When Lillian Smith proposed a fresh new fundraising initiative to her colleagues on the board of The Hospice at May Court in 2002, she wasn't sure what kind of reaction her ambitious plan might generate.
"I had been thinking about a fundraising strategy that would not only provide significant revenue but also raise awareness of the hospice," she recalls. "I knew that it had to be something that would attract a lot of people and media attention if it was to survive as a long-term fundraiser, since hospice care is not high on peoples' priority until the service is required."
But despite that self-imposed tall order, Lillian felt she had found exactly the right fit: An event that was making waves in several North American cities by showcasing beautiful homes decorated for the holidays.
So confident was she about the potential for success that she guaranteed it would raise $40,000 for The Hospice at May Court in its first year. Luckily for her, it did that and more, raising a grand total of $85,000 and setting the stage for what has become one of Ottawa's most eagerly anticipated and wildly popular annual fundraising initiatives - Homes for the Holidays.
Not only does the tour offer a glimpse into some of Ottawa's most stunning houses decked out in all their glory, it also benefits a cause whose importance everyone can understand - palliative care.
"It is so important that we have the option to die with dignity," says Lillian. "If you can't be at home, and many can't, then The Hospice at May Court is the next best thing."
And while the hundreds of volunteers who help make Homes for the Holidays a success hold a very special place in Lillian's heart, she has equal admiration for the people who donate their houses and time to make the event memorable.
"The homeowners are so generous," enthuses Lillian. "They put up with almost a week of their homes being taken over, but just as remarkable are the number of people who do all the decorating at their own expense," she continues. "All of these people give of their time and their privacy to allow us to raise these funds."
After almost a decade of watching Homes for the Holidays grow, Lillian admits that Christmas now comes early for her. "The very fact that The Hospice at May Court is alive and well and providing such a vital service is the best gift of all for me."
To learn more about the Hospice at May Court view our video www.ottawaathome.ca.
Catherine Clark is the host of Beyond Politics on CPAC, airing Sunday nights at 8 p.m.