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Building exceptional ‘Foundation’ at Okanagan College

Okanagan College Foundation brings together donors and students
Okanagan College Foundation Executive Director, Helen Jackman. (Photo contributed)

While the Okanagan College (OC) Foundation has only been part of OC’s journey for 20 of the last 60 years, its role is no less important.

The foundation is the community engagement and fundraising arm of the institution.

“We exist to support and advance the mission and priorities of the college and support its students,” says Helen Jackman, foundation executive director.

The origins of the foundation actually date back to the early 1990s with the Bold Horizons Campaign which raised $4 million. Jackman says the foundation focuses on several priorities including capital projects, as well as program and student support.

A recent example of a successful capital project is the Health Sciences Center, located at the Kelowna campus, which opened in September 2021.

“In order to have the kind of exceptional facilities that we want for our students, and that the community deserves, we typically have to go to the community and say will you help us ensure that we’ve got enough funding to make this great,” says Jackman.

The $5 million campaign ran through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was at a time when I think everyone in the community recognized the perhaps overdue recognition of frontline health care professionals,” notes Jackman. “We were able to inspire and engage the community to support that campaign, even through those challenging times.”

Jackman says the foundation also works on finding donors who might be interested in a particular program at OC.

“It might be that the donor has an interest in business and so they’ll support the development of an entrepreneurship program.”

Jackman also points out that many donors are passionate about supporting students and helping to break down barriers to education.

“They’re helping students achieve their educational goals and through that, they can help them transform their lives. We have usually distributed about $ 1 million a year in awards, scholarships, and bursaries for students.”

That support translates into benefits and positive impacts for Okanagan communities.

“The majority of our students today live and work in the college’s various regions,” says Jackman. “Whether that’s trades, business, health, service organizations, students go on to have a huge impact in terms of prosperity and the regional economy.”

The reward for the foundation, she says, is the donor relationships and seeing students succeed.

“We get to help them realize their philanthropic goals. So when you get to be part of facilitating that and bringing those people together, that’s the magic.”

While the provincial government provides most of the capital funding for a new building or facility, the community and philanthropists are perhaps more important in helping the foundation reach its fundraising goals.

There have been significant donations to the college over the years.

In 2011, the Jimmy Pattison Foundation gifted $2.5 million to help establish the Centre of Excellence at the Penticton campus.

The $8 million fundraising campaign to build the Trades Training Centre in Kelowna in 2018 was helped by a $1 million donation by the Jacobson family in memory of Ron Jacobson.

He owned and operated Jacobsen Pontiac Buick in Kelowna for more than 40 years.

Looking ahead, Jackman says there are exciting new projects to look forward to including childcare on the Vernon campus, and a wellness centre campaign in Kelowna.

“We’ve got an increasingly important role to play in student needs and support, especially through a time where the cost of living is so great locally. We’re looking forward to continuing to engage the community to support the institution.”


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Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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