From a little idea comes a big program: CHFT Diversity Scholarships

December 7th, 2020 by Celia Chandler

One of the highlights of the Iler Campbell year has always been attending the CHFT Diversity Scholarship Awards night every June.  We get dressed up and head out for a night on the town.  It’s such a heartwarming event, showing us the results of the support people pursuing post‑secondary education can get from the co‑op sector.  We hear such remarkable stories from co‑opers, each one striving to make the world a better place for themselves and everyone around them.

The Board of Directors

Every June, that is, until this year.  COVID 19 restrictions have cancelled so much in 2020, and this event was no exception.  Instead, this year we’ve been given regular bulletins from CHFT profiling this years’ deserving group of recipients.  These have been summarized in a virtual “event program”  found here.  I encourage you take to take a look. I read those profiles, confident that our post‑pandemic society will be in good hands.

I got thinking about the history and success of the scholarship though and had a chat with Tom Clement about it.  I learned so many interesting tidbits that I want to share with you.

Read on!

Celia:     Tom, I know that CHFT started its Diversity Scholarship in 2004 with the very modest goal of awarding one scholarship.  How’d that work out for you?  How many scholarships did you award in 2020?

Tom:      I cannot believe the growth myself.  In 2020, we awarded 25 scholarships in six different categories.

Celia:     I know that as the program has grown, you’ve established different scholarships, named for individuals who’ve made a difference.  Tell us about that.

Tom:      Yes, that’s right.  We’ve got scholarships in the names of people who have been instrumental in the co‑op sector or whose stories inspire us.  For example, we have scholarships named for Pam McConnell, the scrappy Toronto City Councillor who for years lived in Spruce Court, one of Toronto’s downtown co‑ops.  We have other scholarships named for the mother of former Toronto mayor, David Miller. Joan Miller’s life story is one that is sure to spur on co‑opers – young and old – to pursue their dreams.  Other prizes are in memory of co‑opers who made a difference – Randy Padmore and Dexter Johnson.  And still others, for leaders in the co‑op movement – Penny Bethke and Mark Goldblatt.   Although we don’t have the benefit of any of these people in the sector any longer, we’re proud to have their names live on in our program.

Celia:     Absolutely.   So tell me, the program has grown in Toronto but what’s happened to this idea beyond CHFT.  Have others taken up the challenge to replicate what you’ve done?

Tom:      We’re very excited that while we started it, we’ve built a relationship with the other Ontario regional federations each of which awards its own scholarships  But it’s bigger than Ontario – through a partnership with CHF Canada scholarships, are awarded in three other provinces, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and BC.

Celia:     Who funds this?  Co‑ops?

Tom:      Some, yes, and we’re delighted to see the sector commitment.  But we also get donations from organizations and businesses that are part of our broader circle and who see the great things that can result from co‑op members getting higher educations.  Those students become ambassadors for the broader co‑op sector which is good for the sector and for business involved in the sector.

Celia:     In fact, Tom, I hate to toot our firm’s horn, but we’ve been a supporter for awhile, right?

Tom:      Yes, Iler Campbell LLP has been with us since the beginning – 17 years.

Celia:     We’re thrilled to be part of it.  But the lawyer in me needs to know – CHFT is a co‑op and therefore not a charity but presumably in addition to “doing good”, those who donate, like us, want the tax benefit.  How do you manage that?

Tom:      The scholarship is a partnership between the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto and the CHFT Charitable Fund, a charity registered with CRA.  We can issue tax receipts which is an extra incentive to donors.

Celia:     Great. I figured you’d have that part figured out.  But let’s get back to the impact of the program.  Scholarships are for more than one year so can you tell me off hand how many people in the GTA were receiving Diversity Scholarships in 2020?

Tom:      Yes, this year the scholarship program has 82 students in school in the GTA.   The students are from 54 co-ops.

Celia:     Holy cow. That’s significant.  How much money has been awarded since 2004?

Tom:      You won’t believe this – we’ve awarded a whopping two million dollars.   That’s just the 390 scholarships awarded by CHFT to recipients in 114 different GTA co‑ops.  And that’s not all ‑ there have been another 100 scholarships in other parts of Ontario and of the country.

Celia:     So how much does each recipient receive?

Tom:      The basic formula is $5000 spread over four years.  What’s really cool is that we’ve worked out arrangements with ten universities and colleges; if Diversity Scholarship recipients attend those institutions, they receive an additional scholarship of up to $3000 from the school.

Celia:     Other than the benefit to the individuals, have you seen benefits to their co-ops?

Tom:      Absolutely. Scholarship recipients are not necessarily young people but most have been and the program has been great for youth engagement.  CHFT has encouraged young leaders – scholarship recipients ‑ to join the boards of their home co‑ops.

Celia:     That’s great.  What the impact on sector governance?

Tom:      I’m really proud to say that scholarship winners have consistently been elected to the CHFT Board. We’ve had 11 scholarship winners on the CHFT Board since 2007. This has made the CHFT Board attractive to other young people have then have also run for and been elected.  We’ve picked up six additional young directors.  Three of our “under 30s” have served as CHFT president.   The impact spread though among the family – we’ve picked up two parents of scholarship winners as directors too.   And it goes beyond CHFT.  The four co-op housing land trusts have also had two young leaders on their boards.  The Charitable Fund has had five scholarship recipients on its board since 2011.   The focus on youth and the level of youth engagement ties directly back to the Diversity Scholarships.

Celia:  Wow. So impressive.   I know that you’re starting to think about the 2021 scholarships.  How can someone reading this apply?

Tom:      For eligible co‑opers in the GTA, the 2021 scholarship process is underway.  Folks have until February 17, 2021 to submit their applications.  Here’s the link:

Celia:     And for co‑opers living outside the GTA?

Tom:      Peel Halton CHF has posted its application form online too. You can find it here: Deadline – March 31, 2021.

The other federations haven’t yet set their deadlines but will do so soon.

Check their websites at:

Central Ontario CHF

Golden Horseshoe CHF:

Co‑operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario (CHASEO)

Celia:     Tom, how exciting that your idea back in 2004 has led to a new generation of housing co‑op leadership.  We’re glad to be part of it.   And we congratulate CHFT and all the winners.  Well done!


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