Members of SWAN, Successful Women Always Networking, made a donation to the BWG Community Initiatives - the organization's charity of choice this year - back on January 24, 2017. Submitted
Every year, SWAN – Successful Women Always Networking, a women-only business support and networking group – hosts fundraisers for local charities. There have been SWAN dinners, with a percentage of the cost of the meal donated to the charity of choice, and SWAN events.
For the past 3 years, the charity of choice has been the BWG Community Initiatives, a volunteer organization that supports community gardens, and a Friday night community meal, held at Bradford United Church, that is free to anyone who is alone, on a limited income, lonely or just interested a hot meal in a respectful and social environment.
This year, SWAN President Amber Smith wanted to do something special. “I wanted to wow the Community Initiatives. I wanted it to be big,” she says. “I wanted to raise a substantial amount of money for the Community Initiatives, I wanted a substantial amount of recognition” - both for SWAN, and for the charity.
But it was only when her brother asked if they would be going sky diving again any time soon, that she had her “Eureka!” moment.
“I said, that's it – we're going to SWAN Dive! We're going to get girls, we're going to jump out of a plane!”
Smith brought the idea to her membership, which currently stands at about 32 women entrepreneurs and business owners. The first to sign on were the “thrill seekers,” she says – herself included – but eventually, 8 jumpers had signed up, each pledging to raise about $1,000 for the BWG Community Initiatives. The jumpers include a real estate agent, mortgage brokers, investment advisors, chiropractor and Epicure Direct Sales representative.
For some, sky-diving is on their bucket list.
But not for all. In a reckless moment, Jackie Kozak of Skaraoke Entertainment DJ and Karaoke services agreed to jump. With a fear of heights, she says, “This is not on my bucket list... At the same time, I was so excited, knowing that the money is going to a good cause.
“I get physically sick to my stomach, thinking about it. Then I think about the charity....”
Working in a high-profile industry, Kozak has been able to use her connections, encouraging her customers to help raise funds towards her personal $1,500 target – and beating that goal.
The SWAN Dive is scheduled for August 20 at Skydive Toronto, a skydiving school just off Line 4 of Innisfil, west of 10 Sideroad. The jumpers will be arriving early, for training, with plans to tandem jump starting around 11 a.m., weather permitting. The jumps will be filmed.
The public is invited to come out, and cheer them on. Both SWAN and the BWG Community Initiatives will set up booths, providing information and accepting donations, and Smith is hoping to have a charity BBQ at the site. Skydive Toronto is donating $50 for each jumper to the charity.
“It's great,” says Barb Vaughan, director of the BWG Community Initiatives. The support of SWAN has been crucial, to keep the weekly community meal going, especially after a number of large corporate donors in the Barrie pulled their funding, in favour of charities more local to the Barrie area.
“The last few years have been, I can't say tough, but we're out there actively looking. Everything we do is funded by donors, and supported by volunteers,” Vaughan explains. It costs an average of $150 per week to provide the community meal, of meat, two vegetables, rolls, salad, dessert, juice, tea, coffee and milk, that is served up to between 30 and 40 people – ranging from single-parent families, to Seniors and people on social assistance.
“We have a lot of really dedicated volunteers,” says Vaughan. For the past 14 years, the community meal has operated with 7 teams, with each team cooking, serving and cleaning up once every 7 weeks – but there has been some attrition, as volunteers age or move away.
“We're looking for volunteers,” she says. “I would love to see 8 teams. That would mean each only has to cook once every 2 months.”
“What I love about the Community Initiatives is it's community,” says Smith. Everyone is welcome to the dinner, where besides getting a nutritious hot meal, they can relax and socialize. It's a perfect fit, for the social and community-minded SWAN group.
“Our focus isn't on handing out business cards,” Smith says. With many members in traditionally male-dominated fields, “myself included,” SWAN offers an opportunity not only to network but to share experiences and expertise, dealing with issues that may arise.
“We're huge supporters of each other. But I guess the biggest thing is we focus on building community.”
Every skydiver has a team of SWAN supporters, who are providing encouragement and helping to fundraise. And all will be watching and cheering the SWAN Dive.
SWAN will have a community booth at the Bradford Farmers' Market this Saturday, where the public can learn more about the organization, and make donation to support the SWAN Dive and BWG Community Initiatives. For more information, contact Amber Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org, - or see SWANBradford or BradfordWestGwillimburyCommunityInitiatives on Facebook.com.
“It's going to be so much fun,” says Smith, who has jumped before. “The fear of jumping out of a plane completely overcomes your fear of heights.”
The only issue: What is SWAN going to do to top this fundraiser, next year? There will be a new president, Smith says, “so it will be in her hands... I would love to see something as thrill-seeking and as big. I did set the bar really high. Reach for the clouds!”