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Unheralded foundation led to start of local Big Brothers

Tara Jeffrey A local foundation that’s had a large community impact — but little fanfare —is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month.
Magfrat Foundation board members, from left, back row: Joe Turner, director, Colin Bambrick, incoming chair, Robin Wellington, secretary/treasurer, and Joel Eagleson, director. Front fow: Ray Pichè, outgoing chair, and Shauna Carr, director. Lou Sprenger Photo

Tara Jeffrey

A local foundation that’s had a large community impact — but little fanfare —is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month.

The Magfrat Foundation is still going strong after beginning as the predecessor to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sarnia-Lambton.

“Not too many people knew the Magfrat Foundation existed — we’ve been below the radar,” said member Shauna Carr.

“It’s a charitable foundation and its role is essentially to provide dollars for outreach and welfare for children and youth.”

The group’s origins date to the 1960s and Sarnia’s Brother Al Verstraaten.

“He’s the one who initially was looking at what could be done for children in Lambton County, where social services maybe weren’t necessarily able to fill a need at the time,” Carr said.

Magfrat translates roughly as “Big Brother.”

Verstraaten pursued affiliation with Big Brothers of Canada after realizing that, in many ways, they provided the same service.

In 1967 he became the first executive director of Big Brothers Sarnia, running the agency on a volunteer basis, and the Foundation was established in 1972.

“We are committed to his vision that started the Magfrat Foundation, and essentially started Big Brothers as well,” said Carr.

“We’re committed to his belief that children deserve the best support they can have, to become wonderfully functioning and contributing adults.”

Today the agency, now amalgamated as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Sarnia-Lambton, provides mentoring and programming for hundreds of youth each year.

“A number of us Magfrat members are former chairs of the Big Brothers Big Sisters board of directors,” said Carr, who served as chair for six years.

“It’s hard to exit, to be honest. You still want to be able to support because you see all the amazing work that the agency does. So it’s a way to still be involved, and financially support the amazing work the agency does.”

The Magfrat Foundation has flexibility when it comes to allocating funds, Carr explained.

“We don’t provide the programs, so we can take requests from Big Brothers Big Sisters and direct it differently if need be,” she said. “We can invest it differently because we’re not a part of a national foundation — we are a standalone foundation.

“So, if the community is interested in giving to programs for children and youth, the Magfrat Foundation is a really good option for them, if they want their dollars to be used in a broad range of opportunities.”

The group, which meets annually, doesn’t host events or fundraisers — to avoid competing with Big Brothers Big Sisters and other United Way funded agencies.

“We just want to let the community know that this foundation has been here for 50 years, funding these programs,” Carr said. “We’re not looking for a pat on the back or recognition of any kind — we just do this because we are committed to the children of our area in the vision that Brother Al started so many years ago.”

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