April 13, 2023Print | PDF
By Ben Forrest
On April 6, 2023, Master of Business Administration (MBA) students from the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University helped raise more than $75,000 for KidsAbility, a Waterloo-based children’s charity.
As organizers of the 2023 KidsAbility PlasmaCar Races, the Laurier students guided a wildly popular community fundraiser that helps children in Waterloo and Wellington County meet their communication, social, physical, and developmental needs.
Their contributions were part of the MBA program’s Not-for-Profit Practicum requirement, which aims to inspire a life-long commitment to philanthropy and community service. Here’s a quick recap of the event.
As they twisted the tiny steering wheels of kid-sized plasma cars, propelling them forward with varying degrees of success, the racers appeared joyfully determined and playfully frustrated.
It was a low-speed, low-stakes race — a fun team-building exercise that pushed them outside their comfort zones for a good cause.
By the time each racer crossed the finish line on the highly polished ground floor of the Catalyst137 building in Kitchener, Ont., there were smiles all around.
“Even the people who lost their races were having a good time,” said Doug Suerich, a part-time MBA candidate at the Lazaridis School, who co-chaired the fundraiser with long-time KidsAbility benefactor, Astrid Kropp.
“Seeing a lot of people come together who had probably never met before — and might not meet again — having a lot of fun together, it was very rewarding.”
Suerich is one of six part-time MBA students from Laurier who organized the 2023 KidsAbility PlasmaCar races, which challenged corporate teams of four to raise at least $1,000 each.
Laurier classmates Mike Barrett, Melissa Carvalhal, Samson Berhane, Chris Haapamaki and Sebastien Lalonde Miller served as co-organizers and “pit crew” for races that began at 7 a.m. and ran for about two hours.
Many of the participating teams wore costumes and cheered enthusiastically as their co-workers manoeuvred plasma cars — small, plastic vehicles propelled by wiggling the steering wheel.
The sight of mid-career adults hunched over the handlebars, feet perched on running boards and knees hiked up around their ears, was as every bit as fun as it sounds.
“It was fantastic,” said Kropp. “Teams were pumped up; the races ran really well. A few of them were pretty close to a photo finish.”
This year, 19 teams took part — a total of 76 racers — and they blasted past their $50,000 fundraising goal. All proceeds from the event support KidsAbility Foundation, a charity serving children with developmental needs, including people with autism, Downs Syndrome, spina bifida and other conditions.
“I think it means a lot to our families to know there's so many community members and companies behind them,” said Lisa Talbot, executive director at KidsAbility Foundation.
“They're not ignored or forgotten. I think sometimes families can feel like they’re doing this alone, and it can be challenging when you have a child with a disability.”
As part of Laurier’s core mission to inspire lives of leadership and purpose, the Lazaridis MBA requires all candidates to complete 40 hours of field-based community service to a charity before graduation.
Many students already engage in volunteer activities outside the program, and to meet their degree requirements they work with charities that fit with their personal interests and skills.
“It was a very easy sell to my classmates to jump on this,” said Suerich. “We have been applying the skills and knowledge we’ve learned throughout the degree. Certainly, some of the marketing, organization skills and project management skills, directly apply.”
Annual KidsAbility PlasmaCar races have run since 2015, with a three-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the event’s first year back, and it will help KidsAbility serve about 14,000 children this year by providing physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other services.
“Donations make such a huge impact,” said Talbot. “It gets kids in the door earlier, and we know early intervention is so critical. If we can get them in the door sooner, we can make a really big impact for them down the road.”
It’s hoped this charity event, and others like it, will inspire Lazaridis MBA students to develop a life-long commitment to philanthropy and community service.
“I think that's the type of student that Laurier attracts,” said Suerich, who is completing his MBA while working as director of marketing at PEER Group, a Kitchener-based industrial software company. PEER Group hosted and sponsored this year’s plasma car races.
“We're all part of this community, so it's important to give back … putting everybody together in one boat, to do the right thing.”
Anyone wishing to donate to KidsAbility Foundation can do so throughout the year at kidsability.ca.