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Are the charitable efforts of your club one-off events, or are they part of a long-term commitment to make a difference? Ray Algar reports on a remarkable club in Canada.

This month I want to share the remarkable story of how the independent Fifth Avenue Club in Calgary, Canada is making a nine-year commitment to support the growth of communities in the Belo region of western Ethiopia.

Why feature the Fifth Avenue Club?

What appealed to me about this project was the long-term nature of its support to Food for the Hungry, its chosen Canadian charity partner. Darren Kanwischer, owner of the Fifth Avenue Club had noticed the tendency for some gyms to approach charity as a one-time short-term event whereas he wanted to forge a long-term partnership that could make a meaningful and enduring impact, touching thousands of lives.

It began over a cup of coffee

Kanwischer became aware of Food for the Hungry and its work across Africa through the club’s coffee supplier and was drawn to the idea of ‘adopting’ the Belo community as part of a sustainable development project. The purpose of Food for the Hungry is to end poverty one community at a time and they achieve this by ‘walking alongside’ a community. Walking alongside means the charity does not believe in short-term handouts but instead works to understand the root causes of poverty and commits to support a community for about 10 years after which it should be self-sustaining. Therefore it seeks donor partners who believe in this long-term approach and are able to support funding of health, sanitation, food security, education and local leadership.

The friendliest club in town

Since the Fifth Avenue Club, which spans 15,500 square feet (1,440 square metres) opened in 2006, it has focused on becoming the friendliest fitness venue in the city. Calgary itself is the largest city in the province of Alberta with a population of 1.1 million at the 2011 census. It is a prospering city, which has attracted many of Canada’s largest companies, and so residents can chose from many different club brands. GoodLife Fitness operates nearby as do Anytime Fitness along with specialist studios, CrossFit and many other fitness providers. ‘Friendly’ and ‘supportive’ are therefore two important attributes for this 700 member club to own as competition intensifies and people make their club choice.

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