More than 300 players recently participated in the third annual Joel Schwartz Memorial Hockey Tournament, which raised more than $150,000 for Joel’s Ongoing Inclusion Network (JOIN).
JOIN is an endowment fund that supports inclusion programming at Reena, a non-profit social-service agency that helps people with developmental disabilities. To date, the tournament has raised more than $400,000.
The March 10 event, held at Chesswood Arena in Toronto, was created in honour of Joel Schwartz, a Reena client who passed away in 2009 at the age of 25.
Diagnosed with Asperger syndrome early in his life, Schwartz faced many challenges but persevered with support. Just two months before he died, he participated in a CIE Birthright Israel trip with the help of a Reena volunteer.
Schwartz’s brother, Jonathan, founded the annual hockey tournament with friends Zack Belzberg and Jesse Abrams. Jonathan said the endowment fund has “already committed capital to three inclusion-focused programs with the ability to support these programs in perpetuity.”
The programs include the Reena Birthright Shadow Program, which covers half the cost of a shadow for each trip; subsidizing community-centre memberships for residents of the new Reena housing complex on the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan, Ont., and funding various inclusion-oriented programs co-ordinated by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Community Connect team.
Jonathan said he knows his brother would be “honoured to have initiated a charity for others like him to grow and develop into mature adults while finding their places in the world.”
Belzberg said Joel loved to watch Jonathan’s hockey games and would be “so happy” to see everyone united through the sport in his honour.
He said he hopes the evening allowed people to develop “a more informed understanding of Joel, why it’s important to preserve his legacy, and how they have contributed to an initiative that is helping so many people just like him.”
Through the creation of the endowment, “we now have the ability to connect our players and volunteers to the cause we are supporting. Our players are not only participating for the great hockey, but also to learn about and support those living with developmental disabilities.”
Belzberg said the event was such a success because of many generous donations, tournament sponsors, a dedicated committee and 20 participating hockey teams. With the support of our community, the tournament has “experienced incredible growth and will continue to do so in the future.”
For more information about the Joel Schwartz Memorial Hockey Tournament, visit www.jsmht.org.