Softchoice employees up the ante for Kids Health Links Foundation

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At its core, the mission of Softchoice Cares is to support charities that use technology to improve the lives of others. Through the Power to the People (P2P) program, Softchoice employees across North America can raise money and awareness for a cause they are passionate about, and receive matching funds from Softchoice Cares for every dollar they raise.

This year, I chose to nominate the Kids Health Links Foundation (KHLF) as a P2P charity. KHLF is an organization whose very purpose is true to the heart and spirit of Softchoice Cares and the P2P endeavor. I’m delighted to say that for the third year in a row, KHLF will be the beneficiary of all proceeds raised by the annual Softchoice Cares Poker Tournament in Toronto.

Having raised nearly $30,000 in support of KHLF in two years (with much more to come this year), it’s clear that Softchoice employees and business partners have taken very easily to KHLF’s mission. KHLF, like Softchoice Cares, believes access to technology can be a gift for people across the world because of its ability to connect us with those who matter most in our lives – our friends and families.

It was in early 2014, when a dear friend of mine and former Softchoice employee first introduced KHLF to the Softchoice community. She had personal ties to the organization and recognized that KHLF and Softchoice Cares shared a common vision. Through the power of innovation, knowledge, and communication, KHLF alleviates the stress, isolation, and loneliness of children and teens in medical care by keeping them connected to their families, friends, and school communities through the use of technology. KHLF believes that positive emotional well-being can be fostered by maintaining family connections and encouraging active social participation.

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” By providing technology that enables this wellbeing, KHLF hopes to help children and teens heal faster, and better overcome traumatic medical experiences. For the kids and teens KHLF supports, the platforms of Upopolis, Upedia, and Umind are the gifts of technology that are undoubtedly the great enablers for those personal connections. Equally important are the immeasurable and intangible benefits those personal connections provide – benefits like hope, healing, and love.

Whether you’re a technologist, a poker shark, or simply excited about the great work KHLF does, the Softchoice family encourages you and yours to also find a way to support the ongoing efforts of KHLF in building communities and connecting kids and teens across Canada. With the holidays right around the corner, there’s no better time of year to organize an event with your community of friends and family to raise money and resources that will provide hope, healing, and love to those who need it most.

Creating Against All Odds: an interview with SKETCH Artistic Director, Phyllis Novak

DSC_4808Softchoice Cares recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Phyllis Novak, the Artistic Director of SKETCH, a Toronto-based organization that engages street-involved youth through the arts. Throughout 2015, numerous Softchoice employees have been raising funds for SKETCH through the company’s Power to the People program.

SOFTCHOICE: “Can you tell us about the history of SKETCH?”

PHYLLIS: “SKETCH is a Toronto-based community arts enterprise for young people, aged 16-29, who live homeless, street involved, or who otherwise find themselves on the margins. We have 7,500 square feet of ridiculous creative studio space in the cultural hub of Artscape Youngplace in Toronto’s west end.

“We have been operating in this city, building our framework for engagement with youth, for almost 20 years. We have our 19th birthday on November 6th of this year, and we’re going to move into our 20th birthday celebrations in the coming year. We have had over 9,000 young people participate in the organization that come from across Canada, and they have built the framework of what SKETCH is all about.”

SOFTCHOICE: “Can you tell us about your background and what drew you to work at SKETCH?”

PHYLLIS: “I worked as an actor in the city for years. In between theatre gigs, I volunteered at a drop-in centre in downtown Toronto, offering theatre workshops. I soon discovered this great need and desire for them to do more artistic stuff than just theatre – to be able to launch individual art and music projects, and all kinds of creative things. I ultimately gave up my acting job.

“I’m still completely inspired by their yearning to create against all odds.”

“Young people who live on the street are tremendously stigmatized and limited by what society thinks of them. Many of them unfortunately internalize and it believe about themselves. But everybody’s got a different story and a different background with trauma and a ton of challenges. There’s a common thread throughout of this raw, unpretentious creativity and this unique view of how we can create a vibrant and inclusive community together.

“So, 20-years later, I’m still completely inspired by their yearning to create against all odds. That’s what I believe SKETCH is all about. It’s this place that’s trying to reframe the conversation and reframe the response to youth homelessness and poverty. We’re not just servicing their basic needs and trying to get them off the street. We’re trying to reframe the conversation and help them to discover their creative perspective, their creative capacity, and allow them to lead us in reshaping our communities.”

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SOFTCHOICE: “How is SKETCH’s partnership with Softchoice helping to meet your goals for growth and development?”

PHYLLIS: “SKETCH is totally reliant on participation and partnership from community members, and we’re amazed at the creativity and the goodwill that different folks express. Softchoice is coming with this great energy and this great desire to give, to partner and to build opportunities for youth at SKETCH, especially technological opportunities. That really matters to us, because we’ve struggled to find a partner who will help us build digital media access for young people.

“Not only is it difficult to convince people to fund arts-related activities for street-involved and homeless youth, but we can’t believe how difficult it is to get funds to advance their access to digital media and to advance their digital literacy. It shocks me as it’s a great avenue to help them find jobs and participate in all kinds of things. But for some reason it’s seen as a frill.

“We have this great lab downstairs that we want to create as our digital media lab, and we are pretty excited about it! We want to work with Softchoice to build this space, whether we use the funds to simply set up that space or use your expertise to figure out what kind of inventory is needed and have you help us in the technical setup and design.”

Putting the FUN in fundraising to help youth ‘dodge’ a lifetime of poverty

[Softchoice’s Jen Wood raised $1,425.00 to help homeless youth dodge a lifetime of poverty through a  fun game of classic schoolyard dodgeball!]

Back in April, the Softchoice Cares Board gave ‘Power 2 the People’ by encouraging employees to nominate a local charity that has impacted their lives. The Softchoice Cares Board allocated a pool of $25,000 to match every dollar raised from events held by contestants or employees who wanted to support their cause. The board also announced that the host who raised the most money and created the most engagement would receive an additional $15,000 for their chosen charity, with second place receiving $7,500 and third $2,500.

Jen Wood, a Human Resources Analyst at Softchoice in Toronto, became involved with Youth Without Shelter last year and she was introduced by a friend who was volunteering with the shelter at the time. He showed her an emotionally-charged video that featured a young man who lost everything and fell victim to a life fueled by addiction. Youth Without Shelter (YWS), a homeless shelter in Etobicoke, offered him free shelter and access to professional development workshops, tools and counselling support to help him get back on his feet. [Read more…]