Joey Arfin and his father Shlomo with Darryl Sittler
When Toronto businessman Joey Arfin first signed on to participate in the second annual Scotiabank Pro-Am for Alzheimer’s in support of Baycrest back in 2006, it was out of a need to do something good to honour his father, Shlomo, a Holocaust survivor. Little did he know how big a role he would end up playing in the success of this unique event.
Now 12 years on, Arfin has become one of the Pro-Am’s Co-Chairs, and has parlayed his vast network of friends, family and connections into almost $300,000 worth of fundraising for the cause over that time.
“Every year my motivation to raise money has always been my father, who passed away last year. He was my best friend and hero. He had a difficult life. He was born in Poland, the youngest of nine siblings, and fled to Russia during the Holocaust, surviving there behind enemy lines until the war ended. Afterwards he, his father and two of his sisters emigrated to Israel. He ended up serving in the Israeli army and survived Israel’s war of Independence,” Arfin recalled. “In 1958, he immigrated to Canada. Once here, he met and married my mother, and had two little boys, me and my brother. Shortly after, at age 23, he lost his first-born son, my brother David. But he carried on, surviving that tragedy too.”
Shlomo proved remarkably resilient throughout his life, surviving five heart attacks, stomach cancer, and multiple strokes. “I can’t tell you how many times I heard from doctors that my dad wouldn’t make it through the night. But he had an incredible will to live. He spent his last years as a resident of Baycrest,” Joey said.
Joey cites his father’s example of unflagging determination to live to enjoy life despite all odds, as the reason he will never give up the fight against Alzheimer’s and all forms of cognitive disorders.
“My goal is to raise awareness about this disease and be a part of something special. I really believe that the more we do here, the closer we’ll come to being able to delay the onset of dementia for anyone. There’s a real need in our community for facilities like Baycrest. With an aging community, this is becoming even more important,” he says. “I know that what we’re doing at Baycrest is good for our community at large as it ages. To make the golden years more productive and enjoyable for our parents, grandparents and us, their children, as we age too. This is important work.”
Joey’s connection to the Pro-Am gets even deeper when he discusses how much of a hockey fan Shlomo was.
“My dad was a soccer player and an all-around athletic guy. When he came to Canada and saw his first hockey game, it was love-at-first-sight. He became a massive fan of the sport. Some of my earliest memories as a child were of watching late-night hockey games with him during the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union,” Joey says. “Those late games were being broadcast from Russia and I remember how my dad and I would scream when Team Canada would score. We also watched many Toronto Maple Leafs games together. My dad quickly determined his favourite player on the Leafs - Darryl Sittler.”
It’s no wonder then that Joey’s involvement in the Pro-Am has another, enduring level of meaning, since the tournament allowed him and Shlomo to ultimately befriend Mr. Sittler. “I’m proud to be able to call him one of my best friends,” Joey beams.
“As a kid, I never would have thought it possible to share this dream-come-true with my father. I’m so thankful I was able to share this meaningful experience with him. And deeply thankful for all the support Darryl has given my fundraising efforts for the Pro-Am.”
For the 2018 Scotiabank Pro-Am for Alzheimer’s in support of Baycrest, Joey states he wants to surpass the $40,000 he raised last year and has offered up his annual Leafs’ game package prize in a raffle on his personal fundraising page this year.
“This year, for every $50 given, I put names in a raffle for a pair of tickets go see an Original Six matchup, Leafs versus the Montreal Canadiens on April 7. The raffle-winners will also enjoy a pre-game dinner with me and Darryl, and receive a signed Sittler Leafs’ jersey.”
This year’s Pro-Am tournament has extra meaning for Arfin.
“I’m immensely motivated to raise more money for the cause this year than ever before. This year, I’m rededicating my push for fundraising, not only in honour of my father’s memory, but I’m also adding my mother, who is facing early cognitive memory issues much like her mother, my bubbie, did before her. My bubbie died of Alzheimer’s and my zaydie of Parkinson’s, both brain illnesses.
"This event is really close to my heart. Even though my dad was my initial motivation to get involved, I can never forget the fact that all these brain diseases have surrounded me and my family across generations. And I know I’m not the only one who has been touched by these brain health illnesses, far too many people deal with this daily, whether they are caregivers themselves or family and friends who are watching loved ones battle this insidious disease. Everyone who plays in the Pro-Am has a personal connection and motivation to help fight Alzheimer’s and improve brain health for all of humanity. I believe we can find ways to prevent dementia in our lifetime. I think it’s a reachable goal and I’m going to do everything in my power to help get us there. I’m in for the long haul. We’re going to keep this tournament going and keep doing good things through it.”
The Scotiabank Pro-Am for Alzheimer’s in Support of Baycrest is the largest hockey charity event in North America. For more information, visit www.baycrestproam.ca (Note: scroll down on the home page and click on Joey Arfin’s name to visit his personal fundraising page.)