April 15, 2015

2015 Matching Gift Challenge

Video produced by Shannon Hewlko

Tanya Koshowski, executive director of BB4CK, says the Prosser Charitable Foundation catalyzed the Matching Gift Challenge years ago, and has been helping BB4CK meet its goal of ensuring there are no hungry kids in Calgary. “The Matching Gift Challenge doubles your donation, which is amazing — but it’s about far more than numbers. It’s about giving children in Calgary the opportunity to learn, grow and play with confidence and energy. That’s the impact a lunch can have.”

The Matching Gift Challenge runs from May 1 to June 15, 2015. Make your donation at the BB4CK Canada Helps page.

February 2, 2015

Agents of Change is redefining the real estate equation

Tracey Wood, co-founder of Agents of Change

Tracey Wood has two goals, both lofty. One is to ensure people buying or selling houses have positive experiences in the real estate market. The other is to create a sustainable, resilient revenue stream for charities. Fortunately, she’s found a way to make the two goals work together.

Wood is the co-founder of Agents of Change, a company that provides custom real estate agent referrals. What makes Agents of Change unique is not that it collects a percentage of the referred agent’s commission—this is standard in the real estate industry—but that it donates a substantial portion of that percentage to charity.

The idea arose when Wood relocated to Calgary with her family and, after years as a CEO in the technology sector, decided to pursue a real estate career. “It was born out of necessity, like all good ideas. I thought it would be a way of networking in a new city, and I’ve always done charitable work.”

How Agents of Change works

In a nutshell, a client approaches Agents of Change for a realtor recommendation (they may require a second language or a particular specialty). Agents of Change combs through a roster of qualified agents until it finds a match. Once the real estate transaction closes, Agents of Change collects 30% of the referred agent’s commission, taking 10% to sustain its operations. The remaining 20%—normally amounting to about $2,000—goes directly to a charity of the client’s choice.

If clients aren’t sure which nonprofit or charity to support, Agents of Change can provide custom suggestions here, too, based on the client’s values and priorities. Ultimately, the choice is with the client. Wood says clients think very carefully about where they want these dollars to go. “We’re creating what I call accidental philanthropists. Some people come to us just for the agent referral, but it sparks introspection. It introduces people to the world of philanthropy in a really substantial way. They have to think about how to direct their funds, and they want it to be meaningful.”

Building a network

For charities, it costs nothing to join Agents of Change as a charitable partner. The charities receive marketing tools (including a unique microsite where clients can learn about what they do) and guidance. For Agents of Change, working with charities allows them to leverage existing networks and spread the word farther. And clients often introduce Agents of Change to charities. “The best part of my job is to call a charity who may never have heard of us and tell them I have a cheque for them.”

What’s next

Wood spent 2014 proving the Agents of Change concept, and raised almost $80,000. She sees a bright future for the organization, estimating that in five years it can realistically put $20 million into the charitable sector, which would make it the third largest funder of nonprofits in the City of Calgary. While the organization currently focuses on Calgary, in 10 years, she’d like to see Agents of Change represented in 50 cities.

What’s the secret to Wood’s success? “Surround yourself with amazing people. That’s always been my philosophy.”

BB4CK is an Agents of Change charitable partner.

January 28, 2015

Meet BB4CK Kitchen Coordinator Stephanie Gauthier


Each weekday morning, Stephanie Gauthier arrives at the BB4CK downtown kitchen at 5:30 a.m., so that she can get an hour of prep done before the volunteers arrive. By noon, hundreds children in schools across the city are eating the lunches Gauthier and her crew have made.

The kitchen is small, with banks of humming fridges, stainless steel tables and a prep area of donated industrial coolers with woodblock tops. It is spotlessly clean and meticulously organized, and a large map covers one wall, with coloured stickers showing the locations of all the schools the kitchen serves. Gauthier’s tiny office is also a dry goods pantry.

She has been helming the kitchen for almost six months, after moving to Calgary from Edmonton with a BSc. in nutrition and a wish to work with children and food. “I was just Googling lunch programs in Calgary and found the Brown Bagging website. I read the testimonials and it just amazed me and drew me in.”

Gauthier contacted the organization to offer her services, either as an employee or a volunteer. Shortly afterward, long-time BB4CK Kitchen Coordinator Mimi Ip decided to move on, and the organization offered the role to Gauthier.


Gauthier works with a team of regular and guest volunteers. The “core” volunteers (who come to the kitchen weekly) arrive at 6:30 a.m. to help prepare egg and tuna salad and to cut meat and cheese. By 8 a.m., a corporate volunteer group arrives, and Gauthier hands out aprons and nametags and runs over kitchen guidelines and hygiene rules.

Then, everyone makes lunches. Volunteer drivers start shipping lunches by 9:30 a.m., and then the volunteers work together to prep for the next day. “We might peel eggs, pack veggie and fruit bags and bags of pretzels. Today we made cookie dough that we’ll bake tomorrow.”

Today Gauthier’s crew made 900 lunches; tomorrow they’ll need to make 500. Gauthier must anticipate quantities, prep appropriately and ensure supplies–which come from the Calgary Food Bank, Canadian Wholesale, Chongo’s, The Italian Bakery and Bles Wold–are adequate.

Despite the logistical challenges of running the kitchen and overseeing volunteers, Gauthier makes time to bake whenever she can. “Last week I made cheese biscuits, and sometimes I make Rice Krispie squares, banana bread or energy balls. The last school week of December we made and decorated 2,300 Christmas cookies. I’d like to do something festive for each season.”

Gauthier says one of the most pleasant moments of the day comes at 10 a.m., when everyone stops for a coffee and snack break. It’s a time for the group to share stories and inspiration, nourishing not only their bodies, but their motivation to continue making a difference in Calgary. Gauthier says every day, connections form between people who may never have crossed paths otherwise. “It’s so neat to see the different groups mingle. It doesn’t matter where they work or what their background is—in the kitchen, everyone has a good time.”

January 28, 2015

Home sweet home: The CommunityWise Resource Centre


Most Calgarians would recognize the CommunityWise Resource Centre immediately. It’s the brick and sandstone building tucked next to the Beltline Aquatic & Fitness Centre on 12 Ave. S.W. There are bike racks and trees out front, and a low wall with a colourful mural.

What you may not know is that this cheerful, Georgian Revival building—affectionately called the “Old Y” for its origins as a YWCA—has been a sanctuary for Calgary nonprofits and charities since the 1970s.

Son Edworthy is the Co-Director of CommunityWise along with a small staff that reports to a tenant board of directors, and maintains the building, spearheads fundraising efforts and manages the building’s 100 member organizations, of which 35 are tenants.

Edworthy, who has a degree in urban planning and has been involved with other community-building spaces in Canada, says CommunityWise is extraordinary. “It’s not typical. It’s really special because of the building’s relationship with the city, its heritage, the sense of stewardship and the amazing longevity of the organization, not to mention the diversity of the participants.”

Inside CommunityWise

Unlike most other community spaces, which are typically concentrations of similarly focused organizations, CommunityWise is home to a range of groups with a range of goals, from youth and new immigrant services to social justice, environmental sustainability, arts and culture and LGBTQ advocacy.

The three-storey building, constructed in 1911 as a hostel for women, has an elegant central staircase ringed by several small rooms with high ceilings and sash windows. Some have charming whitewashed fireplaces. There’s a large meeting space on the main floor and, at the back of the building, a tiny coffee shop called KaffeeKlatsch. Meeting rooms, activity areas and indoor and outdoor common spaces are available to members to borrow, as are resources like sound equipment, festival tents, office supplies, a barbecue and a popcorn maker.

Postcard of the old YWCA

Postcard of the old YWCA

A history of collaboration

Nonprofit and grassroots organizations have occupied the building since the YWCA closed in the 1970s. The building was slated for destruction in the 1980s, but its tenants organized; they banded together as a nonprofit organization, and not only saved the building but had it declared a registered historic resource. In 2012, the “Old Y” became CommunityWise. “The “Old Y” has a place in people’s hearts, but it was confusing for people visiting for the first time.” The identity changed helped clarify the building’s identity and sharpen its vision.


Edworthy says the building differs from conventional offices because it was deliberately built with a social purpose. A key aspect of the CommunityWise philosophy is the concept of co-location—having diverse groups exist in the same space. The structure of the space encourages chance encounters, and CommunityWise facilitates intentional encounters too, through social events like the Winter Party and AGM. Edworthy says these encounters can catalyse new approaches and new connections. “Conversations happen all the time and you don’t know where they’re going to go. Skills get traded. People usually come here for one reason, but they bring the other parts of themselves too.”

When BB4CK moved in

Christy Switzer was the chair of the board almost a decade ago, when the move took place. At that time, the BB4CK office was on Stephen Avenue in a building slated for demolition. “It was the second office we lost that way. But we had to be downtown because the kitchen was there and established. We were anticipating another really stressful move, when Bob McInnis [Executive Director of BB4CK at the time] discovered CommunityWise. It was too good to be true. We said, ‘Is there no heat? Is there no water?’ It was so affordable and so beautiful. It felt like a gift—like a luxury.”

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