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Fortis V-P's first meeting with YACC's Geoff Eaton set stage for philanthropic endeavour

Karl Smith’s commitment to Young Adult Cancer Canada and its founder, Geoff Eaton, was forged by a feeling Smith had after a meeting in his office in Calgary more than eight years ago.
Karl Smith’s commitment to Young Adult Cancer Canada and its founder, Geoff Eaton, was forged by a feeling Smith had after a meeting in his office in Calgary more than eight years ago. - Sam McNeish

Karl Smith, the executive vice-president and chief financial officer at Fortis, has met a vast amount of people in his business and personal life.

Then he met Geoff Eaton.

The founder of, and executive director of Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), compelled Smith to the point where he knew he had to help Eaton make a difference.

“There was just something that resonated about his story that made me want to get involved … a feeling,” Smith said.

“I initially got interested in this project because of the person and his story of what was handed to him.”

Eaton, a two-time cancer survivor, had first-hand experience attending support groups with people who are closer in age to his grandparents than to him.
It was this gap that led him to form YACC, to lay out a strategic direction for the organization to ensure YACC’s vision remains focused on the well-being of young adults dealing with cancer in Canada.

Smith said he was living in Alberta at the time he met Eaton, who was looking to expand YACC beyond Newfoundland and Labrador. The pair were put in touch with each other through a shared connection on Eaton’s board of directors.

He said it was an emotional thing for him more than anything analytical, as he was moved by the fact Eaton was a two-time cancer survivor.

Smith said Eaton won him over with his zest for what he was doing, a smart outgoing guy who was committed to the cause.
He was drawn to the fact that in Eaton’s younger days he had been an athlete with a typical story of wanting to go places, do things and truly had everything going for him.
“His story resounded with me and I thought it was a great cause that warranted help if I could give him help. I saw that I could have more of an impact helping him,” he said, which prompted him to get involved in fundraising and promotion of YACC in any way he could.

“That is courageous, and I knew that if I could help him, I would. I got caught up in his cause.”

Sets a record
Smith’s support came on many levels, including a major financial contribution, opening doors to his business and community contacts, and encouraging and supporting others in their own commitment and efforts. Since 2011, he has continued to give, often leveraging his own gift to encourage bigger gifts from others.

He raised over $116,000 for the 2017 Shave for the Brave at the first annual Brave Brunch held at Yellow Belly Brewery in St. John’s, the highest amount ever raised by a single Shaver, and about $95,000 more than the previous record-holder.
That $116,000 was enough to help 77 young adults access one of YACC’s four-day national programs where they were able to connect with a supportive peer community, and gain tools to live and love life after cancer.

“In 2017, Karl’s leadership and commitment to YACC hit another level when he committed to participate in the Shave for the Brave. His personal fundraising efforts generated $116,000 for YACC’s programs,’’ Eaton said.

“Young adults from all over Newfoundland and Labrador, and indeed across the country, have access to life-changing support thanks to Karl’s bald head and his dedication to helping them through the toughest challenge of their life,’’ he added.

Young Adult Cancer Canada’s mission is to support young adults (ages 15-39) as they move with, through and beyond cancer and to be the connection to peers, a bridge out of isolation, and a source of inspiration. Whatever the cancer, at whatever stage, their motto is YACC’s got your back.

“Karl was instantly open to learning about the challenges facing young adults dealing with cancer and YACC’s mission to help them live with, through and beyond cancer,’’ Eaton said.
“For years he’s been making major gifts to give these young adults access to support programs, no matter their type of cancer or stage of disease. YACC’s got their back only because people like Karl have ours,’’ he added.

The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Newfoundland and Labrador chapter recognizes and celebrates fundraising professionals and volunteers — like National Philanthropy Day award nominee Smith, supporting Young Adult Cancer Canada — who do excellent work for its communities and causes. The AFP is able to elevate the fundraising industry as a whole within the province and beyond.

All this work, especially in 2017 with Shave for the Brave, saw Smith nominated for a National Philanthropy Day award.

“This program (YACC) wouldn’t exist without Geoff. Shave for the Brave caught on in Newfoundland, and to date we have about 15,000 shavers who take part annually,’’ he said.

“It is a grassroots movement, that is what I love about it … and it is all done on a shoestring budget, with a small staff that all do it because it’s a passion for each of them.”

YACC sets target
Smith said his wife is partly responsible for his interest in helping with medical programs such as YACC as she is a pediatric physiotherapist. She has worked in oncology at the Janeway since they returned from their stint in Calgary in the early 2000s.
During her time there she ran a rehabilitation program that opened Smith’s eyes to the gaps which needed to be filled.

“The focus of those programs was on kids. The young adults were getting missed … a gap nobody was addressing. This was something I had never thought about.”

He said the young adults who were facing cancer weren’t able to avail of the millions of dollars that were being raised for children and older adults and seniors.
In addition, he said this group of individuals had no one to commiserate with and share their stories and gain support to help them through difficult times.

Smith said the first thing he would do to help the program grow would be simple … “cloning Geoff would be a good start.”

He said making things work for YACC starts with money and making it financially stable would be huge.

In addition, he said if YACC could get regular donors, getting to that stage would be great and expanding the organization’s reach would be huge.

“My wish is that everyone in the country would be aware of YACC, and getting it more exposure. People need to be aware this is here and I hope we can make that happen.”

Smith has, and continues to serve on the boards of numerous corporations and several charities, including Junior Achievement of NL and the cabinet of the Rainbow Riders Raise It Up campaign.

In addition, his volunteering has touched the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation, the United Way, Canadian Blood Services and Calgary’s MUN Affinity Dinner, which he founded and which now funds one of the largest endowed scholarships at MUN.

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