A Lasting Legacy

The Van Weelden family created a donor-advised fund to give back in perpetuity

Denise Van Weelden doesn’t like the word ‘philanthropy.’ While she and her husband, Hank, are ardent believers in giving back to their community, the word seems far too fancy for the contributions they make. The couple is passionate about supporting “unglamourous” charities that help marginalized and vulnerable populations in the city and may struggle to raise funds. They see their support not only in the funding they have been blessed with the ability to provide, but with time, effort and energy. They are regular volunteers at organizations like the Edmonton Native Healing Centre (ENHC), which empowers First Nations people, and Crossroads Outreach, which helps street-based sex workers.

The Van Weeldens have a long history of giving back to the community. Twenty-five years ago, they started Trail Youth Initiatives, a charity providing support and intervention for inner-city children, in Ontario. Since then, they’ve raised their three adult children with a similar desire to give back including volunteer time with the organizations they are most passionate about. In 2014 the family decided to create a donor-advised fund through Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF). The fund is set up so that it can run in perpetuity with the goal of funding front-line staff – who the Van Weeldens say are heroes in the inner city – of charities dealing with marginalized individuals.

“We thought we could do something that stretched beyond the day-to-day and set something in place so these organizations could have longer-term funding and something that will outlive us,” says Denise.

Donor-advised funds require a lump sum up front that can be added to at any point; the principal grows through investments with a percentage being granted out each year. Every year, the family can decide where the money will go.

“So, instead of supporting a particular charity year after year, it can go to any charity in Canada and they choose depending on what priorities come up for them or the community that year,” says Craig Stumpf-Allen, director of grants and community engagement for ECF.

“For long-term sustainable funding, ECF is a beautiful vehicle for that,” says Hank. “There’s great wisdom in guiding and drawing out our wishes and passions.” The Van Weeldens’ fund has been set aside solely to fund charities that will fulfill those wishes, which to them means “working with marginalized populations.” There are many great organizations to choose from, says Hank, including E4C’s Cross Roads, iHuman, Mustard Seed, and ENHC.

On Thanksgiving 2015, the family gathered to discuss where to give their first grant. They decided to support the ENHC, an organization the family has been involved with for many years (Denise sits on the board and other family members volunteer). Their gift was used to help fund a health navigator – a staff member to help clients follow through with health goals, whether that means getting to appointments or finding addictions treatment. The role recognizes the importance of health from a preventive approach, understanding that mental, physical and emotional supports are all aspects of overall wellness.

As a nurse, Denise has seen too many patients miss out on proper care because of a lack of health literacy or challenges like addictions or homelessness. People can get lost in the system and relatively minor health issues can evolve into emergency situations.

“Many aboriginal people I work with say [health professionals] don’t hear me, they don’t listen to me. The health navigator is able to hear their story, but also support them in seeking and getting care,” she says.

The Van Weeldens are getting ready to decide on their next grant, and say they’ve put their children in the position to make the majority of the decisions, within the framework of the ECF that Hank and Denise have set up for them. “So, our whole goal is to make sure our kids learn our thinking and start making those decisions independently of us,” says Hank. “And hopefully they’ll ensure our grandchildren are smart enough to take care of another generation’s needs.”