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Woodbine Cares: The impact of investing in community programs

May 25, 2022

Woodbine Cares Community Investment Program continues to make a world of difference.

Constantly striving to be recognized as a caring and innovative corporate community builder, Woodbine Cares is guided by its mission to build relationships and initiatives that contribute to healthy places to play, work, live, learn and grow.

Guided by three themes – Vibrant and Connected Communities, For the Love of Horses and the Environment & Sustainability – Woodbine fulfills that mission through various initiatives including legacy donations to major community institutions; microgrants through our Community Investment Program; supporting employee engagement opportunities that focus on volunteering and giving; and programs and activities that lead to a greener future.

The Children’s Book Bank (CBB) and The Community Association for the Riding Disabled (CARD) are two examples of how Woodbine, through its Woodbine Cares Community Investment Program, supports various programs and organizations across Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area, and other communities throughout southwestern Ontario.

Established in 2008, CBB is a not-for-profit charity located in downtown Toronto in the St. Jamestown, Regent Park neighbourhoods.

For nearly 15 years, the CBB has been distributing new and gently-used books to children from baby to 18 years of age, across the Greater Toronto Area, with a focus on high-needs neighbourhoods. Families can visit the storefront location as often as they wish, and every child (and accompanying caregiver) can take and keep one book every day. Staffed by volunteers, CBB assists customers in selecting appropriate books, which are given away free of charge.

Since opening its doors, CBB has given away over 1.5 million books.

“The smiles are pretty exciting when people come in for the first time and they ask, ‘So when do I need to bring the books back? Do I have to register?’ but all they need to do is come in, pick out a book and take it home,” said Loribeth Gregg, Director, Programming and Development, CBB. “We also have a field trip program at our storefront, where the kids sit down for story time and then they get to run around and pick out a book to take home at the end of the day. You’ll often hear, ‘This is for free? I never have to bring it back?’ You have the same conversations, but they never get old. It’s very touching to see those smiles.”

The scope and reach of CBB continues to grow and reach more families as a direct result of the generosity of individuals, corporations and foundations who have donated funds, books and their time, a group that includes Woodbine.

“We started out in 2008 in Regent Park, and we just recently moved to another part of Regent Park,” Gregg noted. “There are a lot of communities that we consider to be high-needs and need free books because families might not be able to afford them. We became increasingly aware of all the families who need us can’t possibly come to our location, so we started a program called Books Across the City, which Woodbine helps support.

“The program provides books to other high-needs neighbourhoods that are a significant distance away from our Regent Park location. That’s where Woodbine comes in. Woodbine funds the part of the program that extends into Rexdale, which is their community. Two other crucial focuses are the east Scarborough area and North York. It was very important to increase the number of books going to those spots. We’ve been able to do that over the past couple of years and Woodbine has been a big supporter of that specific part of the program. With other support as well, we were able to hire someone as an Outreach Coordinator. It started as a part-time position, but now it is a full-time role. We need to keep up with the demand, so it’s been good to have that person aboard. We’re very grateful for that. Woodbine is a big part of the Books Across the City program.”

CARD was founded in 1969 by Dr. Reginald Renaud and Mr. Joseph Bauer, who were buoyed by the idea of therapeutic horse riding and inspired by its benefits. In 1979, CARD moved to its permanent in G. Ross Lord Park, just north of Finch on Dufferin Street. Opening ceremonies were attended by Princess Anne.

The organization assists each rider find his or her ability by designing a program tailored to each rider’s therapeutic goals. The use of equestrian activities and games promotes strength, self-esteem, coping skills, socialization and independence. Riders practice skills that transfer into everyday life such as number and letter recognition, cause and effect, hand/eye coordination, motor sequencing, multi-step planning, left and right discernment and spatial orientation.

“What I see is the riders coming here for the therapy, but I really think the attachment to the horse is a huge component,” said Janet Cann, Fundraising Manager with CARD. “One thing we always say about the riders is that they display courage, tenacity, and resilience on a daily basis, but it’s lovely for them, remarkable, really, to see them at a mounting station, and watch someone from a chair get onto a horse. That must be freeing and incredibly cathartic for them.”

Over the past three years, CARD has created a wealth of new and innovative programs. Collaborations with 7th Generation Image Makers and The Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto have yielded an unmounted program that teaches horse grooming. CARD’s newest program was created in partnership with Chai Lifeline, providing specialized therapeutic riding programs for children whose lives and/or families have been affected by life-threatening or chronic illnesses.

“There are two sides to what we do,” she continued. “We do therapeutic riding, and we also do equine therapy, which is more of working with the horses, tacking them, taking care of them, grooming them – just that connection with the horses.”

Cann is grateful for Woodbine’s contributions to CARD.

“Woodbine, whose support goes back a very long time, has been remarkable. It’s quite a wonderful connection. There is a huge respect for the horses, and Woodbine has done so much for so many programs, including CARD-a-thon (a fundraising race). They are very supportive of everything we’ve done, including their dedication to the horses.”

Creating strong bonds with the community and its people remains a cornerstone of Woodbine Cares’ focus.

“Though the Woodbine Cares Community Investment Program provides small dollars, up to $5K, these micro-grants are targeted to specific initiatives that are really making a difference and an impact in our communities,” said Zenia Wadhwani, Woodbine’s Director of Corporate Citizenship and Executive Director, Woodbine Cares Foundation. “And I love that our employees volunteer to help make those decisions.”

Over the last decade, Woodbine Entertainment has given over $10 million in financial and in-kind contributions and since 1997, Woodbine has earned the designation and distinction of being an Imagine Canada Caring Company, where a minimum of 1% of its pre-tax profits are invested in communities.

The following is a list of this year’s Woodbine Cares Community Investment Program recipients:

Albion Neighbourhood Services
Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Guelph
Community Association for Riders with Disabilities
Comfort Bears
Diabetes Canada
Distress Centres of Greater Toronto
Food4Kids Halton
Halton Multicultural Council
Haven Toronto
Pathways to Education
SEVA Foodbank
Sunrise Therapeutic Riding & Learning Centre
The Children’s Book Bank & Literacy Foundation
Toronto Public Library Foundation
Trust 15
Youth Without Shelter

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications

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