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Over the past four years, 85 per cent of employees at First Capital REIT bonded over participating in employee volunteer days.Provided

Last spring Meaghan Bach was part of a team of 30 First Capital REIT employees who spent a paid volunteering day helping Feed Scarborough clean up its community gardens in preparation for planting a new season’s worth of crops.

Bach spent part of her day with colleagues at the food bank’s warehouse, and was struck by the visual of rows of empty shelves. “It hits home, seeing what that need is,” she recalls. The sight galvanized Bach and her colleagues to call for donations from fellow employees to help fill the shelves.

“It’s really meaningful to see the impact of our actions and support on the communities we live and work in,” says Bach, senior business analyst at First Capital REIT, a Toronto-based commercial real estate company that focuses on grocery store-anchored open-air centres across Canada.

That volunteer day was the work of First Capital REIT’s Thriving Neighbourhoods Foundation, an employee-led charitable foundation launched in 2020 that Bach co-chairs. The foundation directs First Capital REIT’s philanthropic giving around four pillars selected by employees – social justice, mental health, youth initiatives and food insecurity and poverty – and staff are asked to vote on which pillar the foundation will spend a two-year term focusing on. Employees are also invited each year to join one of the foundation’s subcommittees for a one-year term.

Thriving Neighbourhoods organizes an annual fundraising commercial real estate softball classic – which this year raised over $220,000 for Kids Help Phone, the foundation’s current signature partner – as well as other internal charitable programs like payroll donations, the company’s holiday draw and regional events.

In addition to fundraising, the foundation also supports First Capital REIT’s employee volunteering days. While the foundation curates events and programs that need volunteers, staff can choose to volunteer for any cause they’re passionate about.

“For the past two years, we have made volunteering part of our corporate objectives and we encourage employees to participate together,” says Michele Walkau, senior vice-president of brand and culture. “There are people who never volunteered before in their life, and now they really look forward to the day.”

Launching a dedicated foundation was a natural next step given First Capital REIT’s long history of volunteering and charitable giving, says Walkau, who along with Alison Harnick, the company’s senior vice-president, general counsel and corporate secretary, spearheaded its development. And employees have embraced it wholeheartedly; within its first four years, Thriving Neighbourhoods has donated more than $850,000, and roughly 85 per cent of employees have participated in volunteering days, logging a combined 3,000 volunteer hours.

Walkau says the foundation has helped support more than thriving neighbourhoods.

“It’s creating a thriving culture at First Capital REIT. We’re able to create meaningful connections with our employees,” she says “It’s wonderful to volunteer with team members you don’t usually work with, and when you’re working together on something that’s making a difference in the community, the connection back at work is even more authentic.”

Noah Parker, director of marketing and communications and the foundation’s other co-chair, says he feels “incredibly fortunate” to work for a company that allows him the opportunity to contribute to his community.

“I’m passionate about real estate and marketing, but it’s very easy to be passionate about philanthropy, especially with having a bit of skin in the game,” he says. “It’s a privilege to spend time working on something I can see a direct impact from. This is definitely one of the highlights of my career.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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