JDRF Golf Challenge

The name Garfinkle is synonymous with JDRF Canada.

Over 50 years ago, in 1971 and 1973 respectively, Krayna Golfman and Mitch Garfinkle saw their sons, David and Jimmy diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D). They joined forces with other families affected by the disease to begin their lifelong mission of finding cures for T1D while also improving the lives of those living with it. It was these families who founded what was to become JDRF Canada.

The Garfinkle family’s commitment to supporting the most promising T1D research has never wavered, and their resolve was further strengthened when their grandson Alex was diagnosed with T1D. JDRF Canada’s foundations lay in the grassroots organization inspired by the Garfinkle family. 

The JDRF Golf Challenge is born

The JDRF Golf Challenge has its roots in the JDRF Golf Marathon, first started forty years ago by David Garfinkle and his friend Steven Mitchell in the early 80s. They revived the event in 2022, and from that came this year’s Golf Challenge.

This dynamic duo, along with a team of supporters is once again rallying Canadians to come together to support T1D research by committing to pick up their clubs this summer and join the JDRF Golf Challenge.

From August 13-20, (and throughout the year) players from across the country and around the world are invited to tee off for T1D and take up the JDRF Golf Challenge to play a collective 11,000 holes of golf in support of the approximately 11,000 Canadians who will be diagnosed with T1D this year.

The challenge couldn’t be simpler. Whether you play a round (or several) of 18 holes, go marathon-style and play from dusk till dawn, hit the driving range or take the family to mini putt, any golfer of any skillset can play in support of accelerating T1D research.

JDRF had the chance to sit with both Steven and David to discuss the event they co-founded and their hopes for 2023.

JDRF: Tell us about the origins of the JDRF Golf Challenge

Steven: “Back in the early 80s, I got to know David through sport and mutual friends. I approached a friend to help me do a golf marathon to raise money for JDRF. Back then it was a much more labour intensive event, all the fundraising forms were by carbon copy forms, and we had to fill these out manually – whether someone wanted to sponsor us on a per hole basis or a flat amount we had to go back to them to collect. We chose a quiet day in September. The Garfinkle family came out, and that first year we raised around $3500.

The next year, I also got involved with JDRF as a President of the ‘Young Adults Club’. We were able to get the event up to around 5-6 golf courses. We had courses and players we didn’t know – one team even played 213 holes in one day by riding an ATV.  Combined over the two years we raised around $80K.

But then, as it does – life got in the way and didn’t repeat the event again.”

JDRF: What brought you back to the event?

Steven: “40 some odd years later in 2022, I had it in my head that with all the social media/internet tools available we could do another golf marathon. We did well, but it was challenging because we got a lot of pushback from the golf courses. They didn’t want to support a singular event where members support one individual charity, or one that isn’t already supported by the golf course.

So, this year we changed the format, to play 18 holes, register and raise money. But we wanted to have the challenge – so the concept of the 11,000-hole challenge was built, so we would try to get as many holes played as possible in a week (and throughout the year) across the country. 11,000 representing the number of people who will be diagnosed with T1D this year.

The approach this year is good, by going province by province and opening it up it will make it easier for a course, they don’t have to lend their course or disrupt their course. It’s fine for someone to play their regular game as part of the event.”

JDRF: What are your goals for the 2023 JDRF Golf Challenge?

Steven: “Overall our goals are financial, but we want to see it [the event] grow, go to every province, and through social media get more and more people registered. $500,000 is the goal, but we want to see it grow and get a good buzz about it.

And of course, our ultimate goal is finding a cure for our family and friends, and all Canadians affected by T1D.”

David: “We’re trying to raise half a million dollars to fund research to find a cure.

T1D is not necessarily a well-known disease and we know this, it’s at the bottom of most people’s priorities, and we need to try and change that. We know that we’re competing in a world where everyone is asking for something. But many people love to play golf, and we should turn that love into something constructive to find a cure for T1D.”

Although much progress in T1D management has been made in the 40 years since Steven and David first held their golf fundraiser, David wishes more people understood the reality of living with the disease.

David: “It’s not easily treatable, you must have a disciplined lifestyle. The food labels aren’t always as accurate as you hope. The blood glucose swings can be quite dramatic. Even the difference between white and brown bread can cause a spike. And it can cause major complications. It’s a very challenging vacation-free disease. It’s not easy to live with.”

It’s for this reason that both David and Steven hope that when you tee off this summer, you’ll make the choice to support JDRF Canada when you do.

David: “You have the choice to do something or do nothing, and Steven and I have both made the choice to do something. To find a cure. Steven has no direct connection to T1D, and yet he has made this significant commitment to the cause. We’re only asking you to go out and play golf, but this time you’re doing it for charity. It’s a pretty simple concept that we’re hoping catches on. We want people to think ‘Hey, if my neighbour, colleague or friend can do it, so can I’. It doesn’t take much. You’re golfing anyway. Why not do it to benefit a charity.“

To register for the JDRF Golf Challenge, or to learn more about the fundraiser, please visit: www.jdrfgolfchallenge.ca

Donor Spotlight: The Commercial Real Estate 100 Challenge

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, JDRF launched the $100M Campaign to Accelerate – a bold initiative to help finally free people from the monster that is type 1 diabetes (T1D). Though the pandemic posed challenges across industry, individuals working in commercial real estate came together to help JDRF achieve its ambitious fundraising goal.

JDRF volunteer John O’Bryan initiated the 100 Challenge asking 100 leaders from the commercial real estate sector to each contribute towards a $1 million goal. Together with campaign volunteers Yogini Narine, Vanessa Oliver, Fred Rubinoff, Peter Senst, and Chris Tambakis, along with more than 100 of their fellow colleagues across Canada, they succeeded!

Their contributions will be matched as part of JDRF’s partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The result is an incredible $2 million to fund the path to a cure for T1D.

JDRF was able to talk to John about what drove him to organize this challenge, and why helping to slay the T1D monster is so important to him and his fellow volunteers.

*Please note that some of the answers have been edited for clarity and length.

JDRF: How did you get involved with JDRF?

John O’Bryan: I have no personal connection with diabetes. With me, it was more that as an organization (CBRE) where I was the chairman and am now still the honorary chairman, they were very committed to the Ride. I got involved in the first year and really enjoyed it – enjoyed the people, enjoyed the event, I enjoyed bringing together lots of different people in the industry. And then Dave (Prowten, JDRF President & CEO) gave me a call just before Christmas and spoke to me about your plans for the 100th anniversary. Based on that conversation, I became involved with the Campaign to Accelerate.

JDRF: How did the idea for the 100 Challenge campaign come about?

John O’Bryan: I understood the significance of the 100th anniversary, and so the fact that the $100 million goal was synchronistic with the nature of the number wasn’t lost on me. And it was certainly not an unambitious number.

I came up with this concept of the 100, which was to try and get 100 real estate executives to contribute towards a $1 million goal. I then went back to Dave and laid out the whole campaign for the 100 to see if it was something he felt that JDRF could embrace.

JDRF: How did you manage to do it so quickly?

John O’Bryan: I chatted with a couple of friends of mine. Ken Silva at CBRE said “If you embark on this campaign, I’m in.” And Yogini Narine on his executive team jumped on board and said, “whatever logistical help you need, I’ll help.” They were very supportive and instrumental in helping me out.

What I wanted to do was engage people on the fundraising side of JDRF, the volunteers who are in the real estate business – Chris Tambakis, Vanessa Oliver and Fred Rubinoff, all of whom I knew.  And I tried to come up with a list of names and tried to get the number to about 50. We went from Newfoundland to BC, and I think in every province in Canada, we got representation.

The idea was not to engage companies but to engage people. These were quintessentially personal donations. But basically, an entire industry rallied around this campaign and so I thought it would inspire others.

I think due to the pandemic, people were ready to embrace things that were helpful. I think it was at a time when there was certainly a very receptive audience for this message.

The speed, to be honest with you, did surprise me. I think that was a combination of the cause, the relationship we had with those individuals, but most of all, it was the real estate community. I’ve been in this industry since 1972. It has always been and has accelerated over the years to be a wonderfully warm community. It welcomed me in as an immigrant, and it has grown to a point now where it’s a major force for good. 

JDRF: Why is this particular 100 Challenge campaign unique?

John O’Bryan: To some extent, I don’t think it is. One of things that I’ve noticed when your life has been touched by tragedy like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, you become very committed to the cause and sometimes it’s hard to understand why other people aren’t as committed as you are. And obviously it’s simple when you stand back, which is that they’ve got causes that speak to them.

The easier part of the conversations I had was that you really don’t have to explain diabetes to anybody. If it hasn’t touched your family, it has certainly touched people around us. There were times when I got off the phone and I might have had another call scheduled, but I had to cancel a couple of them because they were very emotional calls.

JDRF: What’s your hope for the Campaign to Accelerate?

John O’Bryan: The hope is that we can move the dial for people. The hope is – all research takes twists and turns and nothing is ever easy when you’re working with diseases – but you just want to make people’s lives better.

If you live in Canada and you’ve achieved any sort of success in your business, you’re such a small fraction of both the population of Canada and more importantly, of the planet. You’re in such a privileged position. It’s something that I think lots of people feel and believe and we’re all looking for ways and outlets to express that. And it’s to give back. I can’t think of a better expression than to pay it forward. Help other people. Just do your best to reach out and help.

With this campaign, you’re trying to raise $100 million, and you start with $10,000. That’s the essence of it. You must start somewhere. That to me, was the whole rationale behind the 100 Challenge campaign. If you can raise $1 million, you’ve only got 99 to go. And then when the other campaigns started to lift off, you might be able to make a significant dent in $100 million. People were very happy to contribute en masse.

JDRF thanks John O’Bryan and his co-contributors in the commercial real estate industry for their incredible contribution to the Campaign to Accelerate. The matched donation will contribute $2 million towards vital type 1 diabetes research. John hopes to spur other industries to hold similar challenges of their own.