Nominated for Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser, Mel Zajac has devoted an incredible 50+ years of his life to giving back and in the process raised more than $25 million for community causes.
Mr. Zajac’s volunteer and community involvement began shortly after his first real estate development when he began hiring teenagers who were involved with minor crimes and in the court system. His resolve to give back to the community he loves has long been evidenced through his annual charity golf tournament – conceived in 1964 and now the longest-running such charitable event in British Columbia. Until 1987 the major recipient of the fundraising event was Variety Children’s Charity. Humanitarian and altruistic generosity towards others is a large part of Mr. Zajac’s life, and is what he himself sees as his greatest role. His many philanthropic endeavors owe their inception and continuity to the man and his family who created them.
Between 1970 and 1980, Mr. Zajac organized the building of a bike track for blind children at Central Park, fundraised to donate a lift bus to transport children to and from BC Children’s Hospital, donated a portable kidney machine to the BC Kidney Foundation, and established wall and elevator murals to brighten Children’s Hospital.
Following the untimely deaths of Mr. Zajac’s two sons, in separate sporting accidents, he and his wife Irene formed The Mel Jr. & Marty Zajac Foundation in 1987 with a personal donation of $100,000. He wanted to do something to keep the memory of his sons alive and create a legacy that would continue to give back to his community for years to come. Through the Foundation, Mr. Zajac has raised millions and spearheaded a variety of community projects throughout British Columbia.
The year 1989 marked the first project over and above the golf tournament for the Foundation: the Sandcastle Preschool in Mission. Due to the generous support of the local community, the $750,000 project required less than half that amount to be raised.
In 1992, the Zajac Foundation, under the direction of Mr. Zajac, formed a partnership with the Vancouver Neurological Foundation to develop and open a facility in East Vancouver for children and adults with neurological disorders. The BC Centre for Ability was a $4 million project. In honour of Mr. Zajac’s involvement and generosity, in 1999 he was awarded an honourary lifetime membership.
In 1997 The Zajac Foundation partnered with another not-for-profit and developed Zajac Norgate House a 36 unit building specifically designed for seniors and those with disabilities. The project was completed in 1999 and is described as providing “an independent lifestyle for today’s seniors”, the Zajac Norgate House is a fully wheelchair-accessible, four-storied apartment complex with easy access to elevators, underground parking, security, and open living spaces, all in close proximity to shopping and transit services. This is a unique and innovative project in that it is built for residents to “age in place”.
Other notable fundraising initiatives by Mr. Zajac and the Zajac Foundation include $70,000 donated for advanced technological equipment in the Colin’s Smile Society’s efforts to help children fight leukemia, an endowment fund with United Way, contributions to the CKNW Orphans’ Fund, the renovation of UBC Hospital’s In Vitro Fertilization Laboratory and the Big Brothers in-school mentoring program.
Mr. Zajac’s present project the Zajac Ranch for Children is his most ambitious project yet. Mr. Zajac’s drive, determination and devotion to his dream of creating a camp for children who otherwise would never have the opportunity to go to camp has become a reality. In the summer months, Zajac Ranch for Children provides camps for children and young adults with chronic illnesses and disabilities. These experiences give participants the opportunity to explore the outdoors while developing greater social and environmental awareness, increased self-confidence, and positive growth in attitudes towards physical activity.
Mr. Zajac’s courage, integrity, and commitment to giving continues to better our communities. He is a visionary and one that never ceases to empower humanitarian causes especially those involving children.
“The schools I built, the seniors’ home, the park, everything is in memory of them. They’re helping me. Unbeknownst to anybody else, they’re behind me.”