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Camp Ooch, Helping and Our Brain

This is the third in a 7 blog series which comes out of Coach John Wooden’s Life and Leadership Mantra. Hard to argue with Coach Wooden’s success. If you’re curious, check out his TED talk from 2001:

So this month, we’re looking at lesson #3 – Help Others.

Camp Oochigaes is a camp that supports children, teens and families touched by cancer. It was born from a desire of several Toronto area families to provide some respite and a new experience of life for children and their families who were faced with this monumental challenge. It’s history is special and significant. Camp Ooch is truly an example of what, we at CTI, call a quest. We define a quest as an adventurous expression of your Life Purpose in the world. Life and Purpose seem to capture the essence of what Ooch has done for so many. To read more about Ooch, check out

Camp-Ooch-10k-start-line-150x150Needless to say, this organization is all about helping people. I was fortunate and privileged to volunteer there for four years in the 2000’s and we launched some cool programs for teens with cancer (7scape) and siblings who had lost a brother or sister to cancer (Teomul). On top of all this great work, part of what I find most inspiring is how Ooch calls others to help out. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, business leaders, university students – the full gamut – come each and every summer to give a week, 2 weeks, a month or more of their time to this important cause. And not only that, every spring Camp Ooch is a key partner and the beneficiary of an incredible run down Yonge Street in Toronto called the Sporting Life 10K. The numbers this race, Ooch and it’s partners draw are incredible. This past year, the run sold out at 27,000 people! It is the second largest charitable race in Canada (Behind the Vancouver Sun Run) and compares to the Boston Marathon in terms of number of runners (Boston as just under 36,000). The event raised in excess of $2MM for the camp, and to help kids with cancer experience a summer dream.

So this leads me to the leadership question for today – why do we do this? Why do we give or our time, money, sweat, occasionally blood (yes, I bled as a counsellor at Ooch!) to do this? Well, here’s some of the science behind being noble.

As human beings, we are wired to be in connection with each other. Biological fact – can’t get around it. We also get hits of dopamine in our brains when we offer kindness or support to another. Dopamine (yes, read dope) makes us feel good. In connection, we get oxytocin. Oxytocin is a biochemical that is released when we’re in connection with each other relationally. Famed “Start with Why” guru Simon Sinek offers one perspective on this topic as it relates to leadership here:


a single thought will not make a pathway in the mindAnd for many people, helping also helps people tap into a version of “cause.” By this I mean, doing something that matters and is bigger than you (and your work, wealth, possessions, immediate relationships, etc.). Tapping into cause, vision or values is also hugely beneficial to our brains and our ability to respond to stress. In fact, the ability to access values, cognitively reframe and be mindful are three of the most important skills neuroscientists urge us all to develop for greater performance and satisfaction. At CTI, we train coaches and leaders how to access vision and values, how to reframe and how to be mindful with our clients and teams in our core coach training.


So a quick recap – helping others increases brain health, resilience, a renewed sense of purpose and camaraderie. Imagine what it feels like at the starting line of a 27,000 person race – everyone there with the belief that families touched by cancer can live rewarding lives too. There’s a litany of reasons to help others – bettering the world we live in, giving back, supporting something we believe, role modelling for our children, and no doubt many more. And there is a virtuous cycle here. When we help others, we actually help ourselves. So if you didn’t have a reason until now to reach out and help or support someone or a cause you’re interested it, do it for yourself.

So leader – where are you called to help?

What do you know now it will give you to help?

And what are you waiting for?

In service,