story of redemption and transformation, bringing the crowd to its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.
It was hard to imagine Critchley back when his life was a total train wreck. Up at the podium, he was energetic, expressive and very, very likeable.
Critchley got mixed up with drugs and alcohol at a young age and dropped out of school by Grade 7, the room heard. He developed substance abuse addiction. It led to him making “an awful mistake that I deeply regret and now have to live with.” That mistake landed him a prison sentence of four and a half years.
On the bright side, he used his time away to get his high school diploma.
Once on parole, Critchley needed to figure out what to do with his life. He caught wind of The Mission’s free Food Services Training Program. He knew he enjoyed cooking, particularly the relaxing feeling of methodically chopping vegetables, and decided to go for it.
The FSTP was started 15 years ago by The Mission’s Ric Watson — affectionately known as Chef Ric. It teaches unemployed men and women to work in commercial kitchens. It boasts a 95-percent success rate.
The program not only gave Critchley practical skills but it did wonders for improving his self esteem and team-work and leadership skills.
“The program really prepared me to work in a kitchen and it provided me with the confidence in myself that I needed to grow as a person."
Next, he set his sights on the two-year culinary management program at Algonquin College. Critchley graduated from the college program on the Dean’s List and landed a full-time job working in the kitchen at The Mission.
Critchley is now a man with goals and gumption. He wants to become a Red Seal chef. He’d like to buy a home. He’s currently taking a public speaking and leadership course through The Mission.
“The Ottawa Mission has really turned my life around, and now I love being able to provide the same opportunities to people, that I once received,” he told the room.
“I’m taking it one day at a time, just trying to repay my debt to society. Failure used to frighten me, until I figured out that it’s essential to learn from it.”
Critchley concluded his speech with a quote from The Alchemist author Paulo Coelho: We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation.
“We can, however, provide them with a second chance and opportunity for redemption,” said Critchley before putting his fists up, just like a boxer who has been knocked down but gets back up. “Round Two.”
Chef Ric’s students were put to the test in the kitchen that night, in preparing the evening's menu, as part of their final exam. They passed with flying colours, and were presented their diplomas on stage while being introduced, one by one.
There were at least two attendees there that night who have just been named to the Order of Ottawa: Chef Ric and BLG (Borden Ladner Gervais) regional managing partner Katherine Cooligan, who earlier this year was named a WBN Businesswoman of the Year.
Spotted in the crowd were such supporters: as Richard Sachs, president of Urban Construction, the Scrivens family from Scrivens Insurance and Investment Solutions and Bell Let’s Talk representative Sandy McDonald. Also seen were ADGA Group CEO Françoise Gagnon, and Gusto Worldwide Media CEO Chris Knight.
Knight’s wife, Taryn Manias, was one of the three names randomly chosen during the raffle draw. She was called up on stage, along with Rev. Anthony Bailey, from Parkdale United Church, and Larry O’Hara from Urbandale. They each selected one of three blue doors and — much like an episode of Let’s Make a Deal — were instructed to open it to see what was inside.
O’Hara won the grand prize of a trip for two to California. Maybe it was just luck or maybe it was the Big Guy’s way of rewarding him for helping the non-profit, faith-based ministry find a new space to expand their food services training program.
It was announced at the gala that The Mission plans to move its program offsite, and expand its catering services, to ease the burden on its busy kitchen. The Mission serves more than 1,400 meals a day, as well as offers clothing and shelter, and free programs for addiction treatment, mental health support, education, employment and housing support services, medical and dental care, and hospice care.
The Blue Door Gala is named for the blue front doors that one opens on one's way into The Ottawa Mission, located on Daly Avenue.