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Inspired by Gander, ‘Come From Away’ spreads kindness to Newfoundland and Labrador

Kathy Unger and Mary Alliston Butt with CPAWS-NL want to say thank you to the “Come From Away” cast and crew for the donation to their marine program.
Kathy Unger and Mary Alliston Butt with CPAWS-NL want to say thank you to the “Come From Away” cast and crew for the donation to their marine program. - Juanita Mercer

When the people of Gander kindly welcomed 7,000 stranded passengers whose planes were diverted during 9-11, they sparked a wave of kindness that’s still spreading 17 years later.

Most recently, the cast and crew of “Come From Away” in Toronto started a Come From Kindness initiative.

They tell the touching story of Gander during eight shows a week, and it’s had a positive influence on them.

“This is one of the shows that I’ve done in my career that has really impacted me so much,” said Saccha Dennis, who plays Hannah in the show. “I think a lot of us in this cast feel very changed by this experience because it’s not just a regular show … it’s one of those shows that hits you differently.”

The Come From Kindness Initiative involves the entire cast and crew, who write their ideas of ways to give back to people on a vision board in the green room. Every week, they have a 50/50 draw and the proceeds go into a fund which they use to do two vision board ideas per month.

Greg Hawco plays bodhran in the band, and recalls the day the vision board went up on the wall.

“They were so inspired by Newfoundlanders, right? And I was sitting there like, oh my God, these people are just amazing,” he said.

“Of course, me being from Newfoundland, I was like, clearly we have to do something for Newfoundland. And they were so on board with it, they were all really pumped to do it.”

Hawco said there are so many great organizations in the province, he wasn’t sure who to give to, so he called up his brother, actor Allan Hawco, who suggested Daffodil Place.

The idea soon blossomed into a separate event.

One Night Stand will be a cabaret-style event on July 9 in Toronto that will feature performances from the “Come From Away” band, a three-course dinner, and a live and silent auction. The event will be hosted by Allan Hawco.

All proceeds from the event will go to Daffodil Place to help people in this province who have to travel to the city for cancer treatments.

But the Come From Kindness Initiative has already supported another organization in the province.

On June 11, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – Newfoundland and Labrador Chapter (CPAWS-NL) conservation co-ordinator Kathy Unger got an e-mail from the organization’s national office to say they had a new donation from Toronto.

“It was a surprise,” she said. “We were like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, that doesn’t happen every day.’ And so, I gave him a call to thank him.”

“I said, ‘Why specifically Newfoundland and Labrador when you’re in Toronto?’ And he said, ‘Well, you know, have you heard of that show, ‘Come From Away’?’”

She was speaking with Tristan Avakian, the lead guitarist in the band. His vision board idea was to help protect marine environments during the month of June to celebrate World Oceans Day.

The donation will help CPAWS-NL with initiatives specific to their marine program, including the Puffin and Petrel Patrol which rescues the stranded birds during fledging season.

They are also developing a program to deal with marine waste management.

“So, a surprise donation brings us that much closer to realizing a project like that,” said Unger.

It’s just the beginning few months of the kindness initiative but it’s already clear how far a kind act can travel — from a small town in Gander, to stages in New York City and Toronto, and back again.

Greg Hawco said right now they’re focused on raising as much money as they can for Daffodil Place, but “once that’s done, we’re not going to stop doing other things.”

Dennis added they’re pinning new kindness initiatives to the vision board every day.

“We want to keep putting out there the idea of kindness and positivity. And it’s really important, especially now. I would say it’s a movement, at this point.”

juanita.mercer@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @juanitamercer_

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