The donors: Jon Schwartz, Zack Belzberg and Jesse Abrams
The gift: Raising more than $400,000
The cause: The Reena Foundation
The reason: To fund services for people with developmental disabilities
Almost every time Jon Schwartz played hockey, his older brother, Joel, would be in the stands cheering him on.
Joel had a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome but that didn’t slow him down. He played sports, finished school, held a job and looked out for his little brother, especially at hockey games, where Joel was an avid fan. Tragically, Joel died on March 3, 2009, after an accident. He was 25 years old.
That summer, Mr. Schwartz and two close friends, Zack Belzberg and Jesse Abrams, were riding the subway in Toronto when they started talking about doing something in memory of Joel. They quickly hit on the idea of a hockey-related event and started planning the Joel Schwartz Memorial Hockey Tournament. They held the first tournament in March, 2010, figuring they’d get a handful of teams and raise $10,000. Instead they attracted a dozen teams and pulled in $110,000.
The annual event has grown ever since and so far they have raised about $400,000. This year’s tournament is on March 9 at Toronto’s Chesswood Arena and it will include 24 men’s and women’s teams, with a target of raising $150,000. Proceeds fund programs at the Reena Foundation, which provides services to people with developmental disabilities.
For Mr. Schwartz, 26, the tournament has transformed a tragedy into something positive. “We turned this into a good thing, especially at a time of the year when the memories start coming back,” said Mr. Schwartz, who works at a Toronto investment firm called Foundation Markets.
His mother, Julie Schwartz, put it best. March used to be a difficult month, she told the three men. “Now, it’s a happy time for us.”