You don't have to be a millionaire to be a philanthropist.
So says local patron Andy Szocs, who admits to being "blessed" in his lifetime, building up a successful company in B.C. throughout his working career before retiring 17 years ago.
Making money, however, doesn't compare to the satisfaction of giving it away.
"You can't say enough about giving," said Szocs. "It gives you just an amazing feeling inside."
His comments come on the heels of his quiet donation to Zero Ceiling at October's 20th-anniversary fundraising event. He was so inspired after attending the event with his wife, son and daughter in law, that he wrote a cheque for $10,000, bringing his total contribution to Zero Ceiling to $25,000 this year.
"It's a great cause," said Szocs of the organization that brings at-risk youth to work in Whistler.
"I believe in it so strongly."
He wasn't the only one. Local developer Jon Dietrich was at the anniversary event as well. He was also inspired to quietly give $10,000, seeing firsthand the benefits of the program.
"(Zero Ceiling) teaches (these youth) life skills that they can apply when they leave the program," said Dietrich.
For Dietrich and Szocs, charitable giving doesn't end with Zero Ceiling.
It's easy to say that people with a lot of money are able to donate, admitted Szocs.
"I wonder," he mused, "if you had a million dollars, would you give?"
It goes back to one of the basic lessons in elementary school, he said: it's better to give than to receive.
But that lesson is being taken to heart less these days, with charitable donations decreasing of late, both nationally and locally.
According to recent statistics, in 2011, 23 per cent of tax filers across Canada made charitable donations; three years later the number slipped to 21.4 per cent.
In Whistler, the numbers are bleaker, with just 16.6 per cent making charitable donations in 2011, slipping to 13.6 per cent in 2014.
And yet there are many, like Szocs and organizations like Zero Ceiling, making a difference and making Whistler a better place. Just take the "local" Americans.
American Friends of Whistler
This past year was a record-breaking one for the American Friends of Whistler (AFOW).
For 15 years, this U.S. registered non-profit organization has been donating money in Whistler, with the running total now surpassing the $2-million mark.
This year, AFOW donated $130,000 in Whistler.
"Our purpose is to give back to the community and it's been a very generous year," said Mary Forseth, AFOW's executive director.
When asked what accounts for the record-breaking donations, she suggested that perhaps word has gotten out about the good work done by the second homeowners who are passionate about their home away from home.
"Americans love this community and they want to give back to it," she said.
As an American charity, the contributions are tax deductible in the U.S., and the vast majority of the donations — 97.5 per cent — go into the community.
Among the 2017 donations was a $20,000 cheque to the Audain Art Museum for the permanent endowment of the museum's foundation; a $20,000 cheque to the Whistler Writing Society supporting the annual Whistler Writers Festival; and $20,000 to Whistler Community Services Society for its food bank and outreach programs.
AFOW also gave money to help relocate the Cenotaph, and helped fund the stone fence around the dog run at Whistler Animals Galore.
The AFOW will be holding its annual meeting during Presidents' Week. An Evening with the American Friends of Whistler will take place on Feb. 19 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Audain Art Museum.
To learn more about the organization, go to www.afow.org
Moving Mountains For Children
The end of 2017 marks a bittersweet moment for the chair of the board of Moving Mountains For Children board, Toni Metcalf.
The almost decade-old organization is no longer active as a charitable organization. It was focused on enhancing the wellbeing of children up to six-years-old, with a focus on arts and music as well as offering spaces for community gathering.
"It was about offering more breadth of development for kids," said Metcalf of why Moving Mountains first began with parent volunteers.
About a year ago the volunteer board tried to engage younger parents to take their place and carry on the work of Moving Mountains.
"There just wasn't the volunteer capacity," said Metcalf.
It's sad to say good-bye after years of being at the helm of community events and programming such as the annual Easter Egg Hunt, the Teddy Bear Picnic and the Music Together program, admitted Metcalf.
Yet, Moving Mountains isn't going quietly into the night.
Rather, it leaves behind a sizable legacy — more than $30,000, primarily raised over the last four years, that will now go into a new endowment fund with the Community Foundation of Whistler. Its focus is to continue to support the development of youth and their families.
"It's a good feeling to know it will live on and keep giving back," said Metcalf. "It is very rewarding to leave it this way."
To top it off, other community organizations have stepped up to take on the Moving Mountains events so the programming will be absorbed by other volunteer groups.
Community Foundation of Whistler
Heading into 2018, the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW) now has more than $6 million in assets in endowment funds.
In 2017, the CFOW granted $220,000.
The coming year brings a new focus in the wake of its "Growth, Change and Belonging" Vital Signs report.
"That's the lens that we're looking through with our grant programming going into 2018," said executive director Carol Coffey.
Whistler is at an interesting stage of its development with a growing and a diversifying population and an increasingly busier resort. What does that mean for the fabric of the resort community?
"We hope to get some projects and programs that address that (in the coming year)," said Coffey.
(For more on the CFOW granting program, go to page 36.)
In the meantime, time is fast running out to make a charitable donation in 2017 whether through the CFOW or other charitable organizations.
The deadline is Dec. 31 for the 2017 tax year.