Caring for his Community
When someone asks Alex Handyside what he does for fun, his answer is immediate and genuine. “I volunteer,” he says. And it’s true. He is born volunteer, giving his time “everywhere and anywhere.” He is particularly fond of non-profits, having worked for a number of them in the Halifax area.Metro Food Bank
As the Director of Development and Communications at the Metro Food Bank for four years, Handyside helped raise $1.2 million per year. It’s this ability to band together with others with the express desire to help that fuels him. “I love that a handful of people in an organization can come together and make such a difference in a community.”A Positive Grassroots Movement
It seems only natural then that Alex recently co-founded one of our region’s most unique fundraisers. 100 Men Who Give A Damn is modelled on Halifax’s 100 Women Who Care co-founded by Colette Robicheau. Back in the fall, Handyside was at an event with Robicheau and good friend Bill VanGorder. “Colette threw down the gauntlet and challenged Bill and I to find even five men who cared.”
Spurred on by the dare, Handyside put out a call to his male friends and acquaintances who he thought might be keen to help others and give to a good cause. “We had a breakfast meeting and floated a basic business plan to gauge interest,” he says. “SMU Alumni were out in force!” Of those, Tim Rissesco, who heads up the Downtown Dartmouth Business Commission, SMU instructor Steve Foran, and Saint Mary’s President Colin Dodds have become part of a core group of members.
Their mandate? In Handyside’s words: “We’re a bunch of guys who care enough about our community to want to make a BIG impact.” They meet four times a year, hear about the great work three local charities do, and then choose one. Every member writes a cheque for $100 to the chosen charity.
To say that the group has grown over the last six months would be a serious understatement. Mayor Mike Savage got the ball rolling by signing on to be the first member. Since then, over 230 men have joined and social media has spread their message broadly. “We’ve had inquiries from the US, Ontario, Vancouver, and we even have a member in Austin, Texas!”
After their first meeting this past February, the group presented The Children’s Wish Foundation with $23,400. “It was a wonderful feeling to watch cheque after cheque being popped into the Huskies football helmet we passed around,” says Handyside. “All those men who really do care, each giving a small donation, but one that cumulatively has a huge effect on a local organization.”
SMU Alumni Get Involved
For Handyside, the fact that Saint Mary’s donates the venue, and so many Alumni are interested in participating is extra special. Just like his time at SMU. During the mid-nineties he worked to achieve his MBA part-time, while still working in the Canadian military. One of his first classes was marketing and he quickly became “completely smitten.”
After nine years as a Sea King helicopter navigator, Handyside had suddenly found what he longed to do, although he knew right away that he would never want to apply this learning in a “corporate Canada” setting. He turned his mind to possibilities in an NGO, doing research and completing work placements in the non-profit sector.
Bolstered by the MBA he earned upon his graduation in 2000, Handyside accepted a job he was offered at the Metro Food Bank and left the military. After four years of successful fundraising for that organization, he felt the need to go it on his own. “Saint Mary’s helped me discover my inner entrepreneur, and I haven’t looked back since.”
Two companies are the result. ScotiaCare Homecare provides in-home care to seniors, veterans, and the disabled, while NitroTek hosts web space for non-profits. His most famous client? Sean Connery, who has a charitable foundation called Friends of Scotland. “It’s kind of a bizarre situation and I’ve never met the man,” he laughs. “But we’ve had a long and fruitful relationship.”
Running these two organizations has allowed Handyside to become well acquainted with the level of need in our region. He calls the 100 Men Who Give a Damn initiative a “positive, grassroots movement” designed to help with as little overhead and as little formal organization as possible. “It’s a wonderful feeling to make a difference in people’s lives. I think of this as my way of giving back to the community and I really enjoy doing that.”