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40 years of giving: How Peter is paving a path for lasting impact


Peter Schmolka has been a United Way donor for 40 years, loyally giving through his workplace campaign during his time as a translator and language advisor with the Government of Canada, and now as a GCWCC retiree.  

Over coffee, we not only learned that Peter is a regular reader of our monthly newsletter, but we also got to know the details around his giving history, and how he’s planning for the future—specifically why he believes it’s important to consider leaving a gift to charity in your will.  

1) How do you feel your life shaped your approach to philanthropy?

In school, it was normal for our classes to raise funds for the Red Cross, fostering an early understanding of the impact organizations could have. During Halloween, we were encouraged to go trick-or-treating for UNICEF. The presence and impact of the YMCA in our community also showed us the importance of recreational opportunities being available for everyone.

In my career’s early days about 50 years ago, I spent some time in a Montreal social service agency in their IT department. When I moved to Ottawa in 1983, I was active in volunteering and engaged in tabling at events and door-to-door canvassing. These experiences have melded into an approach to philanthropy that’s informed by awareness, personal involvement, and a desire to make a difference.

2) Who do you feel taught you to be passionate about social justice?

Social justice has always been in my family. My father’s stepmother, Marie, was very active during the war, working for an aid organization. I used to have a booklet about her. There were big upheavals as you can imagine, the aftermath of which included many refugees seeking safety.

My parents didn’t talk much about it—they escaped Czechoslovakia as it then was before the war, but some of their family didn’t survive. They put the war behind them as they built their new life, so it seldom came up, but these humanitarian roots were always something I was aware of.

3) You’ve supported United Way as a donor for many years. Why have you maintained your commitment for such a long time?

I have not been a beneficiary of United Way personally, but from the knowledge I gained during my time in the social services sector early in my career, I know that they play an important—even indispensable, role.

I believe it was Eleanor Roosevelt that once said, “when it’s better for everyone, it’s better for everyone.” It’s an obvious statement—or what they call a tautology—but it’s true. It’s better for everybody if no one is falling behind.

When people fall behind, a chain reaction unfolds, ultimately making problems more complicated. These issues need to be addressed one way or another, and ideally, they’re approached proactively and in ways that target their root causes. In a country as rich as Canada, people shouldn’t have to choose between sleeping in a shelter or pitching a tent under an overpass. Society should provide better options for people, so they’re not forced to go to those extremes.

4) What would you say to someone if they were considering becoming a United Way donor?

There’s a saying in French: “ça va de soi,” which means “it goes without saying” or “it’s self-evident.” Our communities have needs, and United Way is a way to meet those needs. 

I saw a statistic recently that said 1 in 5 people will need some kind of support from a charitable organization in the next six months.

We have just come through three years of the COVID-19 pandemic and have not fully recovered from it. The media keeps telling us about the substance use crisis, homelessness crisis, and mental health crisis, to name a few. The government alone cannot solve all these problems, which is where civil society and volunteers come in.

"The challenges we’re facing are so great, and most are getting worse. Assistance isn't keeping up with the cost of living, and more people have to rely on food banks, shelters, and so on."

5) What initially inspired you to consider leaving a charitable gift in your will?

I am a senior, 73 years old, and have received requests from various organizations I support to include a legacy donation to them as part of my estate, so it’s been on my mind for a few years now.

United Way’s Jessica Deut approached me about leaving a legacy to her organization and I am certainly considering it, because they do very good work and fill vital needs in our communities across Eastern Ontario. 

United Way donor Peter Schmolka with Jessica Deut, Manager of Planned Giving

"I like the idea of contributing to United Way because they help a broad range of issues, and I supported them through annual giving for a long time when I was a public servant."

6) How do you envision the future of the communities we serve?

I hope for the best, but if recent experience is anything to go by, the future will certainly present its share of challenges. We had high inflation back in the 80s, but younger people haven’t lived through that before. As a result, not only is life more challenging, but the charitable sector is seeing fewer and smaller donations because times are hard for many people.

Generally, it’s older folks like me who are in the habit of donating or volunteering regularly. As time passes and our generation transitions, fewer people are coming forward to fill the gaps. I hope that the message about the value of giving—whether through donations or volunteering—reaches the younger generations.

7) Can you describe the steps you have taken to ensure your planned gift aligns with your philanthropic goals?

One thing I know for certain is that I can’t predict the future, so I can’t know what needs will be most prevalent at the time that my estate is settled. 

"My direction for any planned gift I leave will be for the organization to use the funds at their discretion—aligning it to what our communities’ greatest needs are at the time that they receive the gift."

8) Is there any advice you’d like to share with others who are considering planned giving?

I would advise people to take their time about this important decision, but not wait too long. Of course, they should consult with their other beneficiaries to make sure that their needs are met as well.

Our legacy starts with you. Learn more about planned giving at United Way. 



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