Liz Wiener plays key role in guiding Auxiliary into digital age
Co-President aims to keep Auxiliary strong after pandemic setbacks
After making minimal use of social media and digital tools in the 2010s, The JGH Auxiliary has now fully embraced the digital age, thanks largely to the encouragement and guidance of its most recently elected Co-President, Liz Wiener.
“The idea was to branch out and finally appeal to a different demographic,” says Ms. Wiener, who joined The Auxiliary in 2018. “My generation of younger women doesn’t like to make donations by picking up the phone. We prefer to do everything online, which is how you attract new blood.”
The tipping point in this evolution was the disorienting arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, when many of the organization’s traditional activities and fund-raising events were forced to come to an abrupt halt.
As was the case throughout the JGH, The Auxiliary found that communication by computer—particularly on visual platforms such as Zoom—was essential in enabling its members to stay in touch and maintain some degree of activity and continuity. After conditions improved, digital media became an invaluable lifeline.
“The first step was to make better use of social media,” says Ms. Wiener, who is serving alongside Co-President Gabi Rosberger, whose term began before Ms. Wiener’s. “Previously, The Auxiliary didn’t didn’t really have a social media presence to speak of, but now we most certainly do.
“The result is that we’re seeing a direct correlation between donations and the posts on Instagram and Facebook, which appeal to a younger demographic. People who didn’t know The Auxiliary existed are now aware of it and are taking a greater interest in it.
“This was especially evident last November on World Prematurity Day, when we organized an online campaign and raised thousands of dollars on Instagram alone.”
Founded in 1936 (two years after the hospital opened), The Auxiliary was the sole source of donated funds and volunteers in the hospital’s earliest decades. In modern times, it has targeted its support at specific departments where much-needed renovations or other pressing needs have been identified.
For the momentum to continue, Ms. Wiener says, The Auxiliary needs to find ways of overcoming some of its recent setbacks. These include the disappearance of the Atrium Café and the Link coffee shop, which had been significant sources of income. Both eateries were closed by the pandemic and have not reopened.
The multi-day Fall Fair, a major source of revenue and one of the year’s highlights, also suspended operations when COVID-19 hit. After conditions improved, the Fair’s venue—the Samuel S. Cohen Auditorium in Pavilion A—was renovated and put to other use by JGH staff.
On the plus side, Ms. Wiener points out that the Milly Lande Boutique and the Collectibles Shop are still going strong in the hospital’s main lobby. The annual Snowbird event in Florida was held in person on January 23 for the first time since the pandemic eased. And the Book Nook has resumed selling used books alongside the Milly Lande Boutique.
“We’ve also launched a digital newsletter with links to our fund-raising programs,” Ms. Wiener adds. “And I’m hoping to bring in more of my contemporaries by holding events that appeal directly to them—a poker tournament, for instance. But there’s no question that it’s going to be a challenge.”
Ms. Wiener’s feelings for The Auxiliary and the JGH run deep: Not only was she born at the hospital, but so were her children and many of her friends’ children. “I envision my kids one day having their own kids here,” she says with a smile.
Equally significant is the fact that her late father, Dr. Daniel Wiener, was a highly esteemed obstetrician-gynecologist—often treating women with high-risk pregnancies—whose career at the JGH spanned more than four decades. In recognition of his achievements, Dr. Wiener was chosen to receive the JGH’s Award of Medical Excellence in 2008.
“It’s always been really important for me to honour his legacy and make him proud,” Ms. Wiener notes.
Before becoming involved in The Auxiliary, Ms. Wiener taught elementary school, ran a tutoring business and co-hosted a weekly radio show about mental wellness on CJAD from 2016 to 2020.
The radio program was an offshoot of Wise Women Canada, a women’s wellness blog and website, that led Ms. Wiener and her business partner to organize workshops for women on building self-esteem, self-confidence and mental health awareness.
In addition, she participated enthusiastically in Mindstrong, an annual fund-raising event, which she chaired for two years in the 2010s. Mindstrong was a collaborative effort by the JGH Foundation and The Auxiliary to raise funds to help launch a new Psychiatry Inpatient Unit in Pavilion B in 2020.
Ms. Wiener also speaks publicly about mental health and is involved in mental health advocacy on a volunteer basis—activities that draw on her first-hand experience as a former patient in the Psychiatry Unit at the JGH.
She explains The Auxiliary will be devoting more of its programming and fund-raising to supporting the Psychiatry Department, in addition to continuing the assistance it has been providing to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for many years.
“I see The Auxiliary continuing in a really robust capacity, not just in raising funds, but in maintaining the spirit and the history in the JGH,” Ms. Wiener says. “This hospital feels like family to me and I’m hoping to inspire a new generation of Auxiliary members to feel the same way.”