A Healthy Response
Ontario brokers back local youths' commitment to honour a friend
This September, the Riehl Skate Park will open in Pelham, Ont., as a tribute to 14-year-old Isaac Riehl who was struck by a car while skateboarding on a road near his home. He died of his injuries on October 22, 2012.
How does a small, close-knit community come to terms with the sudden, tragic loss of one of their beloved children?
In this case, Isaac’s parents donated their son’s organs to save the lives of others, including a teenage boy who received Isaac’s lungs within eight hours of his passing. That courageous decision gave an untold number of people some comfort.
In the meantime, friends rallied around quick-thinking Mariah Bunz, a student at Isaac’s high school, who entered the 2012 Aviva Community Fund contest in hopes of winning money to fulfill Isaac’s dream of a skateboard park in his hometown.
“During the time Isaac was in the hospital, Mariah saw a television commercial about the Aviva Community Fund and set up an online voting campaign on Facebook,” says Jane Reimer, quality control manager for The Verge Insurance Group, based in nearby St. Catharines, Ont. “My sons were close friends with Isaac and his brother Jacob, so they told me about the Riehl Skate Park campaign. It gave everyone a positive way to deal with the emotions of such a shocking event and loss.”
With the Aviva Community Fund already into the first of three voting phases when the Pelham community submission was posted, Reimer knew they had to get votes fast to remain in the competition. Since Verge Insurance deals with Aviva, she sent an email to ask employees at the brokerage’s five locations in the Niagara Region to vote and spread the word. Other brokerages, including Youngs Insurance Niagara Falls, Hope & Harder Insurance Brokers, Chambers Insurance Professionals Inc. and Meester Insurance Brokers Ltd. also threw their support behind the cause.
“The Facebook voting process snowballed quickly,” says Mark Sherk, The Verge Insurance Group’s president. “I first learned that we were involved when Jane’s email came across my BlackBerry. I was happy to see it because we strongly support healthy communities, and what could be better than providing a safe place where young people can gather and play?”
The votes kept coming, and the Riehl Skate Park initiative was declared an Aviva Community Fund Grand Prize Winner on January 29, 2013. The $115,000 prize was matched by the town of Pelham, which also donated land and future maintenance.
“It’s phenomenal how well the Aviva campaign works for communities across Canada,” Sherk notes. “It provides a simple way for many people to work together and raise awareness. Collectively, smaller amounts become large amounts in no time.
“Volunteering creates a strong social safety net that helps build healthy communities,” he continues. “When people thrive, businesses thrive, and we all prosper.”
As the recipient of the United Way of St. Catharines’ 2012 Corporation of the Year Award for employee participation, The Verge Insurance Group practice what they preach. In addition to volunteering time to help local organizations, the brokerage has a dedicated email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, to ensure a long list of non-profit groups receive generous funding annually.
Sherk says his proudest accomplishments as a volunteer have targeted community healthcare. The son of a surgeon and a 14-year member and past president of the St. Catharines General Hospital Foundation, he was responsible for raising $1.7 million to build a satellite clinic for McMaster University’s Department of Family Medicine in St. Catharines. This non-profit facility allows medical doctors to complete their residency in family medicine, while solving the shortage of family physicians in the Niagara Region.
“Verge Insurance has phenomenal staff spread across Niagara who truly care,” Sherk adds. “It really is remarkable how much the insurance industry—both brokerages and large insurers like Aviva—contribute voluntarily to the social safety net that is so essential to a community’s wellbeing.”
Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the June 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.