Now What?

President & CEOs Remarks to the MODC AGM, July 24, 2018

andria spindel, president and CEOI delivered the following a few days ago to our senior staff and board members, and would like to share my thoughts as I prepare to transition to retirement after 37+ years at March of Dimes.

Its my pleasure to once again bring forward a review of the prior fiscal year, and my own reflections on how we as a corporation have performed, how our team at the top has performed, and to provide some comments on the next fiscal year. Generally, it’s my opportunity to personally acknowledge many who have contributed to our successes, shed light on any significant issues, say a few words of inspiration about the year to come and our ongoing vision of creating a society that is inclusive of people with disabilities.

This year’s AGM however, is a special and significant one for me; it’s my last as MODC’s senior staff person, my last in what has been a dream job with an incredible agency, the culmination of my role as leader of, and partner with, an incredibly talented and collegial team, the moment in time to consider what I have failed to accomplish and to acknowledge what is yet undone. I can’t any more pledge to make it all happen or give assurances but I do feel that I am in a position to share some observations as I begin the transition process.

Let me begin by acknowledging the tremendous support I have had over my 37+ years, from the Board, local volunteers, program volunteers, fundraising volunteers, and many dozens of committee members. March of Dimes has attracted some of the best people to carry our message, to inspire donors and friends, and to deliver many aspects of our services. Board members have always served us well and with honorable intentions, being aligned with our vision and mission. There have certainly been challenges, and challenging directors, but none without good intentions, none without some merit and I have learned and thrived in the main from the talented members of our two boards.

I cannot say enough about our wonderful, talented and dedicated staff. From the first 183 staff when I came in 1981 to our over 2000 staff now, I am proud of everyone. It’s been my goal to create a learning environment, providing opportunities for individuals to thrive and grow, and to define personally how best to give to the people we serve. Staff innovate and create programs, they imagine the impossible and make it possible, the staff at March of Dimes and our Non Profit Housing Corporation, are never without resource challenges, time constraints and complex and competing demands, but somehow it all gets done and the best is done for our consumers. The data on consumer satisfaction supports what I am saying. We are enhancing lives, creating opportunities and solutions for independence!

I wish I had time to name all of the people who have contributed to my joy on a daily basis, coming to work has made me happy. My children, all now young adults, understand that as CEO of March of Dimes, I have been fully dedicated to our purpose while also being fully devoted to them and there have been times, when they might have doubted that as children but today, as my daughter begins her career in an NGO, my eldest finishes his certification as an American Sign Language Interpreter and my middle son demonstrates the caring and compassion of a mature man, I see that March of Dimes has touched their hearts too.

Well, it has been another challenging, exciting, fruitful year for March of Dimes, thanks to all people mentioned above and thousands more – our donors and funders, and here are just some of the highlights:

March of Dimes grew by another 4.6% overall gross revenue and exceeded the budgeted net of $1M by $1.68M or more than double.

New offices opened in Winnipeg and Victoria, new services also began in North Simcoe Muskoka LHIN area, and continues to expand.

Our agency engaged in a new and radical venture, we purchased a private rehab company to expand our employment and ABI services into BC and establish March of Dimes Canada as a provider of record, positioning our agency in that province in such a way that we can bid on more such contracts.

Both Employment Services and Independent Living Services demonstrated that we have definitely addressed the goal of diversifying our revenues as established in the last 2 strategic plans. They both produced high net revenues from proprietary or fee based sources.

March of Dimes transformed a collaborative relationship with Stroke Recovery Association of BC into a full blown alliance and provided both governance and back office supports, and also new program development support, funding additional staff in the Vancouver office which now houses both our organizations.

The third year of our accessible mobile technology project has opened the vista for us no how technology can improve lives, without huge costs.

March of Dimes Canada Non Profit Housing Corporation began a series of construction projects after more than a decade without growth. Winning bids for grants in Sarnia, Sudbury and Hamilton has enabled this expansion and put our full spectrum of independent living in supportive housing front and center in these communities where we serve the most severely disabled people within the community.

Community Engagement, Integration, Inclusion are great concepts and at March of Dimes we make them ways of living, by offering an array of services to support people, by being a strong advocacy voice, and by communicating at all levels in the public sphere. Every day we are making people aware of the needs and rights of people with disabilities, and we are encouraging and training people with such lived experience to speak out, to demonstrate and demand their essential rights. Whether it’s through our Life Skills program, Conductive Education, Recreation or Government Relations and Advocacy, March of Dimes is helping people achieve their personal goals and then moving the goal post, reaching ever further to find successful tools and interventions to enable the dreams of children and adults with disabilities.

This evening you will hear about an important area that has expanded dramatically within our agency, as we re-entered the field of research, focusing on applied research designed at helping us to understand the best ways to achieve the best outcomes. With the appointment of Dr. Emily Nalder as March of Dimes Canada Paul J.J. Martin Professor, we have completed studies on the outcomes of our own services, attracted student and faculty research projects alike, partnered in several research projects, and served as advisors on external projects. Dr. Nalder will highlight the work of the last 3 ½ years of her 5 year appointment, and I trust get everyone excited about how research can inform our practice and further policies that benefit people with disabilities.

While, there have been some struggles to achieve our goals, the results have not been without learning, without sincerity, nor without accomplishment in forgoing new relationships. Challenges are but opportunities and at March of Dimes we accept and even encourage challenges.

We have become part of several international communities of academics and researchers, primarily through our role in the Bridging, Aging and Disability International Network, the International Centre for Disability Research at University of Toronto and the International Initiative on Disability Leadership. Over the past few years, I have travelled abroad for March of Dimes, speaking about our work and seeking collaborations with peers in other jurisdictions, and have fostered this same approach among other staff, so that we are finding the best of the best practices to inform our work.

I would truly be remiss if I didn’t also speak of both the challenges and successes of our Fund Development, Marketing and Communications Department which every year has to reinvent itself to address all the new ways that people in society are communicating and responding to human needs. We are operating on many social media platforms, delivering content in all formats, and searching out partners, sponsors and funders at all levels of government and across communities. The Department has significantly stretched to support non profit housing also, and leads the capital campaigns where we are building new supportive living accommodation. Often ahead of the rest of the organization, the department finds local business partners to deliver content, organize events, attract media, and develop March of Dimes Canada volunteer committees at the local level. Despite competitive markets, which are increasing with new charities being formed every year, the staff have managed year over year to grow the net for our community-based services.

We fundraise in all provinces now and while not physically in the Northern territories, we do have specialized services for Inuit from Nunuvat whose lives have been significantly impacted by an acquired brain injury. These services are unique, and designed in conjunction with the government of the territories to provide a safe supportive environment for these Canadians to experience the best opportunities for independent living.

I could go on and on about our accomplishments, and would, but you will be presented with the full story by Jerry Lucas later tonight within the Board meeting, at which time the actual numbers will be presented as to the revenue and expense allocation to programs, and the numbers of people served. All of this is possible, because years ago, we put in place the tools, policies and procedures for accountability and transparency; taught staff to plan and to measure what they do, to have informed clients, to have a consumer oriented approach to service, to adhere to administrative processes, financial controls, HR legislation and more, BUT above all, to think creatively and have good judgement. We seek compliance with a host of procedures AND we also seek to foster integrity; its not a matter of “but”, but “both”, that makes our team so successful – strong direction and individual action.

A word about the challenges unfulfilled. I cannot leave March of Dimes without acknowledging that I may not have accomplished all that I or the Board would have wished. Some of these wishes include – launching and delivering a national service that covers Canada coast to coast, is fully funded and brings together the wrap around services MODC offers to keep people in the community. We have began this in launching an “After Stroke” website, but there is much more to be done.

I would have liked to see Conductive Education embedded in our social and health services funding framework, and as part of the early childhood education offerings. We have made significant strides, but its imperative that more be done if this unique, holistic, cost effective program is to continue to be available in Canada.

We have just begun to explore new technologies for people with disabilities, while still working very successfully on low tech solutions through DesignAbility. In the immediate future, I would hope that March of Dimes will consider expanding the latter and investing in the former, presumably through major partnerships with universities, colleges and technical institutions.

Our first national study of significance was funded through the National Center of Excellence, called AGEWELL. It provides clear recommendations for a Canada in which there is equitable access to Assistive Devices/Technology for those with any functional impairment. I have hopes that it will serve as the basis for policy advocacy and education – perhaps giving March of Dimes a lead position in regards to provincial, federal and territorial deliberations. And of course, we have been active on the federal level as collaborators and consultants on the new Accessible Canada Act. I think my dream of an accessible, inclusive Canada is one step closer to reality, and we played no small part in getting it here.

I must stay I have no regrets. If I could have done more, been more astute, more sensitive, more enlightened, I do apologize.

For any missed opportunity, I apologize, and hope the champions within March of Dimes will grab the next opportunities; and continue to make a difference.

The question we have asked in this year’s AGM and Annual report is “Now What?” Its begun already to be a year of change with the recent departure of 3 senior staff, with the addition of our vibrant new Chief External Affairs Officer and talented Director of IT and Information Systems, and it will continue to be a year of change when I leave, and our COO begins his own transition. Neither Jerry Lucas nor I probably ever imagined we would get to these days. So for me, now what? I envision several things for myself: more time with my 3 millennial aged children and first grandson, Ezra, born May 29th. I hope to enjoy some R&R doing things I love, such as gardening, biking, reading and my return to needle craft. But, I am also taking on a new challenge and I decided to share it with you. In our fast paced, cyber connected, over populated world, there is a growing menace called anti-semitism, hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel. I have been increasingly engaged in attempts to confront and combat this unspeakable evil and thus “now what?” for me, means doing more to educate people whose desire to hurt or eliminate my community is paramount. So, I am starting here – tonight. For Canada, to be truly inclusive, it means accepting diversity, eliminating hatred, combating ignorance and bigotry, defending freedom of religion and expression, and the values that thousands of Canadians previously died to defend. I hope I can make some small contribution.

Once again, thanks for a great 37 years!





Another Way I support March of Dimes

Diane Spindel and Andria Spindel

The photo was taken over 9 years ago; my mother passed away on December 25th, 2007. She and I were very close and I still miss her, and most especially when I am with my young adult children and think about all the pleasure they give me, and how much I want to share it with their grandmother. It has caused me to reflect on the many things I want to share, some of which is incorporated in this article I wrote a few years ago. The article was shared with our donors and will be part of our Legacy Newsletter this month. I am sharing it here as another way to bring my mother and her journey into my memory.

“My own mother became disabled when I was only five years old. Perhaps that, more than anything else, has helped me personally understand, in a most profound way, the importance of individuals maintaining their dignity and independence, no matter what the disability. It’s a core value that instructs our every decision here at March of Dimes Canada. This childhood experience deeply impacted my life choices. At age 34, having just started working at March of Dimes Canada, I took the unusual step at that time of making a Planned Gift to 4 charities through the purchase of a life insurance policy, designating the charities as beneficiaries. I understood that it was an inexpensive way for a young person like myself to make a significant difference, to give back in a meaningful way, even though it would only materialize decades later. For me, making a Planned Gift was also a way to honour several of the most important pillars of my life, to formalize these commitments: community, international development, Jewish life, and the inclusion of people with disabilities. It has been my privilege to work at March of Dimes Canada for almost 35 years. While I could not have known at 34, when I purchased my policy, that it would be such a long relationship, I did already know that working with and for people with disabilities was my calling.

Making a Planned Gift to March of Dimes Canada made so much sense to me. During my time here, I have seen the life transformations that come from the services our organization provides to people of all ages and stages of disability. I have met with thousands of people whose lives we have touched, helped to establish programs that address their needs, and seen how advocacy enables change. I have worked with a remarkable team at March of Dimes and know their commitment is a major contributor to the success of the services we provide to the community we serve. I believe in the future of March of Dimes Canada, in the future of an inclusive society and in the benefits of planning now to ensure tomorrow’s important work — and hope that others share these values.

If you have not yet done so, I would encourage everyone to check with a financial advisor to learn more about the benefits of a Planned Gift. In doing so, it’s my sincere hope that you will consider including March of Dimes Canada in your plans. Based on my personal experience, I’m convinced that you will find Planned Giving to be a most rewarding decision.”

I’m 65 and I’m Alive!

Seems like an odd heading for a party invitation, but that is exactly what my Mother’s 65th birthday bash invitation said in 1989 when she celebrated by inviting over 100 people to a hotel luncheon. She had survived beyond expectation, having experienced a brain tumour at age 28 and then a broken neck from falling down our basement stairs while still recovering from brain surgery. My Mother was a walking quad, a highly energetic, socially-minded, volunteer-oriented, beautiful woman, who survived in style and humour until age 83. She fell because she insisted on doing laundry herself and on maintaining normalcy in adversity.

reunion, mom, deb and me

Andria, Mother, Sister Deborah 2005

In October I turned 65 and celebrated this in a small town in Calabria, Southern Italy, with total strangers who became good friends over the period of a ten day tour that included Sicily. My life at 65 is still full of long work days, three young adult (but dependent) children, hours of weekly volunteer activities,  and a bevy of funny, interesting and loving friends. My life is very much dedicated to my Mother, who despite many physical and emotional hardships never gave in to “kvetching” (excessive complaining), though she dined out on medical stories and inventions. She became somewhat of a “go to person” amongst those who wanted cheap medical advice as over the years she racked up experience with multiple surgeries, innovative drugs for pain, and laborious experiences with physio, hypnosis, acupuncture, and every other modality aimed at overcoming her limitations and her agony. Had she had a total spinal cord lesion, she would have had no pain and though she occasionally contemplated having her spinal cord totally severed, she generally, laughed at the idea, and said, ”Its only my pain that tells me I’m alive.”

I can hardly believe that arriving at 65 is so easy; it came so fast. My Mother never looked old; she aged beautifully, and had few lines on her face, uncalloused hands and feet, thick white hair, and sparkling clear blue eyes. She cared almost too much about how she looked, but then vanity is a medical marvel also. She wanted to always look beautiful, so she hid the neck braces behind scarves, painted her canes to match her outfits, and refused most of the time to stay home, use a wheelchair or let others do her errands.  She would have worked but for her disability; in 1954 when she was diagnosed, the prognosis wasn’t good.

My Mother was different. She wasn’t like other Mothers because she used a cane, could not get on a bus, never drove a car, could not lift or carry groceries, never picked up her daughters for a hug, because she physically couldn’t. She couldn’t turn her head sideways, step backwards, or wear high heeled shoes. She did try to look elegant and she never missed a party if invited, but she had to sit out the dances, much to my Father’s pleasure I think as he was much more the introvert.

My Mother was an inspiration. Her friends and family heralded her achievements in just surviving multiple surgeries, and not despairing. They referred to her strength as if she had a PhD in survivorship. She drove her children crazy because of her difference, but she became a role model for taking life as  it comes, feeling blessed about being alive, seeing the obstacles as mere challenges to be overcome, and expressing humour and zest for living and loving others. She was always there for me.

So, as I move through this momentus year of 65, I think often of my Mother, Dinah Spindel. December 25th will be the 6th anniversary of her death, and I will think a great deal about her and the wonderful path she set for me. She set expectations, she sowed ideas of commitment, persistence, generosity and above all, caring for others. I hope at 83, I can look back on a life well lived, as she did.

Something Very Special


Andria Spindel, Hon LLD, giving her convocation speech

Life is full of surprises and when they are good surprises, like birthday parties, new babies, chocolate gifts, kindness in unexpected places, or a bright day after days of rain, one really welcomes them and wants to share them. How do I share the wonderful surprise that awaited me when I returned from a vacation,  when it was a letter from the President of the University of Guelph, advising I had been nominated for an Honorary Doctorate of Law? All I could say was “Wow, really?”  I couldn’t even imagine where the nomination had come from nor why. I was to learn that a board member of Ontario March of Dimes Non Profit Housing Corporation had recommended my nomination, supported by several other people. I was invited to give the Convocation address at the graduation of the Business and Psychology students at Guelph Humber on June 17th and would I accept?

The recognition was exquisite, making me feel very honoured indeed. The task of addressing 500 students was awesome and challenging. How does one add inspiration to an event that is generally inspiring in its ceremony, in the presence of many gowned elite and educated, exceptional individuals and how does one speak to the graduands of 2013? I think the fact I was asked to do this was the honour itself, for it assumed I have something important or significant to share. I wanted this to be very special, for them, as much as for me. I suddenly felt I had been granted a unique opportunity, and hoped I could make a difference in the day, and in the memory of the day for the students who would be in attendance on June 17th at 1:00pm. I knew there would be a week of convocation exercises, and those assigned this time slot were to be my special audience and I there special guest.

I pondered many topics and listened to other speeches by notables like J.K. Rowland who addressed the class of 2013 at Harvard. I reflected on what had impressed me at my BA graduation in 1968 when Maurice Strong addressed U of C grads at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. I had been impressed then, though today I don’t remember his precise words, but I remember sitting in the audience, his name being called and his address, inflection, his very presence causing me pause, and making me think about my future. I went to Africa shortly thereafter, and I wonder how much he moved me to think about serving others.

So, whether my words will be remembered, or whether I am expressing too much ego, I will provide a link here to my written address and a link to the video excerpt of my presenting it at the convocation, when they are available, then you may consider if my message says something of value to you.

I wish everyone a very special day when you too feel appreciated, even made to feel like royalty. It was truly a wonderful experience.  Since I acknowledge my children in my message, let me add another lesson they taught me and it is that  “everyone is special.”

Click here to watch my speech, or read the transcript here: Andria Spindel Convocation Speech Transcript

Bicycles, Summer exploration, Autumn colours, Thanksgiving, People-to-people relations

What do all the above concepts have in common? Possibly nothing except they are all topics about which I have felt like sharing and blogging. I hesitate and another week passes, and then I think of a new topic but the former stays with me. So, today I am challenged to at least address one of these topics and over a few weeks, perhaps I can connect them.

The most obvious connection hit me on Monday, October 08, 2012 as its appropriate on Thanksgiving to speak of “gratitude.” I am indeed grateful and give thanks for each of the above, and for the every day joys of family, friends, good health, opportunities, and challenges. I think each morning about what I might do and say with gratitude in my heart. Here is one of my experiences that might inspire someone else to enjoy life’s pleasures.

I spent a week of my summer vacation in Quebec, and for the first time in almost a decade I rode a bike, and for the first time ever I went on a bike tour, and surprise! I didn’t fall off, feel left behind, nor did I ache all over after the 7 hours and many kilometers on a bike.  In fact, I had 3 days on a bike, once comfortable with the new technology associated with biking. I loved it!!!

I now recommend everyone try seeing a city on a bike, but particularly Montreal which has bike lanes everywhere, and they are safe, generally in protected lanes, and always respected by drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists. It is positively stunning to see how many people, of all ages and stages of life are on a bike. It is possible for a modern city, with tons of traffic, to incorporate a bicycle culture within its business, tourist, cultural and residential districts. It works! And more importantly to me was that my own legs worked and I enjoyed the company of a dozen cyclists who toured the Plateau of Montreal, including the old Portugese and Jewish neighborhoods. My tour companion was convinced we could do this, but she smartly determined we would not do a 5 day road tour on our (my) first excursion on a bike. We did however, tour the old city and the islands of Montreal on our own during the second day of vacation and then did about 40km in Granby in the Eastern townships on another day as Granby has a wonderful,  relatively flat trail through parkland.

I had never before even sat on a bike with more than 10 speeds, and had no idea what to do with 21. I was comforted by the guide who not only showed me how to properly fit a bike helmet, but also how to use only 3 speeds.

Most important to me was that biking reminded me of an old puzzle question my late father, David Spindel, once posed to me when I was a child and it has stayed fresh for me forever. He asked what was the greatest invention of mankind, it could be used by all ages, maintained or restored health, provided inexpensive transportation,  adventure and recreation, could be used in employment, had universal appeal and came in many sizes and colours?  It was of course the bicycle! I have often quoted my father as I see our city clogged, the air polluted, people struggling with weight and health problems, transportation prices rising, and a general population removed from the ground level of life.

So, try a bike ride, and enjoy the many pleasures that it brings. Take care to have physical activity in your life to remain strong and healthy, have adventures in your life to stay engaged and inspired, and have friends along with you to feel connected and happy.