You might not think startups and charitable organizations have much in common. But you only need to look at how they get their starts to see that shared origin – a problem that requires a solution.
With startups, those problems are often ones the founder or founders have come up against in their day-to-day lives. They see potential in a market that’s willing to pay for a product or service that will make their lives easier.
When it comes to charities, those problems are often personal and life-changing. KW Habilitation was founded by parents looking to build opportunities for children and adults with learning disabilities to participate in school and work. The team behind Tiny Home Takeout saw a lack of options for people to get good food served with dignity.
Local radio host Mike Farwell is on a mission to raise awareness and funds to fight cystic fibrosis, a respiratory disease that affects more than 4,300 children and adults across Canada. “The cause is certainly near and dear to my heart,” said Farwell. “Two of my sisters had cystic fibrosis and passed away from it, so it has left a lasting impact. I watched what they had to go through in their life with treatments and medications that they needed to keep their lungs as clear as possible and digest their food.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that occurs when a child inherits an abnormal gene from each parent. According to Cystic Fibrosis Canada, one in 25 Canadians carries an abnormal version of the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis.
Growing up with his sisters, Farwell said the disease and its effects were part of daily life. “You kind of got used to the routines that your family would fall into and that my sisters would go through on a daily basis. It just became part of life.”
Farwell’s sister Luanne died in 1993 at age 24, and his sister Sheri died nine months later at 18. “When I lost them, it definitely struck me hard and left that impact on me,” Farwell said. “So some years later, I started making a determined effort to volunteer more with cystic fibrosis and get involved in the annual fundraisers and go out with hat in hand in search of donations every year.”
Knocking on doors and asking for donations was never something Farwell found comfortable. “I’ve never really been good at it. ‘Hey, will you sponsor me for this? Will you make a donation for that?’ So I thought, what if I tried to offer some return for the donation?”
Farwell started with offering to mow lawns and wash cars. “People took me up on it and then it’s just kind of grown from there.” Those first work-for-donation offers became his Farwell4Hire campaign, which is celebrating its eighth year raising money for cystic fibrosis research.
Running each May, Farwell takes on jobs from individuals and businesses across Waterloo Region. This year, his jobs have included selling gluten-free baked goods at Winnie’s Gluten-Free Bakery in Belmont Village, installing a canopy on a donor’s backyard deck, dump runs and, of course, more lawn-mowing.
The support from the community continues to inspire Farwell.
“I don’t know if it would have worked anywhere else,” he said. “I’ve said many times that the campaign’s success is entirely based on money from the community. I mean, if nobody had taken me up on that opportunity to hire me for an odd job back in 2014, we never would have gone anywhere.”
Thanks to a community that prioritizes giving back – and making Farwell do odd jobs – Cystic Fibrosis Canada recognizes Waterloo Region as one of the top fundraising communities in the country.
The pandemic hasn’t impeded the success of the Farwell4Hire campaign. Like last year’s jobs, Farwell is sticking to tasks that can be done outside homes and businesses. “If you want windows done, it’s going to be your exterior windows,” he said.
Farwell’s jobs have taken him from factories to farms. His strangest assignment involved cleaning a horse’s sheath, something he advises you to Google for yourself. “It involves latex gloves and some lubrication; that was interesting. The horse and I are still on speaking terms to this day.”
This year’s campaign includes something new – a barbecue sauce collaboration with Block Three Brewing and Chef Scotty Yates, called “Farwell & Friends.” The project was going to happen last year, but the pandemic pushed it back to this year. “It incorporates so many things – the friends part is that it was Chef Scotty’s idea. I’m a fan of craft beer and Block Three has been a great partner.”
The sauce is available on the Farwell4Hire site and at retailers throughout the region. Farwell is amazed by the support from local businesses eager to stock their shelves and donate proceeds from the sales to the campaign. “It blows me away that even in these times and with all the challenges that they’re facing, they’re like, ‘I can’t get this into my store onto my shelves fast enough,” he said.
Going from a desk job to manual labour for a month can take its toll, but Farwell has no plans to stop anytime soon. “I started thinking about the physical aspects and what’s going to happen as I age and slow down,” he said. “Then I wonder too about the shelf life of something like this – but that interest has definitely not waned. As long as I’m getting a positive response, I’m feeling pretty good about it.”
Since 2014, the campaign has raised more than $650,000 for cystic fibrosis research, and Farwell said the million-dollar mark is within sight.
“What was really important to me when I started doing all of this – even before Farwell4Hire – was raising more awareness about cystic fibrosis,” he said. “I’m really happy that people have come to recognize that effort. People send me emails with stories about cystic fibrosis and advancing research. It just makes me so happy these people have come to connect me with cystic fibrosis and that really matters.”
You can hire Farwell or donate Farwell4Hire at farwell4hire.com.