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Making-A-Wish and Making a Difference

Ashley Thorpe, Director, Marketing & Communications, CSN Collision Centres Photo: CSN

CSN’s Ashley Thorpe shares her insights on the virtual auction in December and being able to grant children’s wishes even during a pandemic.

Since March, the entire world has been impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the ensuing government lockdowns designed to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes it. With many businesses having had to close and whole sectors of the economy devastated as a result, the need for hope and support of worthy causes has arguably never been greater than it is today.

Shifting our focus to the collision repair industry and to Canada, an extremely heart-warming initiative has been the alliance between CSN Collision Centres and Make-A-Wish Canada. Over the last 9 years, CSN and Make-A-Wish have made it their mission to grant life-changing wishes to children in need. This year, due to the pandemic, CSN and its collision centres across the country, along with Make-A-Wish chapters in different parts of Canada have come together to host a virtual auction called Hope for the Holidays from December 3-10 to raise money and help grant wishes for children with critical illness.

Autosphere interviewed Ashley Thorpe, Director, Marketing & Communications at CSN Collision Centres and asked her about the Make-A-Wish campaign, the virtual auction and how the partnership continues to provide hope and support to children in need across Canada.

AS: Can you tell us about how the relationship between CSN Collision Centres and Make-A-Wish has evolved over the years?

AT: We started working with Make-A-Wish back in 2011 and have been partners for the last 9 years. To date, we have raised just over half a million dollars for Make-A-Wish, so it has been a really great relationship. It is such a wonderful charity and they do so many great things for children. As to how the relationship has grown and evolved, we started off by having staff members participate in the Rope for Hope, which is scaling up and down large buildings. From there it has evolved into hosting an annual golf tournament and we also have collision centres that organize individual events for Make-A-Wish.

Over the course of the last two years, we have really started to foster more of a close relationship between all of our CSN collision centres and Make-A-Wish. A couple of years ago we held our annual CSN conference in Phoenix, Arizona, a magical evening where James Hinchcliffe, our brand ambassador hosted the event. One of our guests was a lady whose son had the first ever wish granted in Phoenix. We talked about how powerful that was for her son and it led to our shops really getting a sense of what Make-A-Wish was all about. Ultimately, during that half an hour program for Make-A-Wish, we raised $100,000 in 30 mins because it was just this feeling of what can we do to help these children.

That’s really how the relationship has evolved and now, we are continuing to look at larger fundraising events that we can do and although we are certainly in a different position this year, we have come up with a way in which we can still support Make-A-Wish when times are tougher.

AS: Given the challenges we have all faced in 2020, what were some of the initiatives you saw that would really resonate between CSN and Make-A-Wish during the COVID-19 era?

AT: It has been a very interesting year. In January and February, we had started planning this campaign called Driving Wishes in which we had a vehicle that was going to be branded with CSN and Make-A-Wish graphics and colours. The vehicle was going to be taken across the country to 20 CSN locations that had been selected, with the idea of driving from coast-to-coast to raise money for Make-A-Wish. Everything had been planned and mapped out, including hotel stays and then of course, in March, COVID-19 hit, and we weren’t able to do that.

So we then thought, because it was a difficult time for everybody in any type of industry, including ours, let’s wait until the time is right and not push anybody to raise money. The interesting part was that our shop owners then came to us and asked us what we were doing for Make-A-Wish. Denis Sauve, who is the owner of CSN Orleans in Ottawa, Ont., mentioned about leftover auction items from a golf tournament that he still had and if they could be contributed towards something and so began this idea of an online auction, which has become our big focus for the end of the year. It really came from our owners asking us what they could do for Make-A-Wish and we followed their lead, realizing there was still so much of an appetite to do good things for our charity of choice.

AS: It is really great to see how you were able to pivot and reimagine the program, given that this year has been so chaotic for everybody. Being able to do that, I think it really speaks to the testament, not only of the organization but also the shops within the network and their ability to give back, wouldn’t you say?

AT: Exactly, it warmed my heart and you certainly don’t want to push people to feel like they need to donate money when they’ve had a hard year themselves, but hearing that Make-A-Wish was going to be a shining light for them and they still want to participate– there’s nothing better than a feeling like that.

AS: Can you tell us a little about the program you’ve put together leading up to the holiday season this year?

AT: From Denis’s request to participate and donate items, we went to Make-A-Wish and said how does a virtual auction sound? Funnily enough, they had been working behind the scenes and come to a similar realization that maybe that was the best way for them to fundraise this year as well. And so was born the idea of this national online, virtual auction.

All CSN collision centres across the country and all Make-A-Wish chapters from across the country have been working to come together for the virtual auction and on December 3, we are hosting a big kick-off event—a live, one hour event at 8.00 pm Eastern, where CSN’s brand ambassador James Hinchcliffe will be speaking. We will be offering up some grand prizes that are going to be part of the one-hour auction as well as some big scale experiences. Then, from December 3 to 10, the auction transitions to a silent auction online. Our locations across the country, the Make-A-Wish chapters and our amazing vendors that have stepped up and contributed prizes that will be available to bid on all week so that anybody across Canada can win an item and all of the money raised will go directly to Make-A-Wish.

I think it is interesting to note that charities have been hit hard this year—people haven’t necessarily been in a place where they have been able to donate—and so what that means for Make-A-Wish in particular, is that more than 420 kids did not have their wishes granted this year. A lot of kids’ wishes are travel related and so obviously that is not currently doable, especially for children with critical illnesses. The pandemic has also meant that a lot of wishes have had to pivot, so instead of a getaway, let’s do a backyard makeover. There are a lot of RV wishes in which kids can travel with their families, so as soon as we had shared the statistic with our collision centre owners, they were onboard with what we’ve got to do to give these kids some hope over the holidays and grant these wishes. This has really been the impetus in seeing how many wishes we can grant prior to the holidays and give these children hope.

This is especially important because a lot of them wait for years until they are through treatment, to be able to have their wish granted, so for us, our goal going into the holidays, is the fact that we can tell our kids that their wishes will be granted in 2021.

AS: It is so incredible to see this stuff happening and helping these kids see their wishes come true, because it is such an amazing feeling isn’t it when it all happens for them and you actually see it. I’ve seen some examples in the past where the feeling is hard to describe—and you feel so happy for them that their wishes have ultimately been realized right?

AT: It is magical. One of my girlfriends has a daughter that had her wish granted— she was diagnosed with leukemia at age 4 and she went through treatment for three years. She had her wish granted last year and just to be able to have that moment, where they able to travel and visit Walt Disney World as a family of five— the hope that gave her, knowing it was coming, inspired her and her daughter to get through that last leg of her treatment. Knowing the wish is coming makes a world of difference, not only to the wish kid but their whole family.

AS: What are some of the key objectives you have planned with Make-A-Wish as we wrap up this year and into 2021 and can you tell us a little about those?

AT: Our immediate goal is to make sure the online auction is a huge success and that we are able to auction off those items and raise money for Make-A-Wish. From there, we can begin to start looking to 2021 and granting some of those wishes. We’re also in talks with Make-A-Wish about how we and our collision centres can help with those wishes. Some of the wish kids have car related wishes, or race car related experiences, so we really try and help where we can, to coordinate those and participate where we can. Those types of wishes are somewhat related to the industry we work in, so I think that will be the next phase—to help facilitate some of these RV wishes, so those children have that going into summer of 2021 and can travel safely with their families.

AS: How can collision centres and the industry participate to help those children in need, especially during these challenging times?

AT: With the virtual auction, bidding on prizes is where to start. There are a lot of great experiences and Christmas presents, so anybody across the country is able to bid on those and then within the auction site as well, there are going to be some mission specific donations available. We will see wishes that some of the children want and you can actually make a live donation to a wish. For example, if there was someone who was looking for a large shopping spree, you can donate specifically to that wish and know that this wish will hopefully be granted by the end of the auction.

Another interesting facet to it, is that you can actually make live donations into particular wishes that you know will be given to children and that’s an exciting part of it. Otherwise, you can do some of your holiday shopping while you are on there and know that 100 percent of those proceeds will be going to Make-A-Wish. That is really what we are looking for—to get a lot of momentum around that week of December 3-10. We welcome anyone to join and participate, because there is no more worthwhile cause, especially to put a smile on children’s faces as we head into December.

AS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention regarding CSN and Make-A-Wish?

AT: The only other thing I’d like to mention is the URL and the website where people can go to in order to participate. It is hopefortheholidays.ca and this is where the auction is happening and where you’ll be able to see the one-hour kick-off event streamed live as well. This site is where, if you participate in the one hour, we have some really neat things lined up. I don’t want to give away too much right now but there will be the grand prize giveaways and some special Make-A-Wish moments. So, if everybody is able to join us live that night, I think it will really warm a lot of people’s hearts.

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