After years of brainstorming ways to give back to the community—including jotting down their ideas in separate journals and comparing notes—professional hockey player John Tavares and his wife, Ayrne, decided to create a foundation focused on empowering youth.
In 2020, the couple launched the John Tavares Foundation, which supports a number of impactful youth organizations across the country, such as Special Olympics Canada, Rexdale Youth Mentorship and The Ballantyne Project.
The couple, who met during high school in Ontario while volunteering with special needs kids, wanted to create a charity that inspires youth at a grassroots level in their communities—not unlike their own individual experiences growing up.
"Looking back, I was fortunate to find my passion early in life," says John, who was born and raised in Mississauga, Ont. At age 14, he became the youngest player ever to be drafted into the Ontario Hockey League, and spent nearly a decade playing for the New York Islanders before signing a seven-year contract with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, in 2018.
"Beyond the coaches and teammates who are now lifelong friends, hockey taught me more than just how to pass the puck; it provided me with plenty of life lessons as well," he says. "Both Aryne and I had positive childhood experiences and we wanted to find the best way to give back. Working with a team of advisors, the strategic planning was an important part of the process and helped us decide to start the foundation."
Aryne, the foundation's CEO, also has fond memories of participating in community events, clubs and leadership camps as a kid growing up in Whitby, Ont. It taught her to set goals, overcome adversity and achieve her dreams later in life—something she wants other kids to be able to experience, regardless of their background or financial circumstances.
"As parents, we recognize the importance of quality time as a family and the role that community plays in shaping future generations," says Aryne, who notes she and John decided on a charity to help children even before starting their own family in 2019.
"Children are our future and it's important we empower kids to be kids, families to be families and enable communities to thrive," says the mother of two.
The foundation, whose tagline is “Bright Futures," aims to create a positive and lasting impact by ensuring that kids of all ages and backgrounds have the tools necessary to be part of their communities. This includes access to proper nutrition, inclusive activities, and meaningful connections that will inspire and motivate them to play, share and explore their worlds. The organization also helps families understand and appreciate the importance of having a healthy mind and body, which, in turn, fuels kids to pursue their passions and reach their full potential. According to the foundation's mission statement, it believes “every child should have an equal opportunity to realize their full potential and shape their own future."
"By equipping them with essential resources, we can support their physical, cognitive and emotional well-being," says Aryne, a physiotherapist who now runs the foundation full time.
One example is the foundation's work with The Ballantyne Project, which provides supportive programming for Indigenous youth, including ensuring food security for kids living in remote First Nations communities in parts of Western Canada.
While the pandemic paused some of the foundation's initial plans for in-person events, Aryne, John and their team continued to work behind the scenes, raising money and building connections with various non-profits aligned with the group's mission. The foundation has since started holding in-person events, such as working with Rexdale Youth Mentorship to bring a group of kids to a Leafs game at Scotiabank Arena and hosting a fundraising gala in summer 2022.
RBC supports the Tavares' charitable organization through the RBC Foundation and serves as one of its banking partners.
Aileen Battye, vice president and philanthropic advisory specialist at RBC Wealth Management in Canada, says more Canadians are looking for ways to give back to society.
"Every day, clients talk to us about their goals and aspirations—for their families and businesses as well as for the future of the communities in which we live," she says. "We listen and learn about the personal challenges and opportunities we all face together and respond with a plan, with solutions to help them achieve their goals. Charitable giving is often one of the ways that they can achieve these goals."
It's through these conversations, says Battye, that clients determine whether they want to give directly to a charity, set up their own private foundation, or give through a donor-advised fund, which is an account where you can deposit assets for donation to charity over time.
"By having a philanthropic conversation with clients, we're able to engage them on a deeper level regarding making the impact that they want to in the community and how involved they want to be," she says.
Aryne and John decided to set up a foundation instead of a donor-advised fund, so they could be more hands-on with the causes they support.
"We didn't just want to write a cheque. We wanted to be directly involved in making a difference over the long term," she says.
Families who want to leave a lasting legacy should consider which options best suit their goals and level of involvement. "Running a foundation is an enormous amount of work, similar to running your own business," says Luana Harris, managing director, RBC Sports Professionals, at RBC Wealth Management. "They're especially more difficult with the added pressure of being a high-profile individual like John."
She adds: "We help guide our clients through that decision process so they can give back in a way that's both meaningful and practical."
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