Category Archives: Charity

Habitat for Humanity


Every year, SAP has an event called the Month of Service, where every employee is given time off from work to volunteer in one of a number of venues. Some are right in the building and only take a couple of hours, others are outside the building. The participation in this event is impressive – numbers from the Canadian SAP offices varied between 42% (c’mon Calgary!) to 72% in Waterloo to a confusing 129% in Ottawa. Overall, over 60% of Canadian SAP employees participated in some volunteer event and in addition, SAP donated money to some of the charities involved. This is a great event and kudos to SAP for doing this.

Oddly, I don’t remember hearing about this event last year, though I am now aware that many employees did take part. I wanted to do my part and bump up those Waterloo numbers, so I chose Habitat for Humanity. They are doing a build in Kitchener, and an employee who volunteered with them last year was organizing it again this year. I love building stuff but I’m not very knowledgeable about such things, so a place like this is perfect for me: they’ll tell me exactly what to do, they have the tools and equipment available to do it, and they have truly knowledgeable people around to help and advise.

The block we were working onWhen we first bought our house, we had lots of repairs to be done and I always enjoyed doing them. I can do simple electrical stuff and I don’t totally suck at working with wood, though I’m not going to be building a dining room suite anytime soon. I’ve installed phone lines and electrical outlets and replaced light fixtures and such, and I enjoyed helping my father-in-law and brother-in-law build our “cold room” (pantry) and workshop in the basement as well as replacing our deck. One thing I don’t enjoy is plumbing. For some reason I can just never get the hang of plumbing, though I have installed new showerheads a couple of times. That’s brain-dead easy but Gail’s done some more difficult stuff like replacing the kitchen faucets and our bathroom sink and she’s pretty good at it.

But I digress. We arrived on site around 8am where there were some snacks and coffee/tea available. There were about 15 of us from SAP plus a bunch of contractors. At 8:30 they had a safety presentation and after that we all geared up in our borrowed CSA-approved boots and hardhats and headed out to the work site. The area they’re working on is huge (see the picture below, taken from the top of the scaffolding on the new block). The site manager was telling us that if they were to buy just enough land for one house in this area, it would cost near $200,000 – and that’s without a house. Much cheaper to buy a large lot and put up townhouses, which is what they’re doing in Kitchener. There was one block of six houses that were mostly finished, and they’d started another block of four in the back corner, which was where we were working.

We started by bringing a pickup-truck worth of 4’x8′ sheets of plywood down to the site, and then passed them all up to the second floor. Those were later installed on the roof by some of my colleagues. We then installed a couple of 2x4s horizontally through the trusses, which I believe were to be used for running wire between rooms. The trusses needed spacers installed, so that was our next task. While getting ready for that, another contractor came by and asked if we had extra people since he could use a hand. I volunteered and so he and I headed to the other end of the building, where the all of the siding had been done except for the very top pieces. My first task was to install five pieces of J-channel, so I needed to measure the pieces, cut them to length, and nail them in place. Once that was done, I cut the last pieces of siding for each of the five sections – this took a lot longer than I expected and I burned through a couple of utility knife blades doing it. Finally that was done and I was able to install them and screw them into place.

The work siteThat’s it. That’s all I got done all day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? It was a lot of work though and my shoulders and legs were feeling it over the next couple of days.

There was a 10-15 minute break at 10:45 or so, where they supplied some ham sandwich fixin’s as well as some crackers, cheese, and fruit. Lunch was at 12:30 and was catered by people from a local church. They had brought a bunch of baked potatoes and all kinds of toppings: grated cheese, bacon, onions, diced tomatoes, chili, sour cream, and a bunch more. For dessert there was more fruit as well as brownies, lemon bread, date bread, and banana bread. The food was excellent.

I have lots of kudos to go around. First to my SAP colleagues and particularly Dave Brandow for organizing it. Secondly to the church people for supplying lunch – it was fantastic. Thirdly to Andrew and Darrell and Marcus and the other construction pros who were all helpful and very patient with a bunch of non-pros. Fourth, to the person who gave us the introduction and safety training – I believe her name was Janine but I feel terrible that I don’t remember for sure. She reminded me of Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds – particularly her voice. And finally to all of the Habitat for Humanity people everywhere, those who donate, and those who volunteer. You are doing a great thing and I am looking forward to volunteering again next year.

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Slacktivism


A week or two ago, a meme went around facebook where people would change their picture to that of a cartoon character and set their status to something urging others to do the same. This was supposed to be some sort of campaign against child abuse. But not once in any of the statuses that I saw was there any explanation of exactly how changing your facebook picture would have the slightest impact on this problem. Is some scumbag out there going to see all these pictures of cartoon characters on facebook and decide not to beat their child that evening because of it? Call me pessimistic, but I don’t think so. Some may say that it was to “raise awareness”. Who doesn’t already know about child abuse? Other than the abusers themselves, who doesn’t already think it’s a terrible thing? Whose awareness are you trying to raise?

I’m not trying to be negative here and say that this is a problem that we can’t solve so let’s just do nothing. I’m not saying that people who do this are idiots. And there’s certainly no harm in changing your facebook picture. But anyone who believes that this type of “campaign” will have any effect on anything is delusional. This is just another form of slacktivism, where people think they can cause real change in the world without actually doing any work.

This has come up on both facebook and twitter many times over the last few years: Copy this line to your facebook status if you know anyone who’s died from cancer. Black out your twitter picture to protest a proposed copyright law in New Zealand. Join this group to protest . Sign this internet petition to protest high taxes. Could the government look at an internet petition with several thousand “signatures” on it and rethink their budget because of it? Not bloody likely, but I guess it’s theoretically possible. But how is changing your facebook status to “I know someone who died of cancer” going to change anything? And quite frankly, who doesn’t know someone who’s died of cancer?

magneticribbon

Every couple of years there’s the “gas-out” where everyone is supposed to not buy gas on a particular day (sometimes from a particular gas company) to protest high gas prices. This is not quite the same thing, in that people are doing something real, but nobody considers the fact that if Wednesday is the gas-out day and you were going to buy gas that day, then you’d have to buy it on Tuesday or Thursday instead. Even if they sold no gas on the gas-out day, the total demand over the course of the week would be the same as usual, and so there might be some momentary blip in gas prices but nothing long-term. This is proven by the past few gas-outs, where gas prices drop by a few cents on the day of, only to rise back to normal a day or two later.

Another form of slacktivism is the “ribbon” magnets people put on their cars. Many of them are for some medical condition or another (again, “let’s raise awareness for cancer” – who doesn’t know about cancer?), but some simply say “support the troops”. These ones confuse me too. Originally I assumed they meant that the person was in favour of the fighting in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc., i.e. they support the war and agree with those who decided to send the soldiers overseas. But later I heard that even if you don’t support the reason the American and Canadian troops are fighting, you should display these magnets to say you support the soldiers themselves. This makes no sense. Saying that you support the war is a political statement that many agree with and many do not, and some may feel strongly enough about their position that they want to broadcast it to the world. But agree or disagree with the war itself, who doesn’t support the soldiers? What’s the alternative – hope they die? Why do you need to put something on your car that says “I hope the soldiers overseas are not killed!”

Now as I talk about ribbon magnets, I should say for the record that I do have a magnet on my car. It’s shaped like a banner and it says “Transplants save lives”. I’ve written before about a little girl we know who had four organs transplanted in 1997 at the age of six months. This surgery saved her life, and she will be 14 years old in a couple of months. This magnet could be considered slacktivism as well, but I argue that it’s not. In order to do something real to help cure cancer, you’d have to be a doctor or scientist or both. You can certainly give money to the Cancer Society (or the CNIB or the Diabetes Association or whatever); I do it myself and I will never argue that it’s a bad thing. But all you need to do to support organ donation is sign your organ donor card, which takes almost no effort and costs nothing. I’ve done it, my wife has done it, many of my friends have done it, and if something terrible should happen to one of us and the organs are needed, just signing the card has saved someone’s life. Not to take anything away from donating money, but donating organs can have a much more direct impact. If the magnet on my car reminds someone to sign their organ donor card, it will have served its purpose.

If you want to effect real change, get off your ass and get out there and do something real, or at least donate money to someone else who’s doing something real. There are lots of charity walks, runs, and bike races, not to mention car washes, barbecues, and even 50-50 draws and raffles. Hell, I grew a moustache in Movember, which took almost no effort on my part, but it raised a coupla hundred bucks for prostate cancer research. That’s about as close as you can get to doing something good with no work and no cost. Though come to think of it, I did change my facebook picture as part of it.

PMH 5K Run 2009


Last year, I participated in my first 5k run, and almost killed myself doing it. This year, I decided not to let that happen again, so I’ve been training since July. As a result, not only did I feel fine the day of and the day after the race, but I beat my time from last year by almost five minutes. I finished 5km in 27 minutes 18.5 seconds, a pace of 5’50″/km. I was the 458th person (out of 2552) to cross the finish line, though that’s misleading because some people that finished ahead of me may have had a slower overall time. Unfortunately, that’s the way they order the finishers, so in terms of absolute time, I don’t know where I placed. I was 284th out of 930 men. They originally listed me as “Male under 24”, so my ranking there is meaningless as well, but doing the math myself, 25 out of 87 men in the 40-45 group finished with faster times than mine (one beat me by over ten minutes). These numbers assume that most people are listed in the right groups, though Nicky and both of my parents were also in the wrong groups, so who knows.Me and the boys with our medals (staring into the sun) I’ve emailed the people who do the stats, and they have already replied saying they can fix them, so I’ll check again before I post this and see if it’s been updated. Update from next morning: They’ve moved me over to the right group, but some other things must have changed too, because now I’m ranked 30th out of 88 men 40-45. Whatever.

It turns out that I wasn’t training quite as thoroughly for this race as I thought I was. I used my Nike+ iPod and it decided that the route was 5.49 km. Since I finished in 27’18”, that gave me a pace of 4’58”. I’m assuming the route was actually 5 km even, so I guess my iPod measures a bit long. It looks like those runs I did that were reported as 5.2 km weren’t even five and the 4.4’s were probably about four. The iPod reported after the race (with a message from Lance Armstrong!) that this was my longest workout to date, which means that none of the runs I did in practice was as long as the real race. Apparently the iPod gives you the ability to recalibrate it, so right after the race I should have selected “Calibrate” and then told it that I had just run 5.0 km, but it’s too late now. Sometime in the near future, I’ll have to drive around the block and measure exactly how long it is, and then run it and do the recalibration. Regardless, it was close enough that it didn’t really matter. I wasn’t in pain at the end of the race – I even had enough left in the tank to increase my pace (not quite sprint, but I definitely ran faster) over the last 50 metres or so.

This year Ryan and Nicky joined in the fun as well (Gail was away at a scrapbooking weekend). They walked the course with my parents and finished in about an hour. They seemed pretty excited about being part of the team, and having special t-shirts, and the sensor on their shoe, and especially getting a medal at the end (Nicky said that the 5K on the medal means that it was 5 karat gold).

To all of those who sponsored me, a huge Thank You! I raised over $300 myself, and our team raised over $3000 for gynecological cancer research at PMH.

Help make cancer history


In October of last year, I participated in the 5K Your Way run, part of the Toronto Marathon, to raise money for cancer research at Princess Margaret hospital. Princess Margaret was where my sister Trudy went for her cancer surgery last year, and thanks to their early diagnosis and subsequent surgery, she is now cancer-free. Obviously this is a very important cause for me, so once again I’m looking for donations for this year’s event. Last year, our team raised over $6000, of which I personally raised $480. My goal for this year is to surpass both the amount we raised and to beat my running time from last year. I have been training most of the summer, so I should be able to run the 5k race and climb up and down a set of stairs on the same day.

Any donation you can make is very much appreciated. Click here to visit my personal page where you can sponsor me. Don’t forget to click “Go To Team Page” above the lovely picture of me and Trudy and check out the list of team members and a picture of all of us from last year’s run – you can even sponsor my kids or Trudy directly if you’d prefer.

To those who do sponsor me and those have done so already, thank you very much for helping Princess Margaret hospital in their quest to eliminate cancer in our lifetime.

RFD: Request for Donations


Earlier this year, my sister Trudy was diagnosed (at age 36) with both ovarian and uterine cancer. Luckily, she was diagnosed early and is now cancer-free, thanks to the gynecological cancer team at Princess Margaret hospital in Toronto. But not everyone is so lucky. With these types of cancers, there are frequently no symptoms until the later stages, which means that early detection is critical.

On October 19, we are participating in “5K Your Way”, a 5 km run/walk as part of the Toronto Marathon. Trudy has enjoyed running for years, and when she heard about this event, she made it her goal to be healthy enough to participate and help raise money for Princess Margaret hospital. She has achieved that goal and will be running, and I will be running with her (well, I’ll be participating with her, though I may not be running the whole way with her!). All of the money that we raise will go to gynecological cancer research at Princess Margaret hospital.

Please help make a difference and help us raise money for life-saving cancer research. You can donate online here, and as a bonus, you get to see a very cute picture of me and Trudy when we were kids.

Thanks for your support!

Stanley Cup Champion Ducks


…boy does that sounds weird. So I ended up 11 for 15 in my NHL playoff picks. As I said before, I wouldn’t call Ottawa’s defeat “choking” – in previous years, they’ve had great regular seasons and then lost to inferior teams in the playoffs, while this year, they beat the inferior teams (and you could even argue that Buffalo wasn’t) and then simply lost to a better team. Can’t fault them too much for that, though the fact that Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley are now appearing on milk cartons all over the National Capital Region certainly didn’t help them.

We did the Walk for Miracles this morning. It was indeed 5km, same as the Run for the Cure, but was a little more leisurely, and seemed less hectic. However, the main reason for that was the fact that there were way less people there. I don’t remember the actual numbers, but I think the Run for the Cure has something like thirty thousand people walking through the closed streets of downtown Burlington. Today, there were a maybe a couple of thousand walking along sidewalks through downtown London. No streets were closed; actually, I don’t think the path they chose even crossed any streets. Anyway, both boys walked the whole way (no wagon!), so I was pretty impressed with that. We had lots of fun, and will probably do it again next year.

Edited to add: Here are a couple of pictures from last year’s Walk for Miracles. There are three pictures from London — the little girl cutting the ribbon is Sarah, and her mom Cindy is helping.

Wal-Mart Walk for Miracles


This coming weekend, the four of us are walking in the Wal-Mart Walk for Miracles in London, Ontario. The walk will raise money for the Children’s Hospital in London. As some of you may know, our friend Sarah had multi-organ transplant surgery there in August of 1997 at the age of six months, and is now a happy and healthy ten-year-old. We are walking with Sarah, her mother, and a bunch of other friends and family. We would like to help the Children’s Hospital continue the wonderful work that they do.

If you would like to sponsor us, please go to the team page. Any donations are very much appreciated. To be honest, I have no idea how long of a walk it is – 2km, 5km, 10km, … but however long it is, that’s how long we’re walking. The next step is to convince the kids to walk, and not ride in the wagon like the Run for the Cure last year.