Where will you be this Friday night? If it’s at Toronto’s Shangri-La Hotel for the Right to Play Ball, you have the right answer. Famed Canadian fashion journalist/photographer/philanthropist Glen Baxter hosts his second annual fundraiser for the Right to Play – an NGO that uses sport and play to empower children and youth in disadvantaged communities throughout the world. Baxter currently sits on Right To Play’s Board of Champions and is the Founder and Chairman of the annual ball, a hot ticket event that raises money and awareness for the NGO. We caught up with Baxter, who offered thoughts on the charity, shared memorable moments from his involvement in it, and what we can expect at the party this Friday.
How did you get involved with Right to Play?
My involvement with Right To Play, which improves the lives of children through game, sport and play, began several years ago following a month-long backpacking trip to Burma, my second trip there in a decade. I had heard that Right To Play had set up one of their programs in northern Thailand to benefit Burmese refugees who had crossed the border to escape the hardships caused by their oppressive military regime. I thought I could help by selling some of the pictures I took. Hugo Boss sponsored my exhibition and we raised close to $15,000 in three hours on a Wednesday evening just through the sale of my photos. We had fun doing it too! It became a popular annual fundraiser. And forcibly, it kind of turned me into a photographer. So every year I would travel solo, with my camera, on these self-financed, self-organized month-long trips to places like Yemen, Benin, Niger, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, and later produce an exhibition where 100% of the money from the sale of my photos would go to Right To Play. We also enjoyed a lot of media coverage and raised awareness. The annual Hugo Boss exhibitions evolved into The Right To Play Ball (emphasis on the play on words) that I founded a couple of years ago as a way to attract more guests and raise more money.
What has been the most rewarding/memorable part of your involvement so far?
I’ve experienced extreme highs from spending time with Right To Play staff members and volunteers in Africa and Asia and witnessing the work they do with the children. On a recent trip to Liberia, a West African country of four million that has been devastated by war with years of rebuilding ahead of it, came one of my favourite and most memorable moments. Hundreds of excited young rural school children formed a huge circle outside in the field around Rosie MacLennan, Canada’s only gold medal winner at the Summer Games in London. Rosie, our country’s beloved trampoline athlete, performed a spontaneous back flip and the kids went wild. They went even wilder for one of their own, who entered the circle and nailed two back flips in a row next to Rosie. Whatever you could, do I could do better, I think was his message. They were all so proud of their classmate, whose confidence grew by leaps and bounds in that instant. They also loved Rosie, even though they had no idea what a trampoline was (we were told the nearest trampoline was in Ghana, a wealthy country by Liberian standards).
What can we expect from the second annual Right to Play Ball this coming Friday?
On Friday, May 10th, our Right To Play Ball guests will have a chance to meet Rosie McLennan in person, as well as other celebrities and athlete ambassadors. The CEO and President of Right To Play, legendary speed skater Johann Koss, who picked up four Olympic Golds at the Lillehammer Winter Games in 1994, will be saying a few inspiring words. But this is not the kind of fundraiser filled with one long speech after another. It’s a party. It’s festive.
In just one short year we’ve grown the event from 200 people at Peter Freed’s (Freed Developments) office on the private PH floor of the Thompson Toronto to 350 expected guests at the luxurious Shangri-La ballroom, with that great outdoor terrace that everyone loves. And if you’ve been to this space before, you won’t recognize it, thanks to Candice&Alison, two of the city’s best event planners.
Last year’s event was completely sold out and featured Keith Richards’ daughter, model Alexandra Richards, from New York, DJing for us.
Tough act to follow, but we were able to attract Ellen DeGeneres’ official DJ, Tony Okungbowa from Los Angeles. He’ll be sharing DJ duties with one of Canada’s best, Montreal’s soulful Jojo Flores. Samsung is teaming up with Sennheiser headphones to provide special listening/audio stations throughout the venue, featuring Tony and Jojo’s playlists. From the UK and now based here in Toronto, Lapelle will kick things off with a thoughtful set.
MasterCard, who as you know is now sponsoring Fashion Week here in Toronto, has generously come on board as our title sponsor. They are also hosting our pre-party VIP cocktail reception from 8pm-9pm. Nothing says benefit bash like a good open bar courtesy of Charton Hobbs (Belvedere Vodka, Hennessy, Glenmorangie scotch).
What are you most excited about for the event?
I’m really excited to meet Tony O and look forward to hearing his music (and seeing what he’ll be wearing – he’s a stylish guy). Tony shoots two back-to-back episodes of The Ellen Show on Thursdays, that’s why we’re doing this on a Friday, so I expect Toronto to come out and play and sleep in the next day! Book a babysitter and purchase your tickets at www.therighttoplayball.ca.
Can you offer any advice to young professionals in deciding which charity balls to support now that we are in the height of charity ball season?
I realize there are a lot of charity events out there competing for attention. Over the years, I’ve attended and covered many of them for CityTV News and CTV’s IN FASHION. I’m also a former Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) JR committee member, responsible for the Annual 8 Ball. I believe The Right To Play Ball will eventually be a highlight on Toronto’s social calendar, serving an NGO that, as Canadians, we should all be very proud of.