– Story by Kathy Michaels Photography by Darren Hull
Katia Brosseau knows the joy that comes from giving will last longer than the satisfaction of helping build a successful business.
When the director of marketing and client services for Innov8 Digital Solutions sat down to talk, while smack dab in the middle of a busy work day, she radiated happiness by just discussing the concept of giving back.
“It just makes you feel good and so proud,” Katia said, as the conversation about work took a turn toward the topic she’s most passionate about.
She explained that the returns on giving first became apparent while she was living in Alberta. While there, she regularly participated in the annual Festival of Trees event, which is a holiday celebration, defined by community spirit and philanthropic passion.
It’s considered the city’s signature kick-off to the holiday season, raising funds and building community around the hospital foundation.
“Decorated trees are donated by businesses and they get auctioned off,” Katia said. “They have Santa’s workshops, a daddy/daughter dance and so many other things — it’s just an amazing event.”
It gave her an opportunity to step out of her own busy schedule and into something of greater significance to the community. She was able to do it with her young children and husband Andre by her side. They still look back on it fondly and have even continued to take part in a similar event held in Victoria, year after year.
“There really is no greater gift than volunteering and giving back,” she said.
When her family picked up from Alberta and moved to Kelowna, she decided to take the lessons she learned about community to her new home. In the time since she’s arrived, she and her husband have not only built a thriving business but are also leaders in community spirit.
“Small businesses are the backbone of communities. With philanthropy they help provide the support that’s needed when the government can’t,” she said, pointing to the creation of Kelowna’s youth mental health service, the Foundry, as just one example of how citizens working together were able to fill gaps and make the community service stronger.
“You can really see a difference when people come together.”
It’s what prompted her to ramp up philanthropic efforts this summer as she launched herself headlong into what ended up being a major fundraising campaign.
Katia had been at a charity event with her husband and at the end of the night there was a live auction for a private concert with country sensation Aaron Pritchett.
“Get Andre at an auction and it’s a dangerous thing; I don’t even want to go into all the stories. Of course we knew it was for a good cause and we could not help ourselves… Whenever we bid on anything, I think, ‘How can I make it benefit people more than just once?’” she said.
Katia immediately thought she could turn the backyard Pritchett performance into a fundraiser for mental health supports, an issue that is near and dear to her heart.
“Our daughter had gone through a hard time a few years ago, and at that time we didn’t have the Foundry,” she said. “The wait time to see a specialist was over a year. We were fortunate enough to have coverage to be able to access private care, but if we couldn’t … how would you deal with that?”
She asked Pritchett if she could sell tickets to the intimate backyard concert he was going to provide and donate funds raised to the Canadian Mental Health Association and Foundry Kelowna, to help them further knock down the barriers facing young people in need of mental health support.
“We named it Let’s Build Longer Tables, Not Taller Fences,” she said.
“When someone has a mental illness, the stigma is still there, but it should be treated like any other illness.”
She linked together enough tables for 130 guests to take in an intimate concert and together they had a great night of music and camaraderie that generated $45,000 for the two mental health organizations. It was so much more than the $15,000 she had hoped for.
“I can’t recall all the details but Andre started working the crowd and made a deal with one very generous anonymous donor. If we could raise $20,000, another $10,000 would be donated.”
Andre grabbed the mike and the crowd was challenged to raise $20,000.
Many hands went up but they were short just a thousand dollars, and then Jillian Harris texted Katia to say she’d chip in another $1,000. Amazingly, in the spirt of giving, another anonymous donation of $5,000 was received right after that. It was a gargantuan effort that paid off.
“They are all awesome people,” she said, adding that Aaron Pritchett put on an amazing show, as did Scotty Berg, a 12-year-old Kelowna singer.
While so many in the community are inspired by her efforts, Katia hopes it’s the ones who inspire her that will take away the most from it.
“I’m proud my children recognize the value of giving back. If we can find more kindness and be less judgmental, we’ll all be in a better place.”