Bringing ABACUS to life: BGC Hamilton kids now see a better future

ABACUS is a research-based initiative at HCF that helps kids to imagine and achieve a better future through high-school graduation and going to post-secondary. It focuses on the middle school years and addresses factors that affect students’ likelihood of continuing their education.
This summer, HCF Donor Services Advisor Celeste Licorish got the chance to attend a reception for Boys & Girls Club Hamilton celebrating the successes of students in their ABACUS-funded program. Here’s what she had to say about her experience.

How did this reception make ABACUS really come alive for you?

The energy was amazing. It’s one thing to hear about ABACUS here at HCF and read about what ABACUS is doing for kids in Hamilton – but to actually be in a space where the program has been operating was incredibly moving. Boys & Girls Club of Hamilton started off by thanking the Foundation for allowing this to happen. BGC is very committed to improving the lives of kids anyway so the alignment of ABACUS with what they’re trying to do is magical. But the really special stuff was when the kids got up and started to talk about their experiences with the program.

What kinds of things were the kids saying?

They talked about how, before the program, they used to act out and do things like toss over garbage cans, flip off the instructors, and were disruptive and unengaged. But the ABACUS program involved things like going to McMaster to learn about science, taking field trips, and patient and engaged co-ordinators attuned to what the kids would find interesting – this really made the difference. Some of these kids were now going into Grade 9, talking about how for the first time they actually care about science and are looking forward to doing better things. They’re also talking about how their instructors and coaches are more like brothers and sisters, and friends, not people they have to reel against.
One young girl stood up and she said that if this had been two years ago, there’s no way she’d even be standing in front of a group to talk about anything! So the confidence that she now had in herself was huge compared to when she started.

To think about HCF being a part of the transition in these kids’ lives at a very fragile and vulnerable time is so rewarding. The kids immediately acknowledged that they had other influences that were not positive and that they could have easily gone in that direction. But because they had this program and people that were invested in them, they were now seeing themselves and their futures in new and more positive ways.

What was your main takeaway from the event?

I sat there at the beginning of this event, thinking it would be a nice celebration for ABACUS. But by the end what it did was bring the whole thing to life in a way that blew me away and it showed me how we are actually changing kids’ lives. It doesn’t take inordinate amounts of time for kids to get from one place to another. Most importantly, it takes an environment that is supportive and a belief in the potential of these kids. And of course, it’s our amazing donors that make it all possible in the first place. It’s wonderful to see that everybody involved in ABACUS is invested so deeply.

Happy Birthday Hamilton!

On June 9, 1846 the provincial statute “An Act to alter and amend the Act incorporating the town of Hamilton, and to erect the same into a city” was passed and with it this city was born.

Over the years Hamilton has been known as the Steel City, The Hammer, a City of Waterfalls and the Ambitious City. But, regardless of what we call it, Hamilton will always be home; a place where we can all belong. Though each area has unique characteristics, there is a common theme that runs through the city – from downtown to the mountain, Stoney Creek to Flamborough and every neighbourhood in between – and that’s a sense of community and generosity.

For more than 60 years Hamilton Community Foundation has helped caring Hamiltonians give back to the city they love. We have been the city’s ally, creating a more vibrant and inclusive Hamilton through support of arts and culture, education, environment, health and human services and recreation programs; since 1954 we have granted $102.9 million across the city. With more than $190 million in endowed assets we look forward to being a friend to the City of Hamilton, for ever.

Hamilton, we celebrate your 171st birthday today, the very best is yet to come. We wish you more great achievements in the years to come, and may all your birthday wishes come true!


Your friend
Hamilton Community Foundation

Hamilton’s philanthropy by the numbers

At Hamilton Community Foundation we are in the privileged position of being able to see the positive impact Hamiltonians make in their city through their time, talents and resources every single day. Whether one chooses to support Hamilton Community Foundation or one of the other 85,000 registered charities in Canada there is no doubt that Hamiltonians are both caring and philanthropic.

For some, making a financial contribution is an easy way to support charities. According to 2015 data from Statistics Canada, 124,300 Hamiltonians made charitable donations totalling more than $223 million, up three percent from 2014.  More than one-in-five tax filers in Hamilton claimed charitable donations in 2015, slightly higher than the Canadian average.

Who gives?

In Hamilton, the average donor in 2015 was 56 years old and the median1 donation was $330. Comparatively, the average Canadian donor in the same year was 54 years old and the median donation was $300. Figure 1, further illustrates how different age groups give – as measured by the percent of total donations that each group contributes and the average total donation for each group.

Figure 1: The Hamiltonian Donor

Looking further into the data, 53 percent of Hamilton’s donors were men and 47 percent were female, the same as the national breakdown, with median donations of $360 and $300, respectively. The national median donation for males was $320 and for women it was $270.

What does the Hamilton philanthropist look like?

In Hamilton, though the numbers paint one piece of the picture of who gives in our community it is worth remembering that philanthropy is not just a function of monetary donations. Rather, it is the sum of volunteerism, random acts of kindness and the countless other ways we demonstrate a general love for humankind and promote the welfare of others. Anyone can be a philanthropist!


1Median is the middle number in a group of numbers. Where a median donation, for example, is given as $300, it means that exactly half of the donations reported are greater than or equal to $300, and that the other half is less than or equal to the median amount.

Statistics Canada. Table 111-0001 – Summary of charitable donors, annual, CANSIM (database). Last updated February 21, 2017. (accessed May 3, 2017).

Statistics Canada. Table 111-0002 – Charitable donors, by age and sex, annual, CANSIM (database. Last updated February 21, 2017. (accessed May 3, 2017).

The “pre-vacation” estate plan

Are you one of the many of us who crafted their first will literally hours before boarding an airplane to leave your children for the first time?  And was that, perhaps, 15 years ago and you haven’t updated it since?  You are not alone.

While the “pre-vacation” estate plan is common, it isn’t necessarily the best for the long term.

In his best-selling book Willing Wisdom, Dr. Tom Deans cites the statistic that more than 125 million US and Canadian citizens over the age of 18 have no will.  Willing Wisdom seeks to inspire people not only to pass on possessions but, even more importantly, ideals and values.  As part of developing this plan, Deans invites the reader to ask themselves the question “How would an inheritance advance your dreams for yourself, your family and your community?”  He goes further, in fact, and suggests that this question be posed to your family as well, including them in the estate planning process.

We all have an opportunity to leave a legacy that has meaning and impact.  This is not just the privilege of the wealthy.  In many cases we just haven’t taken the time or known how to think it through.  That’s where Hamilton Community Foundation can help.  We have the expertise as philanthropic advisors to help you.  Give us a call to find out more.

“I want them to feel great!”: The impact of HCF donors

In our final instalment, Celeste Licorish talks about what she loves most about her job at HCF.

Part of what you do at HCF is to advise donors. What’s your favourite aspect of this work?

CL Blog_4In my role as donor advisor at HCF I have the opportunity to talk to existing and potential donors. What excites me the most about this is to be able to talk to them about the impact of their contributions – what those gifts mean now and what they will mean forever. I think a lot of people give out of good will and they trust the Hamilton Community Foundation with their donations. What they may not immediately realize is that they’re actually changing outcomes for people.

When donor investments make their way into priority neighbourhoods through HCF, connections are made, skills are attained and residents end up working together on projects they never would have imagined. And it’s because of donors who have trusted the Foundation, with its research and resources, to be able to invest in the right places. These donors really are changing lives.

How do you make this impact tangible for donors?

It’s exciting for me to be able to share impact stories with donors to let them know what’s actually happening on the ground. For example one of the developments that is really exciting right now is McQuesten Farm. Living in a nearby neighbourhood, I got to hear about this woman who had this amazing urban farming idea, and now as an employee of HCF I’ve actually seen this working farm with its windmills, big harvests and beautiful vegetables!

It’s great to be able to let donors know about the real difference that they’re making. And also to let them know that residents are feeling more connected to each other because of their donations. Giving is one of those things where you can’t help but feel good about it. I want them to feel GREAT when they know about the real connections that they are helping to create.

Building community from the ground up

In part 3 of our Q&A, Celeste Licorish reflects on her experiences with the Neighbourhood Leadership Institute.

Neighbourhood Leadership Institute is an HCF initiative that enables residents in Hamilton neighbourhoods to get together and work on projects that help improve those neighbourhoods in different ways. Can you talk a little bit about your own experience with NLI?

Two years ago I had the opportunity to participate in the NLI program as a resident. I had a partner who had a great idea, a project about rehabilitating Lake Ontario and it was really an amazing experience.

CL Blog_3Through the 10-week process, I met other neighbours, we travelled to different areas of the city and we learned how to think through challenges. After we’d developed our project idea, we had to figure out things like how to get support from community stakeholders, how to develop a business plan, how to pitch an idea to someone, how to articulate the vision in ways that are going to be engaging.

What was your best takeaway from NLI?

The biggest benefit I got out of NLI was the network, the people that I met. Some of them I’d met before but by going through an intensive program, spending 10 weeks with them, and then graduating with them, it made me feel like I was part of a really rich alumni. We’d developed these great ideas and then through NLI we were able to go forward and realize them. So any time I hear that one of my NLI alumni is working on a project, my first thought is how can I help them, how can I support them.

And this is a very motivated network of people.

Absolutely! NLI has made me feel more connected to community and even more proud to be a Hamiltonian because I was just blown away at how creative and courageous and inspired people are! And just how much goodwill there is to make the community a better place – not based on experience or money but just a passion for making things better for people. When you’re around that energy and you have inspired leaders from the community who are coming in to support and nurture that energy, you can’t help but be excited and want to do your best.

NLI has been one of the very best processes I’ve been a part of to build the community from the ground up. So for residents who maybe don’t have connections to the community, NLI is a great place to establish them.
Recently, NLI collaborated with McMaster Centre for Continuing Education for the Professional Development stream of NLI. What’s the value of this new stream?

Sometimes community engagement and leadership are talked about in vague terms. NLI on the other hand is grounded in the kinds of research and best practices that will make a huge difference for participants in the way they are able to engage with others, empower others and add dignity to processes for people who come from all different kinds of backgrounds and experiences. I think the PD stream is a fabulous way to offer the professional credentials and confidence for people who are going to go and do this kind of work in a meaningful way.


In next week’s final instalment, Celeste talks about what she loves best about her role as donor advisor at HCF.

ABACUS lets youth imagine new possibilities

In part 2 of our 4-part Q and A, Celeste Licorish reflects on HCF’s signature education initiative in Hamilton – ABACUS.

CL Blog_2ABACUS is an HCF initiative that focuses on the middle school years for kids. What is the impact of ABACUS at a broad level?

What I love about ABACUS is that it focuses on changing the trajectory for families who are trapped in cycles of poverty. Parents in these types of situations are not always able to inspire their kids even to consider post-secondary education.

ABACUS takes a long-term view on these kinds of issues which tend to recur in families. If parents did not finish high school or university, it decreases the likelihood that their children will even think of post-secondary education as something they can do, whether or not they actually have the academic ability to do it.

ABACUS turns this on its head and looks at the middle school years for kids who typically wouldn’t have the opportunity to go for a post-secondary education. By leveraging resources like the Community Fund and the knowledge and connections the Foundation has, we can ask ourselves, how can we get kids to think about their lives differently?

How do you think ABACUS addresses poverty specifically?

ABACUS helps to break the cycle of poverty because kids will be enabled to finish high school and then go into either the trades, college or university.  It presents options that can change their lives.

It’s a good example of how we work.  The Foundation looks at a big problem – kids aren’t graduating – and asks how can we change this completely, change the direction? This is the brilliant thing about ABACUS. For example, we have Grad Track co-ordinators who are actually in the schools talking to kids every week, getting to know them and finding out what is going to help them think differently about themselves. This then aligns with what we do with scholarships and bursaries since these same kids are coming through after graduation. So ABACUS plays a key part in how we can accurately and effectively change outcomes for these kids.

In part 3, Celeste talks about her personal experiences with the Neighbourhood Leadership Institute.

‘A beautiful thing to behold’: Hamilton Community Fund connects the community

celeste-2016We sat down with Celeste Licorish, Advisor, Philanthropic Services at HCF to talk about what she loves about her job and the work that the Foundation does (and there’s a lot to love!) 

The Hamilton Community Fund is the fund which gives the Foundation the flexibility to meet the city’s greatest needs.  What do you see as the impact of this fund?

The Community Fund is a really powerful tool. Directing money into specific programs and to particular organizations is good and important work but HCF also has to be able to tackle big social issues and make big changes.

My favourite example is poverty reduction. Fifteen years ago the Foundation decided that poverty was a crucial issue in Hamilton that needed to be addressed. In concert with the City and other key players in the community, it was decided that the best way to tackle poverty was to look at the long term and look for ways to make systemic changes and not just to look at piecemeal or short-term solutions.

Because of the Community Fund, HCF was able to undertake research to determine some of the best options for tackling poverty here in Hamilton, like the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and other initiatives. The research also allowed HCF to look at specific neighbourhoods and working along the lines of projects like Code Red, HCF identified certain pockets where for example, some people were living 20 years less than in other places and how we make meaningful change there.

What was your personal connection to this kind of work from HCF?

I saw this change first hand from living in the Sherman neighbourhood where residents decided to set up a community. This was the way that I actually became connected with the community – meeting neighbours, hearing about a new café that opened up, attending neighbourhood meetings and realizing that this was a community that actually cared. And at the time I had no clue that Hamilton Community Foundation was behind any of it – I just knew that there were other people that were committed to seeing positive changes in the community.

The “aha” moment for me in coming into the Foundation as a staff person was to realize that all of that work, from seven or eight years ago, and everything I was experiencing as a resident in the neighborhood, was actually thought through and developed by the Foundation.  This was a beautiful thing to behold.
Next time Celeste talks about ABACUS, HCF’s signature education initiative.

Audacious but achievable: Maple Leaf Foods CEO tackles food insecurity

sm_blogI recently had the privilege of hearing Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, talk at a Canadian Club luncheon in Toronto.  He began his speech with “My idea is simple.  Everybody in Canada should have enough to eat.  People in this country – with all our wealth and abundant farmland – should have affordable access to nutritious food.  This is the most basic human need”.   Mr. McCain went on to present the staggering data about the extent, nature and impact of food insecurity in Canada – a surprise to some in the room, hopefully uncomfortable and unacceptable to all.

What may sound like a simple idea, of course, often requires a complex and multi-faceted solution.  As Mr. McCain told his audience, it requires leadership from all sectors, supported by effective public policy, and empowering new and sustainable strategies.

Following a thoughtful process of research and strategic planning, Maple Leaf Foods, has identified the role that it can play in achieving the vision of all Canadians having affordable access to nutritious food.  It has launched The Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security, a not-for-profit organization that will strive to have an impact on the issue of food security through advocating to raise awareness, sharing knowledge, and investing in new approaches.  Hamilton’s own McQuesten Urban Farm is one of the first three projects the centre will support.  Maple Leaf’s goal, working collaboratively with all stakeholders, is to reduce food insecurity in Canada by 50 percent by 2030.  Audacious, but achievable, in the view of Michael McCain and his team.

So what can we all take away from this?  For me, it underscores the important elements for creating the positive change we want to see: find the issue that you think is important and care about; do the research to understand what will really make a difference; bring all your resources to bear – time, money, networks, influence; and work collaboratively with others who share your vision.

Mr. McCain, I was inspired by your talk and strategy.  I hope others were too.






Sheree Meredith is Vice-President of Philanthropic Services

Making a difference in Hamilton through philanthropy

“The world has changed and so must we.”

This is the mantra of progressive community foundations throughout North America.  Deploying more of our assets to achieve our mission, forging new and unconventional partnerships to understand and tackle complex social problems, and playing more active leadership and catalyst roles within our communities are a few of the strategies that community foundations are implementing as they strive to increase their impact and maintain their relevance.

Hamilton has been receiving increased attention across the country for its revitalization as a city.  This positive trajectory has been fuelled by innovation, collaboration and strengthened self-image of what we want in our city.  This has created an ideal platform for expanding the power of philanthropy to “do good” and Hamilton Community Foundation has stepped up to the plate, playing a variety of roles including: catalyst, funder, advocate, strategist, and service providers in our combined efforts to build a strong and vibrant city.

We believe this is the right thing for us to do.  We also believe, and survey results support, that this is what donors want and expect from the charities they support.  Donors want their gifts to have impact.  While it is important to address immediate needs, donors also want to ensure that complex issues are better understood and strategies that create transformative change are implemented.  And finally, donors expect leadership.

Philanthropy is making a powerful difference in our community.  Perhaps there has never been a more critical time for this type of leadership, investment and voice.  Thank you to all the generous Hamiltonians who help make this possible.  You are making a difference.