For Calgary realtor Tanya Eklund, philanthropy is a natural part of life – it’s practically part of her DNA. She was raised to give back to the community and help others and it’s a philosophy that informs both her business and personal life.
“To have the ability to make someone’s life better, sustainable and more enjoyable is truly a wonderful feeling.,” says Eklund. “It fills my soul.”
Eklund grew up in Wetaskiwin, AB and her parents provided a stellar example of giving back to the community by supporting their church and other organizations.
“My mom had me volunteering at a young age at the hospital with babies and elderly patients and then in a seniors home,” explains Eklund. “I volunteered in our church and in camps as did my parents. They are selfless people, they do not value material goods. They will leave all their money to charity. That’s just who they are.”
Growing up with that kind of mentorship certainly rubbed off on Eklund and was further strengthened by a trip she took to Africa at age 23. She worked with an organization called the Changing Point in a small village in Kenya called Kitale. They helped local people with their harvest, tore down old buildings, built new ones and helped put up latrines.
“My trip to Africa changed my life in so many ways,” Eklund says. “It was there I experienced true poverty. Kids with no clothes, shoes, running water or electricity. Parents desperate to provide basic essentials for their kids in hopes they will survive to adulthood. I remember the smells of burning plastics and no proper waste removal – the smell of poverty is ingrained in me like the smell of harvest back home.”
During her trip, Eklund connected with a Kenyan family and has since been able to send their son to university. He recently wrote the bar exam.
“That was a proud moment for me as I know he will be going out into the world to help the people of Kenya,” says Eklund. “Bono once said if you go to another country and experience true poverty, it is now your responsibility to do something about it. That always stuck with me.”
In the years since that initial volunteer trip to Africa, Eklund has become involved with a group called the Ssubi Foundation in Uganda.
“I found out about the Ssubi Foundation from my personal trainer Philip Ndugga,” says Eklund. “He lives in Calgary and is from Uganda and he co-founded the organization with his wife, Tracy Lee. Philip and his team go back every summer to build a school.”
In addition to supporting construction of schools, libraries, teacher accommodations and playgrounds, the Ssubi Foundation also provides micro financing for local community projects.
“We had a fundraiser two years ago that was a casino night called ‘Ginger Royale,’” Eklund recalls. “It raised money to go towards buying, planting and harvesting ginger to sell to help the school and the villagers.”
Another charity, located in Calgary, is also close to Eklund’s heart. She first became aware of Wood’s Homes after being invited to a charity event several years ago. This organization has been a mainstay in Alberta since opening in 1914 and provides mental health treatment and support for children, youth and families.
“What struck me was that they have never turned anyone away,” Eklund explained. “They keep growing staff- and facility-wise to ensure they can house and fund the clients they have. I hope I never need the assistance of Wood’s Homes, however if I do, I know they will be there to support my family and I.”
Eklund has also been supporting individual Calgary families for many years through word of mouth and postings on Facebook. And three years ago, she began working with Adopt a Family. Eklund and her team sponsor two families each year.
“I give back personally and through business,” explains Eklund. “I have tried to foster the idea that giving back can be done as an individual or group. I believe leading by example is the most important way for your team and employees. If they see their boss or leader is so passionate about giving back and helping others it will likely ignite something in them too.”