As we left 2020 behind, you would be hard-pressed to find a media outlet or social platform that wasn't highlighting the top feel-good stories of the year. If ever there was a time when we needed optimism, it's now. But what are the long-term benefits of kindness - is it really better to give than to receive?
For Rob Way and his family, being charitable was a way of life long before pandemic repercussions became a reality. The current Chairperson for both the KW Hockey Helps the Homeless Tournament (HHTH) and KidsAbility Foundation grew up on a dairy farm, reared by parents who were "heavily involved" in church and community. The former Chair of the Board for St. Mary's Hospital and United Way KW said "the culture of giving back" and helping others was "set in place" at a young age.
Way, a City of Waterloo Award recipient, also co-founded two successful companies: Softcare Innovations, manufacturing health care furnishings, and Swiftspace. Both have celebrated several million in sales. Running a business means having the ability to manage his own schedule, allowing him to "intermingle charity work" into his workday.
Swiftspace is a significant funder of KW HHTH, an initiative that has raised over $1 million for local homeless in just six years. "This amount translates to over 14,000 safe shelter bed nights for children, women, and men in this community." This year's goal is to raise $260,000 by the end of the Canada Life Cup (March 31, 2021).
When his sons, Colin and Corey, were young he coached minor sports: hockey, softball and soccer. It was an opportunity to emphasize the importance of good sportsmanship and fair play, and he was recognized with multiple sports-related awards.
An honest man, Way won't accept credit for his achievements without acknowledging his wife and sons.
"Michele [Way] and I have always led by example so that Colin and Corey understand that it is important to treat others with respect and give back to the community," he said. "We are proud of the fact that they both have chosen professions that involve helping others." Colin, a doctor and surgical resident and Corey, a business owner and teacher with WCDSB, make it a personal goal to be a top fundraiser for HHTH.
"Quite often, I am involved at a board and management level, and Michele gets involved in the grassroots. [This] gives us both a great understanding of how a charity works."
As a family, they commit to two volunteer activities each year: Oh Christmas Free and HHTH. Oh Christmas Free is a December event "where parents of kids who attend KidsAbility can drop off their child and then have some time on their own" Rob and Michelle work on crafts with special needs children while Colin and Corey cover the bouncy castle.
In 2019, the Way family received the Elaine Ormston Outstanding Support Butterfly Award for their KidsAbility event. Michelle was presented the Waterloo Region Canada Life Game Changer Award for her work with HHTH.
"Staying driven during the pandemic was easy," he said. "The charities providing the shelter beds needed our help more than ever. It wasn't an option to donate less than last year." The Emergency Shelter Network currently includes 317 adult beds and 38 youth beds across the Region. "That includes a number of temporary and overflow spaces set up to deal with COVID-19."
Back to the benefits of kindness.
According to Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at the University of California and author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, humans have evolved "with remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice" vital to "survival, gene replication and smooth functioning groups."
It is suggested that empathetic role models, like Way, who demonstrate kindness are instrumental in ensuring humankind's preservation – especially during a crisis.
"When you do things to make a positive change in someone else's life, you are also contributing to how you feel about yourself," added Way. "I can honestly say that I have never observed someone doing something good for someone else, not having a smile on their face."