Building Smiles and Breaking Records: Autism Ontario's South Region Fundraising Success

Autism Ontario

Autism Ontario’s South Region recently brought together two recreation room favourites on June 4 and the week of April 29: “Jenga” – the game where players compete to stack wooden blocks before they finally fall – and Tim Hortons’ Smile Cookies, to raise money for the Autism Ontario – South Region.


The sale of Tim Horton’s Smile Cookies raised over $58,000 for summer camps in Autism Ontario’s South Region. Incredibly, twenty-five restaurants in the Saint Catharine's area participated in the effort.

Janine O’Brien, Regional Fund and Volunteer Coordinator for Autism Ontario’s South Region, says the response of both the local Tim Horton’s owners and staff and the surrounding community was nothing short of amazing. “We had a lot of families who did bulk orders,” mentions Janine. The restaurant owners preferred the bulk orders, she says, so they can plan ahead.  “If the restaurant owner had a big order, then they can contact us and mention they really need volunteer support on a certain day.”


Smile Cookies

It was a very emotional process, comments Janine, as the community was not only supporting Autism Ontario but also the Summer Camp program. "We received numerous messages from our families, expressing that every time they visited a particular store, they found it to be exceptionally accepting and welcoming. This sense of inclusion made them feel valued and empowered to contribute."

Janine returns to the importance of fundraising, especially with events like the camp, where the budget is more significant. “We’re in a hard fundraising year, and every year we have to fundraise, we start from scratch.“ Those donations, she says, are critical, because they ensure that kids attending the camp have one-to-one support. “The biggest expense of our camp is hiring all those additional support staff to make sure that it runs smoothly for our kids and our families.”



Another example of the depth of community support that Autism Ontario has in the South Region was recently on display as local internet celebrity and Jenga master “The Professor Loves Balancing” on Tik Tok— who also is known as Meindert de Boer — set out to create a new Guiness world record for Jenga block stacking. Meindert decided to support Autism Ontario because he thought the cause was a good one.

Meindert reached out to Paul and Michael Gowan, owners of Mr. Mike’s Casual Steakhouse, in Saint Catharine's and asked if they were willing to host the event. With personal experience of autism in their family and a history of supporting Autism Ontario, they jumped at the opportunity. “We decided that we were going to host this event,” said Paul. “We looked for a partner and reached out to Autism Ontario South Region.”

Giant FM Radio also joined the event, broadcasting live on-site with a remote setup and featuring a large prize wheel.

Despite a power failure which plunged the restaurant and most of the city into darkness, Meindert easily broke his record, using over 3,340 Jenga bricks from 62 boxes before it finally collapsed in front over 48,000 viewers on Tik Tok. “We set a new world record for Jenga, which was almost double the previous attempt,” he said.

Although the final tally for the fundraising is not yet available, Janine says this successful event is yet another example of community support for Autism Ontario. “We’re grateful for whatever comes to us because it goes right back into our programming to get our families the services that recreation and social supports they're looking for."