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A Lifelong Journey to a Not-for-Profit Startup: When Passion and Leadership Collide

Jon Reider, Consultant, ReiderConsulting and Founder & Chairman, Camp Erin

“The luminary lights may slowly drift away – but there’s one thing that one can never sever,

Memories are a special gift – and they will last forever.”

From “You Know I’m Here” Jon Reider, August 2019

What is your passion?

My first blog and I find it to be quite a daunting task. I’ve taken a very interesting road to where I am today. I started off as a “coal analyst” at CP Rail, recruited straight out of my Concordia MBA program. While I knew I wasn’t meant to analyze shipments of coal on CP Rail trains my whole career – it was an important entry to the corporate world and it was a critical stepping stone to my career as an investment analyst in the Capital Markets arena in Canada. I was an investment analyst for 25 years and had the privilege of witnessing the growth of several iconic Canadian companies through a very exciting period in Canadian business history. As I graduated from Investment Analyst to Head of Research at a major financial firm in Canada, I took a lot of the lessons that I learnt from some of the most impressive leaders in the country and began to apply them myself. I considered myself a good leader – not the best – not the worst – but I know that my biggest strength as a leader came from my strength as a person – building relationships – that’s what I did best. I was always a very good judge of people. I loved the mentoring, the coaching, the idea of making people around me look good. I also was called upon to do a significant amount of recruitment. Over the course of my career in financial services, I interviewed over 500 individuals – hiring over 100. I’m extremely proud to say that the majority of these people have turned out to be great leaders themselves and are thriving in their current roles. When I think back to my interviewing days, I always think to the key question that I always asked. There’s always one question that an interviewer has that can make or break the outcome for a candidate – for me it was “passion”. Did the candidate have a passion for the job? Did the candidate show passion for the job that they were applying for? I always looked for the same thing – the spark, the passion. It stood out immediately. There was no hiding from this truth. I also knew that passion was always a driver for me and definitely played an important role in my career. Which brings me to where I am today and the very circuitous route to discovery of the real power of being passionate about what you do.

Focusing on my strength – Being the “nice guy”

I think I always knew what I was meant to do – I always wanted to help – to support – to make people feel better. That’s what drove me throughout my career and it also was the reason that I didn’t fully fit in. Times have changed dramatically – companies have come around to realizing how important human kindness and human fulfillment is. However in my day,  it was very different and bad behaviour sometimes was acceptable in certain corporations. “Nice” sometimes didn’t cut it. I definitely had people telling me that my biggest weakness was that I was “too nice”. I feel that times are different now and leaders are allowed to be “nice” and are even encouraged to act and react in very different ways. There is definitely a much greater focus on the employee as a “person”.

As a leader, I always knew what my strengths were and I always knew how to shift my responsibilities so as to lean on my strengths and minimize my weaknesses, but it wasn’t until I finally set out to start a not-for-profit that I fully understood the meaning of and power of being truly passionate about somethingit brought out all of the best leadership skills and truly was eye-opening.

When strengths, passion and leadership collide – The founding of Camp Erin Montreal

I started Camp Erin Montreal in the spring of 2016. Camp Erin is a wonderful program. Started in the US some 15 years ago, there are over 35 Camp Erin’s in operation throughout North America. I decided to bring the Camp to Montreal after I discovered that there was nothing like it available in Quebec. The impetus for starting the camp was very deeply rooted.

At the age of three years old – I suffered the worst trauma that any child could sustain – the loss of a parent. My mother died as a result of complications from childbirth. The trauma I sustained as a three-year-old has shaped my entire life. While it has been a very hard road in many instances – it has also been a road of discovery as I realized at a very young age to enjoy every minute of your life because all too often it can be taken from you in an instant.

A lot of people can’t relate to understanding other people’s difficulties. I did not readily share my personal story of loss. It was definitely not something that was encouraged. When I was a child, the thinking was that it was better to protect a child from thoughts of grief – so – the person who died was never mentioned. It was a very different time. But we know now how important it is to allow children to grieve, to share, to talk and that’s why Camp Erin changes children’s lives.

The Camp runs for one weekend a year and is open to any child age 6 – 17 who has suffered the loss of a loved one. Camp Erin is offered free to all participants and is led by grief professionals and trained volunteers. The camp provides a unique opportunity for peer bonding between children and teens facing a similar life circumstance. As we head into our third summer of Camp Erin, we see that the experience changes the lives of these children. It impacts not only the child but their family and once a child is dealing with their grief in a healthier way, it impacts their school and whole community. The experience is magical and I am so proud of how impactful this initiative has become in only 3 short years. We welcomed 26 children in our first year of operation, 44 children in the summer of 2018 and this summer we already have 60 children registered and it’s still growing. In addition to the weekend, Camp Erin also runs year-round support groups for both children and their families dealing with bereavement.

It was only when I finally decided to move forward with my dream of starting a not-for-profit focused on helping children that had suffered the same trauma as I had that I felt that passion, that drive, that strength, that leadership capability. I was emboldened. The passion drove all of the skills that I had learnt throughout the years. I was a better leader and as a result, a more successful fundraiser, and a better organizer. It impacted everything that I did.

So, what’s the lesson here?

Let your passion drive you. Don’t be afraid to start something new and most importantly – don’t ever think that any of your experiences are a waste of time, somehow – they all come into play when you find that real passion. The guidance you accepted at an earlier stage in your career, the lessons you learnt from all the good and bad leaders, the mentorship that you accepted – everything can play a role. And most importantly, if you have that passion – it will spark your leadership to record heights of achievement.

About Jon Reider

Strategist & Business Consultant ReiderConsulting Founder & Chairman Camp Erin Montreal

Jon Reider has worked in Capital Markets for over 25 years as an Investment Analyst and Research Director for some of the top Investment Firms in Canada before shifting his focus to the field of Investor Relations. Following a three-year stint with Aimia as Vice President Strategic Messaging and Financial Analysis, he became an independent consultant working with senior management teams to build out a roadmap for effective messaging to their stakeholders.

Jon is passionate about ensuring that companies and their senior management teams are putting their best message out to the investment community. Nothing pleases him more than to see a company not only thriving but being recognized as a leader in every aspect of their operations. For Jon, nothing beats having a company’s management team being recognized as a leader in their field. Nothing pleases him more than to work with a company’s leadership team that is known for its respect for its employees and customers. He has always been a huge fan of erring on the side of “nice’. He has never accepted the saying that “nice guys finish last”.

Learn more about Jon Reider

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