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Softchoice Cares & Tokens 4 Change: Enabling urban independence together

Culture | Posted on February 17, 2016 by Jen Wood

Six years ago, my friend Scott volunteered at Youth Without Shelter (YWS), an emergency shelter in the Greater Toronto Area. He noticed there was a focus on education and development to enable independence, but realized the cost of transportation stood as a major barrier. Without money, how could residents go to interviews, school, or even appointments to stay healthy? Because of that, he created the fundraiser Tokens 4 Change (T4C).

The first year was a pilot. He recruited hundreds of volunteers to perform and canvass at TTC stations across Toronto. T4C was a huge success, bringing in $25,000. It was even featured on Kiss FM and Breakfast Television. Since then, the event has grown exponentially, raising a whopping $100,000 for YWS this year!

I’m proud to say that Softchoice has played a significant role in the success of T4C. We’ve had at least twenty volunteers each year for the past 5 years, many of whom have become regulars. Dan Shalinsky, Systems Engineer from Toronto, is one of the strongest supporters. After the first year, he sent me an email saying:

I had a blast helping out! I found it especially gratifying when folks would initially walk by without giving anything, think better of it, then turn around and walk back to drop off whatever they had. Really makes you feel like you made a connection and a difference!

That same year, Softchoice donated a computer lab to YWS via Power 2 the People. Dan made a point of volunteering his time to set up the lab. Other volunteers like Dayna Teelucksingh and Shannon Phillips, have also gone above beyond. Last year, their T4C location raised the most money. They were determined to uphold their contribution. This year Shannon raised $850 via online donations before the event even took place!

The Smoidas family at Tokens 4 Change event

Amy, Gary and their daughter, who was the youngest participant at the fundraising event.

We also had new volunteers join the experience. Amy Hoidas and Gary Smyth made a family volunteer day of it. Their 9 year-old daughter was the youngest volunteer and perhaps the most passionate. She braved the cold all day to raise over $1,000. At the end, she said “That was fun. I want to do this again next year!” You are never too young to make a difference!

Together, the Softchoice team raised over $9,000!


The author and a couple of her friends at the fundraising event

A huge thanks to the whole Softchoice team that showed support this year, and all those who donated including Valetta Thompson, Ruth Clark, Jenny Oliveira, Rabia Kamal, Alyssa Buttarazzi, Karl Lopez Da Fonseca, Christine Dilts, Stephane Mcleish, Emily Turner, Adam Genery, and Robert Xue. I was there too. Softchoice is truly special. I feel incredibly grateful to have such a wonderful community of people supporting Tokens 4 Change.

So what happens with the money?

“Homeless to fullness”, is how one of the past YWS residents, John describes it. John’s story is one of many success stories. His family situation was extremely stressful. He felt he had no choice but to leave home. Each night he rode the subway until it shut down. When he found out about Youth Without Shelter, he began working with an employment counsellor. He said the transit fare from Tokens 4 Change was a “life saver”. Within weeks he found a job and place to live through the housing program. Today John is employed doing administration, accounting, and logistics. Moreover, he’s paying it forward. He’s currently creating a mentorship program at YWS so that others can learn from the success he’s had.

Imagine the possibilities if we all paid it forward

One of the things I’m passionate about is seeing people grow and excel. In Softchoice terms, seeing people “unleash their potential”. I’ve been given incredible opportunities in my life that got me to where I am today. I want everyone to have that. Beyond Tokens 4 Change, there are a ton of volunteer opportunities to get involved with YWS. Some examples include:

  • Interior Painting (1 full-day): To repair wear & tear throughout the shelter
  • Creating Miniature bed ornaments (craft project): These are given as thank yous for donations
  • Make a Meal (6-8 cooks): Preparing dinner; BBQs in the summer months
  • On the Move Packages: Prepare kits for the youth for when they transition to independence

These are also great team building opportunities available here. And if you want to get involved or have any questions, reach out to Mike Burnett.

One day to you can make the world of difference to someone. What are you waiting for? Get out there!

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