With the Coldest Night of the Year around the corner, Alison Smith is hard at work.
The Coldest Night of the Year is a family-friendly walk to raise money for local charities serving people experiencing hurt, hunger, and homelessness in communities across the country.
On Feb. 26, people of Collingwood and South Georgian Bay will be walking in support of Home Horizon and the Barbara Weider House. Traditionally, the community gathers and embarks on a two- or a five-kilometre walk followed by a little celebration. Limited to a virtual event again this year, teams are encouraged to self-organize their own walk along the trails, downtown, neighbourhoods and school tracks in honour of those in need.
“South Georgian Bay is a tight-knit community,” said Smith. “They are showing the youth of our community that their safety is a priority and that their future is important.”
As co-chair of the event along with Deb Piggot, Home Horizon’s fund development manager, Smith is in charge of coodinating all of the marketing and promotional materials as well as assisting with communications. She is also the captain of her own fundraising team. Throughout the rest of the year, Smith volunteers as the marketing manager for Home Horizon, and it will be her fifth year assisting with this specific fundraising event.
“It’s something I’ve become so passionate about,” said Smith. “It’s just that reminder that yes, Collingwood has become so affluent, but it’s still really quite divided. I think because of that, it is our responsibility to really give back to those people and the community.”
Smith has several years of experience in volunteering, especially travel volunteering, and she initially got involved with Home Horizon because she was looking to volunteer for an organization that was centred around helping youth.
When Smith was in university, she travelled to Brazil to volunteer with an organization called Global Youth Network. She spent a month working with kids on the streets and became very passionate about supporting youth through education.
“It was the most shocking, emotional and profound experience I have ever had in my life, and I just knew that when I came home I wanted to be able to help in my own backyard,” said Smith.
With a career as a marketing communications consultant, Smith reached out to Home Horizon to see if she could offer her services because they didn’t have anyone in that position or even a budget for it.
“The best place to start is at home,” said Smith. “Just seeing the dangers that could happen and knowing they could happen here too, plus you’re dealing with winter weather and all the elements here as well.”
When she did, it just so happened that the Coldest Night of the Year was about to occur, and Smith saw a lot of potential in the event as an annual fundraiser.
“In Collingwood, we’re so ferociously obsessed with physical challenge, there is so much athleticism and people who love the outdoors here,” said Smith. “I also thought it would be great for families as well.”
So she got involved with the fundraiser and assists any other type of communication the charity needs support with throughout the year.
“I think there is this misconception that we don’t have homelessness here,” said Smith. “And it’s a challenge for the organization because they call it the ‘Hidden Homeless.’ You don’t always see them.”
Smith also said now more than ever, after two years of the pandemic, it’s important for people to come together in any way they can.
“Volunteering and giving back can actually feel really good, it’s a really great boost and a bit of an intrinsic reward to be able to help others,” said Smith.
Last year the event shifted to a virtual walk, which saw tremendous success in participation and funds raised, ranking Collingwood fourth overall across Canada.
This year, with a goal of raising $125,000 set, Home Horizon’s mission is to extend its reach in the community to help as many youth as they can. So far, of the 167 charities participating across the country, Home Horizon has secured a spot in the top five and hopes to keep climbing.
“The reason that we are able to rank so high is simple. We live in a community that cares deeply about the well-being of others,” said Smith. “To me, that’s such a huge achievement and a huge attribute to how the community has gotten together to support this.”
For more information or to register, visit cnoy.org/collingwood.