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Interviewing Shannon Digby of London Health Sciences Foundation

Whether you’ve battled cancer, disease, or have sat at the hospital bedside of someone you love, nearly every Londoner has a chapter of their life’s story that involves a trip to London Health Sciences Centre. That’s why the London Health Sciences Foundation (LHSF) ‘Wedding Celebration Program’ hits so close to the heart for many of us.

By inviting couples to make donations to LHSF in lieu of wedding favours, the program makes a real difference in the London and Southwestern Ontario community. This incredible program offers an outlet for brides and grooms to honour a chapter in their life (or the memory of a loved one) while helping others to overcome theirs.

The team at The Ring sat down with Shannon Digby to find out how couples can celebrate their love story by giving back…

A foundation run on volunteers, big ideas and heart

“For more than 25 years, we have acted as a trustee on behalf of our donors,” explains Shannon. “We are governed by our own, independent Board of Directors comprised of 20 volunteers who represent the community. We employ a staff of 52, combined with hundreds of volunteers who support foundation events, committees and administration,” she says, adding that her team consists of Lindsay Manz, Maria Skale Glavic and Stephanie Scuderi.

LHSF is a registered charity accredited by both the Better Business Bureau and Imagine Canada.

After 25 years of raising money for patient care at the hospital, a new trend in philanthropy emerged: “In lieu of traditional wedding gifts or favours, couples are commemorating their wedding day in a more thoughtful and meaningful way with a donation to a cause close to their heart,” explains Shannon.

“Our Wedding Celebration Program began as a result of this trend – giving couples the opportunity to donate to varying causes within the hospital in honour of their day and/or someone they love.”

Kevin and Jessica Roeder decided to make a gift to the LHSC in lieu of wedding favours because cancer has directly affected them. “Me, at 19, and both my grandmothers,” says Jessica, adding that they were very proud to support the foundation. “We are so grateful for the London Regional Cancer Program – the guidance, support and expertise they have provided our family. We all know people close to us who are battling or have battled cancer. We wanted to recognize the courage they have shown, the sacrifices they have made and thesupport the London Regional Cancer Program has provided our family. The finest gift is one that helps others live longer, healthier lives.”

Laura and Mark Vieira both lost their parents in 2015. “It was important to honor them and help in ways that we could for the future of the program and to ensure the care that is so desperately needed for our ailing loved ones is in place,” says Laura.

Where the money goes

LHSF believes people deserve care that is above and beyond the standard. Though the provincial government funds the day-to-day operations of the hospital, donors fund new equipment and technologies, expanded education and research, and enhanced patient care that sets the hospital apart as a jewel in the crown of Southwestern Ontario.

Couples can either donate to the hospital’s highest priority needs, where donor dollars can make the most immediate impact, or they may choose to support a specific program such as cancer care, women’s care, mental health care, cardiac care or orthopaedic care—areas currently being transformed with the help of donors. Vital donor-funded projects include Patient Assistance Programs, which help patients in financial need afford treatment-related expenses not covered by insurance; hybrid operating rooms needed for when minimally invasive procedures may require a quick transition to open surgery, a patient-centred cancer research centre, medical simulation training, youth mental health care initiatives and more.

Donations to these programs will introduce innovative approaches and models of care at LHSC – enhancements that get patients back on their feet faster and back to their families sooner.

How to celebrate your love story by giving back

The program, in its infancy, averages 10 wedding celebrations a year in support of LHSC to date. But the goal is to increase this number significantly over the next couple of years. “It’s a great opportunity to make a difference in patients’ lives who are in need of care at our hospital.”

The first step is for brides and grooms to connect with Shannon and her team through phone and email to get hooked up with the program.

Certificates and/or place cards are provided by LHSF to allow couples to notify their guests that a donation has been made. According to Shannon, this is typically done in lieu of wedding favours. Couples can then donate easily and securely online or they can collect pledges through an online wedding donation page. “Most couples choose to honour a loved one who has received care at LHSC,” says Shannon. “Someone who has had an experience with LHSC, whether personal or through a family or friend and is looking to make a difference for future patients.”

While planning their wedding, Chris and Tonya discussed the idea of favors for their guests.

“We both agreed that our wedding favours needed to be a thoughtful reflection of our shared ideals rather than a disposable trinket with little lasting value,” Tonya says.  “We wanted them to be meaningful and to acknowledge two very important guests that were not able to be with us. In the previous five years, I had lost both my father and brother to cancer, and their absence on our special day was greatly missed.”

Memories of these family members were incorporated throughout various aspects of the ceremony and reception, and in lieu of wedding favours, the couple made a donation in memory of their loved ones to London Health Sciences Foundation.

“It was the perfect way to honour their memories beyond just our wedding day. Our donation was given as a wish for future patients and their families to receive the same exceptional care and support my family received from the amazing staff at LHSC during our own battles with cancer. Our guests appreciated the gesture as well, some of whom shared with us their own experiences battling cancer. They felt, as we do, that my brother and father were in some small way helping to continue the fight for them as well.”

When planning a wedding, couples have three options to choose from…

1. Rather than traditional wedding favours like candied almonds, the couple can make a donation to support patient care, education or research.
2. The couple can choose either place cards or display a certificate to inform their guest a donation has been made in their honour. Place cards are sold in packages of 25 for $25. Certificates are $150.
3. Couples can customize a personalize wedding page online to ask their guests to make a donation in lieu of gifts.

Claire and Cameron Law got married July 31, 2016 in Charleston, South Carolina.

“One of the initial decisions we made concerning our wedding was not the location, the number of guests, nor the menu. Rather, we knew we wanted to spotlight a charitable organization that has played a significant role in both our lives,” says Claire. “Our families have been supported by London Health Sciences Centre as both patients and health care professionals for over sixty years. Therefore, in lieu of wedding gifts, we asked our guests to kindly make a donation to the Foundation. We made this decision to raise awareness of the importance of the Foundation to the people of Southwestern Ontario, and most importantly, to inspire others to follow our example.

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Contacting London Health Sciences Foundation

To learn more about London Health Sciences Foundation, contact them directly by email using the form below. 🙂 You can also visit London Health Sciences Foundation online at www.lhsf.ca/weddings.

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