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BY SUE BUGOS

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

These are both the words of an African proverb, and the philosophy of Warren Spitz, head of UCS Forest Group, and his family. As both friends and supporters of the Sauder School of Business in recent years, Warren and his daughter Kelsey shared some of their genetic sense of what “doing good” means to them.

Grounded. Thoughtful. Humble. Sincere. Warm. A thesaurus might suggest fancier words for the Spitz family personality but that wouldn’t really be what they are about. Kelsey’s smile is infectious, and Warren’s energy is just as catching. Both have an extraordinary way of making the world around them feel like there is nothing more important at the moment than you.

In conversations with both of them, it’s clear that philanthropy for the Spitz family is about doing what is right; leveraging good fortune and personal success to support others in being the best they can be. There are a wide range of charitable organizations and good causes that Warren, his wife Maureen and their three adult children—Gregory, Kelsey and Mathew—have supported over the years; at the heart of that support is genuine care for the world around them and a strong sense of responsibility.

“When you are fortunate, you have an obligation to help others; it is incumbent upon you to do what you can to find ways to provide opportunities for others and support the community,” says Warren earnestly. That sentiment is ingrained in his children as well. “Our efforts are very much a family affair and our kids know that not supporting our community isn’t an option,” he says. Kelsey adds on: “Being involved in the community was always something we did as kids. Whether we were writing letters to our family’s sponsor children through Plan Canada, or my mom was taking us to volunteer at a Christmas party for single moms and their children, it was all part of our childhood.”

Support for soldiers, screens, students and Sauder

In addition to local efforts, the Spitz family have lent their time and financial resources to more prominent efforts like “Operation: Western Front,” a gala Warren organized in Vancouver with his friend, entrepreneur Brett Wilson, in 2011 to honour Canadian troops and raise funds for military members and their families. As a board member of the Toronto International Film Festival, Warren chaired TIFF’s first annual fundraising gala—“The Night That Never Ends”—in 2012, which Kelsey co-produced with him.

Sharing his spirit, Kelsey was a founding member of Plan Canada’s Youth Action Council as a high school student, working with peers from across the country to raise awareness about HIV/ AIDS and inspire action among youth. Engaging friends and family in their efforts is something the family enjoys as well. Kelsey chuckles remembering the, “seventh or eighth 40th birthday party my dad threw for our mom. Instead of a typical party, we threw a fundraising gala at the Key to Bala in Muskoka with over 300 in attendance; instead of presents, everyone donated to Plan Canada. It was so fun—our guests were happy to support Plan, share in our collective passion, and help raise enough money for a youth clinic in Uganda.”

The Spitz family has a long connection and history with UBC and Sauder in particular. Warren (BCom 1981) and Maureen (BSc 1979; MBA 1981) met there as students, their son Gregory (BSc 2008) graduated with a Master of Management from the Robert H. Lee Graduate School in 2010, and several family members—including two of Warren’s brothers—are UBC graduates. After many years of not being in touch with Sauder, Warren had a chance encounter with Sauder alumnus and lecturer Irfhan Rawji who reconnected him with the school. Soon after, Warren was drawn back into “the UBC Sauder vortex,” he says with a smile. This led to a number of reunions with former classmates and eventually an appointment to the Sauder Advisory Board. Warren, as most who know him know, gives his all when he is involved in something. Where there is an opportunity to support a cause he believes in, he will take it as far as it can go.

Spitz
Habitat for Humanity is just one of the many social projects benefiting from the involvement of Warren Spitz (above middle) and his family.

A northwest passage

Over the last two years, the Spitz family imagined a new fellows program for the Sauder School and reached out to the school and the staff of the Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education Initiative to collaborate on the program.

The Spitz Fellows Program is a pathway for Aboriginal women to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce at the Sauder School of Business that eliminates financial barriers to success.

Having worked for several summers on the BC central coast in Namu, and later in Bella Bella, to pay his way through university, Warren developed a deep respect for First Nations communities and heard first hand of the barriers to post-secondary education faced by his friends and co-workers. He also has fond memories of the communities on the central coast from childhood visits to see his dad, Peter, in the remote logging camps he had established.

Through Ch’nook, Warren, Maureen, Gregory and Kelsey had the opportunity to engage with Band Councillors, Chiefs, educators and others in northern communities to learn more about the issues young Aboriginal British Columbians face when they want to pursue post-secondary education in business. Miranda Huron, Ch’nook Program Manager, says the Spitz family has a true understanding of what the consultation process with communities should look like. “As we were leaving Bella Bella for the airport, Warren stopped the cab to take one last moment to look out on the town and the natural beauty of the environs, and it was obvious that his heart had truly never really left the northwest coast.” The experience confirmed, shaped and informed the development of the Spitz Fellows Program, the vision of which is to foster the conditions for each Fellow to empower herself to succeed in her educational goals and beyond, and to become the leader she envisions, in both the Sauder and wider community.

So where does this come from; this drive to “do good” with such passion? It is rooted in gratitude and respect, which form the foundation from which the Spitz family’s values originate. “If anyone who is successful thinks they achieved that singlehandedly, they are sadly mistaken,” says Warren, plainly. “It takes a whole lot of influencers for anyone to reach their potential, so a word that really governs me is gratitude,” he explains. “And with that in mind, I feel a responsibility to literally ‘pay it forward.’” The family has a tremendous amount of respect for anyone living in difficult circumstances, so when they see an opportunity to help that fits within their framework of values, they listen and learn to see how they can help.

Not long ago, Kelsey gave a presentation to the Sauder Philanthropy Program where she discussed with students how to decide what causes to support by paraphrasing American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner—“Find where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” She explains that understanding what means the most to you is important for genuine and authentic philanthropic efforts. “If you are going to really get involved in something you have to feel passionately about it; it avoids opportunism, engenders empathy and becomes a partnership. That’s really how my family feels about the things we support.”

Warren, Maureen, Gregory, Kelsey and Mathew are living the proverb; they are going far, together. Kelsey smiles, “I hope one day people will say ‘I want to do philanthropy that way.’ It’s not just about what you support but how you support it.”

This article originally appeared on the Spring 2015 issue of Viewpoints magazine.