Presenting: Andrew Howard and Rachael Smith from SNAP Beaches and the Yard Sale for the Cure – Creative Entrepreneurs and Dedicated Community Builders

– Grip Limited, an advertising agency who handles all their communication for Yard Sale for the Cure, pro bono
– Hill & Knowlton, a prestigious Toronto public relations firm who secured 1.5 million in PR services in year one, and 3.2 million in year 2. They helped Rachael get interviews in regional media, print and radio.
– DThree Interactive, which handles the website of Yard Sale for the Cure, the engine that provides the information and news and handles the registration process, data management and on-line donations and transactions.

In year one Andrew and Rachael invested $1000 out of pocket to get the venture off the ground. Another $12,000 were donated by local businesses to help them get started. The results were astounding: 350 families participated in the Beach and raised $45,000. Last year the organization attracted sponsors, Remax Realty and Home Sense, who provided additional seed money. The yard sales expanded to 28 markets in Ontario and one in Edmonton. In 2006 there were 1200 Yard Sales for the Cure, and in total $102,000 were raised for this important cause.

Moving forward, Remax has come on board again for the third year in a row and expanded from the local Remax office in the Beach to the Remax Ontario – Atlantic division. Andrew is very enthusiastic about the possibility of moving into the United States, and is currently in negotiation with a variety of like-minded sponsors and strategic partners. Andrew explained that the synergy between Remax and the Yard Sale for the Cure is obvious, since Remax is all about improving people’s real estate value. Yard sales are an important tool towards achieving a clutter-free life style and a higher property resale value.

What Andrew is most proud of is that every dollar raised from any yard sale goes directly to breast cancer research. He started to explain the process of registration for the yard sales: 500,000 door knockers advertising the Yard Sale for the Cure are produced and distributed by local volunteers. The sale itself is held on the last Saturday in May. Online and regular promotions drive interested would-be participants to the website where they can sign up for the event, and for a small fee they receive a yard sale sign, a t-shirt and some information about the charity.

Once the yard sale participants put their signs up, word starts to spread in the neighbourhood and other people come on board. Proceeds from the yard sale can then be donated by credit card online at the Yard Sale for the Cure website. Many local children start selling lemonade and cookies, and they also donate their revenue to the cause.

There is no doubt that Andrew and Rachael are big thinkers: they want Yard Sale for the Cure to become a North America wide charity and would like to raise over one million dollars in the next two to three years. At that time they will set a new objective again. Rachael has already been featured on the popular show “Designer Guys”, and now their goal is to get a booking with Oprah. Andrew added that what is nice about this initiative is that it brings communities together, people start inviting one another for coffee and get to know one another. He refers to the yard sale event as “a very powerful day”.

The reason why the Yard Sale for the Cure strikes a chord is because breast cancer is an illness that mobilizes people, Andrew explained. It makes them angry because it targets women in their prime. One out of nine women will at one point in their lives be diagnosed with breast cancer, and virtually all of us have a personal connection to this illness.

Rachael had just arrived from a consulting assignment while Andrew had to leave to take their daughters Grace and Emma to karate. This gave me a chance to get to know Rachael Smith, whose personal encounter with cancer started it all. Rachael’s presence is very calming, quiet, almost spiritual, and I was looking forward to hearing her story.

Rachael Smith is originally from Southern Ontario, and grew up with her three brothers. She went to the University of Toronto to study economics, and since her graduation she has been working in the advertising field. Today, in addition to helping run SNAP and the Yard Sale for the Cure, she continues to do consulting work. Like Andrew, Rachael has a myriad of interests: she enjoys sports, including skating and swimming. She also likes creating things and enjoys arts and knitting. In quiet moments (and there are not many) she just likes to curl up with a book. Their daughters Grace and Emma definitely keep them busy.

The key date in Rachael’s life was April 26, 2004 when she discovered a lump during a breast self-exam. She could clearly feel a hardened mass of tissue, and in her brain she went “uh-oh”. She anticipated that something serious was wrong. When she received the diagnosis of breast cancer she was devastated and very emotional. But very quickly a more rational side took over, and Rachael was determined not to dwell on the negative. She made a conscious decision to be as positive as possible; this was going to be the only way she saw of moving forward.

Together with her children she developed a strategy of finding a silver lining, something positive in everything, even the most negative events. As an example Rachael mentioned that when her hair started to fall out from the chemotherapy, she and her daughters decided that the silver lining of this new development was that she no longer had to buy shampoo.

Rachael is quick to add that her coping mechanisms are not to be understood to be superior to anyone else’s coping strategies. She added that everyone is different, every woman and every family handles the diagnosis of cancer differently; and that there are a myriad of ways of dealing with this disease.

During the time after her diagnosis, Rachael had three revelations:

– The health care system kicked into high gear very quickly. After her diagnosis in late April Rachael had surgery on May 14, and chemotherapy within four weeks of the operation, the earliest possible date. Rachael’s chemotherapy treatments lasted from June to October of 2005 while radiation went from October to December of 2005. Treatment happened very quickly for Rachael.

– She added that the staff at the Toronto East General Hospital were absolutely fantastic; she found them extremely caring and supportive. To this day Rachael still visits the nurses and doctors at the hospital, and their care and attention was a big motivation for starting the Yard Sale for the Cure initiative.

– The third insight that Rachael gained was the way she responded. She had often wondered how she would handle something as serious as breast cancer. When it happened to her Rachael started to feel “I can cope, I can do it”. This positive mindset was what pulled her through, and her own strength became an interesting learning experience.

When she had her last cancer treatment she thought to herself “I guess that’s it”. She still has to complete regular checkups and mammograms to ensure that the illness is truly gone from her system.

I asked Rachael about the lasting impressions of this experience, and she responded that she appreciates things differently. Today she is much more grateful for the small things in life. If someone cuts her off in traffic today, all she says is “whatever”, and she no longer gets upset about the little inconveniences in life.

Her family has become stronger and grown together as a result of this experience, but Rachael also realized that it is hard to know how children are going to respond to something as serious as cancer. One of her daughters just recently asked Rachael if she is going to get breast cancer too. The impact of this illness on her family inspired the vision statement for the charity “May the world’s daughters never hear the words – You have breast cancer.”

After her treatments ended Rachael spent more time exercising and paid more attention to healthy nutrition, both effective ways of combating a return of the disease. Mind you, her business endeavours with SNAP and the Yard Sale for the Cure keep her so busy that she sometimes does not have enough time to look after herself in an optimal way. She definitely plans to get back on track and take better care of herself.

Naturally I also inquired into Rachael and Andrew’s attachment to the Beach. Andrew has been living here since 1987 and Rachael moved into this neighbourhood 15 years ago. Rachael calls the Beach “a fantastic neighbourhood”, a really strong community full of activities and interesting people who do all sorts of wonderful things. Rachael added that the Beach is like a small town, and the neighbours on her own street are incredible. They have participated very actively in the Yard Sale for the Cure, even held car washes and put up lemonade stands to help with the cause. All the children were involved, a chance for them to learn a valuable life lesson of seeing charity in action.

Andrew Howard and Rachael Smith are a real power couple, with their successes in the corporate world and their recent forays into entrepreneurship. But more than that they are a tight-knit family that has chosen to give back to their community and wants to bring this spirit of charity to a yard sale near you.

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