‘Reaching for the Stars’ is a children’s foundation founded by Voula McLaughlin, which supports SOS Children’s Villages in Greece, as they strive to build a better world for kids in need.
Voula was born in Canada to Greek parents who migrated to North America. From a young age, she recalls going to Greek school with her brother, never eating ‘Kraft’ dinner or ‘Canadian’ food, and were constantly told how the Greeks invented everything or somehow had the largest impact in the world.
“It’s interesting…I don’t use the word proud when it comes to my ancestry. I think pride can divide, on a fundamental level if you unpack it. We are taught in our faith to steer clear of that. I am actually incredibly humbled to have been given this ancestry. I had nothing to do with it. I was simply born into it,” says Voula.
“It’s what we do with ourselves now to honour and continue the legacy of what we were given. For me, I have always known the Greek culture to be very welcoming, to host, to meet the needs of visitors in your home, to keep family close, to be real and say it how it is. This has shaped me on so many levels. The Greek culture is very rich and must be preserved and there is a great group here in Canada, the Hellenic Heritage Foundation, that does this. It is imperative that it doesn’t get lost, but we must emphatically look forward and evolve what Greek means. That is our responsibility and how we respond to this challenge is up to us – Greeks in Greece and Greek diaspora all over the world,” she adds.
Voula remembers when she came up with the idea of ‘Reaching for the Stars’ (RFTSCF), after watching a video about the crisis in Greece and it was on that day when she began a movement/fundraiser online to help children in the country.
“From there, I left my career and understood, in a surreal way, what I was supposed to do at this point in my life. My father was a little Greek boy, sponsored by a Canadian man, the story had begun long before I was born. Now it was time to pay it forward. Along with my co-chairs and board members – Anastasios Moussas, Zoe Karasavvidis and Dimitri Michalopoulos – and a supportive Greek and non-Greek community, we have been able to support the same orphaned, abandoned and destitute children in Greece with consistency and real commitment for 5 years.
“We have not looked at this work as a ‘one-time thing’ to pat ourselves on the back. We are committed to helping and walking with the same kids – exactly as we would for our very own kids. This is where children find strength – in the structure of support that is dependable and consistent in their lives.”
After four years of real success as third-party fundraisers, they realised there was something very special in what they had created, as they felt a real connection with donors and their trust in what the charity was doing.
In 2013 Voula left her career in advertising and took the next step, establishing the foundation. She recalls that along with her husband, it would be hard financially but says she gets ‘paid’ from fulfillment perspective.
According to the foundation, their mission for ‘Reaching for the Stars’ is to heal children.
“By supporting youth and children, whether in Greece or anywhere, we allow for their circle of resiliency to become stronger. We must feed, shelter and teach our children. We must also love them and help them heal, especially those that have suffered trauma. We know that this is a fundamental need that must be met. We are driven by a single goal; to do our part in making the world a better place for children. We are dedicated to supporting the whole child: mentally, spiritually and physically. We strive to build a better world for our children from the inside out. What we’ve achieved thus far from a monetary point of view is more than half a million dollars net that has been sent to Greece, to SOS Children’s Villages, to support the SOS families that we have adopted as well as supporting the baby centre. This money translates to taking care of the fundamental needs of the children in addition to the extracurricular programs. We have seen with our own eyes, in front of the line, the work of the people around the kids and how they have made an impact.”
Every year Voula visits the children the foundation supports. “We have witnessed the children grow for the last 5 years, from baby-faced boys to young men with facial hair growing! We get messages from them every year to share with our donors at our event. It has been the single most touching moment for our donors – they feel like they are part of their lives in a very real way – and they are!,” Voula added.
‘Reaching for the Stars’ also established a profile on social media and after tagging Giannis Antetokounmpo in a few posts, hoping to get his attention, the charity received a lot more!
“Gianni came to Toronto in 2017 for a playoff game and we met briefly. I continued to stay in touch with him and the Bucks. Then it was organised for me to go to Milwaukee to grab a couple signed jerseys by him. I can’t explain how important that gesture was and is. I am humbled that I had a chance to represent our cause, especially since so many people are vying for his attention and support. We are huge basketball fans as well, my husband played in university and my kids play now. He has exploded in the NBA and across the world. The fact that I could get a few moments to elevate our mission has been a gift to the children we support. Those jerseys went for $11,500 the night of our event where we raised a net total of $105,000. The following year the Bucks were able to send us a signed shoe and basketball – we are grateful for this, especially given our grassroots movement.”