Building a Stronger Community

Durham Group Goes from Diapers to Dollars

Parvaneh Pessian

March 6, 2013

DURHAM -- It all started eight years ago when a group of women was sitting and chatting around a dining table.

All mothers living in Durham at the time, they wanted to do something that would benefit others in the region and hopefully inspire their children to follow in their footsteps one day.

"We really were just a bunch of friends that were sitting together around the table and just said, 'Hey let's do something to give back,'" says Kelly Semeniuk, a Brooklin resident and founding member of Hearts of Durham.

That year, they organized a dance to support a local cancer centre and set a goal to raise $10,000.

"We had really hoped that it would be something small and intimate with our friends and it ended up being 250 people and we raised $25,000," says Ms. Semeniuk, with a laugh. "So from there, we've never looked back."

Hearts of Durham is a volunteer organization comprised of eight local women who invest in their community by selecting one charity every year to support through fundraising initiatives. The group has donated nearly $500,000 to organizations such as Hearth Place Cancer Support Centre in Oshawa, Herizon House in Ajax, and the Durham Children's Aid Society.

On Feb. 28, members gathered to recognize sponsors for their upcoming eighth annual gala and introduce local Wishmakers in support of their charity of choice for 2012/2013, Children's Wish Foundation of Canada.

"Hearts of Durham is not about eight women working together -- (it's) a catalyst that enables local businesses, community leaders and residents to work together to help make our community the best place in which to live, work and play," says Kira Keast, a member of the Hearts of Durham core team.

"Every year, we are overwhelmed by the generosity of the Durham community and this event is an opportunity to celebrate and recognize the tremendous support that we continuously receive."

Since 1984, Children's Wish has granted wishes to 19,000 children between the ages of three and 17 who are facing life-threatening illnesses. Every year in Durham, more than a dozen wishes are granted and there are currently about 40 wishes pending in the community.

As one of six local Wishmakers currently working with Hearts of Durham, Oshawa resident Ian McCutcheon launched a celebrity bartending fundraiser in January in support of Children's Wish.

"It costs about $10,000 on average for each wish so I thought this would be a great way to get the community out in support of an important cause," says Mr. McCutcheon.

He's raised nearly $6,000 in just two months to grant the wish of a five-year-old girl from Durham who recently underwent a liver transplant.

Each fall, Hearts of Durham reviews applications from various charities across the region before one is selected and fundraising kicks off at the end of their annual gala in April.

"Choosing a charity is never an easy process because, of course, there are so many worthy charities out there but we look at what their mandate is, what they want to use the funding for, and where they receive their funding from currently," explains Ms. Semeniuk.

The women in Hearts of Durham have also started to see their children getting involved in various charitable projects, which was one of their key goals when they started the grassroots campaign in 2005.

"We have kids that range from age five to 16 and we're seeing little ways that they're starting to give back within the community themselves," Ms. Semeniuk says.

"It may not be with our charity of choice for this year, but we see that they're understanding they need to be part of the bigger community in whatever way that they choose and support whoever it is that is near and dear to their hearts."

Hearts of Durham will hold its Moulin Rouge-themed gala on Saturday, April 27 at Deer Creek Golf and Banquet Facility in Ajax. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased by calling 1-800-267-9474 or e-mailing anne..(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Call: Hearts of Durham at 905-655-9212

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Hearts of Durham. AJAX -- Members of the Hearts of Durham, Candice Wood, Julie Dunn, Leslie McLean, Kelly Semeniuk and Sian Gibson, with Sandra Harris, right, from Children's Wish Foundation. Hearts of Durham announced Children's Wish Foundation is this year's chosen charity, with community partners at Deer Creek. Feb. 28 2013 Jason Liebregts / Metroland