Charitable Choices: Benny Caringi of Hats On For Awareness

Hats On for Awareness is a Toronto-based non-profit organization with a passionate commitment to promoting mental wellness for everyone. Through their multi-faceted approach, they work towards creating a society that prioritizes mental health, reduces stigma, and ensures access to effective programs and support systems for those in need. Their dedication to this cause is a beacon of hope for individuals and communities affected by mental illness and addiction in Toronto and beyond. We sat with Benny Caringi, President and Co-Founder, to learn more.

Hats On For Awareness

Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.

Hats On For Awareness raises funds to further the reach of mental health programs which enhance the lives of those living with and affected by mental illness and addictions. We believe that mental health is a vital component to overall wellness and we need to make it a priority in our personal, business and community lives. We need to raise awareness regarding these illnesses, consistently battle against the stigma they hold, and fund the research and programs to truly achieve Mental Wellness For All.

What problem does it aim to solve?

We are dedicated to breaking barriers and building brighter tomorrows for mental health care in the Greater Toronto Area. In 2023 alone, this organization continues to fund local mental health and wellness programs, including Jack.org and Humber River Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Urgent Care Clinic.

When did you start/join it?

In 2009, I started Hats On For Awareness alongside my fellow co-founder Enza Tiberi Checchia. Enza asked me if I would help with a fundraiser to raise awareness for mental health in honour of her father. That fall, we hosted the inaugural Hatsuqerade gala and raised $70,000! Since then, our team of board of directors, volunteers, and donors have worked tirelessly to bring real-life experiences of those young and aged who have overcome battles with mental illness and addiction that affect everyday people, their families, and their neighbours. The Hatsquerade is still going strong 14 years later and has propelled our organization to raise and distribute $1.3 million dollars to local mental health and wellness programs including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Jack.org, and Humber River Health.

What made you want to get involved?

It was an easy YES for me as it’s in my nature to help others and try to make small impacts in the world around me.

What was the situation like when you started?

Hats On For Awareness came to be out of a necessity to bring light to hard topics around mental health. At the time we started our journey, mental health was not a commonplace term and it was not a widely discussed issue. There was more misunderstanding about what mental health fully encompasses, and the term ‘mental wellness’ wasn’t even a thought. It was much harder for people to talk openly about how they were feeling due to the stigma associated with this. We started Hats On For Awareness knowing that there was a long road ahead of us to change this perspective.

How has it changed since?

Nowadays, we are talking openly about our mental health and finding ways to apply mental wellness to all aspects of our lives. There are many notable organizations, programs, and services that have stepped up to join our mission and vision. I’m so glad to see there are more mental health service providers, more walk-in counselling options, and more open crisis lines available for anyone who needs to talk. When I look around at the people in my community sharing their struggles with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alike, I see the stigma around owning our feelings shifting. There’s still a lot of work to do. At Hats On, we know that access to mental health programs and services are one of the biggest barriers for those needing help.

What more needs to be done?

Unfortunately, wait times for programs and services are long, and show no sign of getting shorter. According to the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, in the province of Ontario, average wait times for children and youth are 67 days for counselling and therapy, and up to 92 days for intensive treatment. Access to these services differs based on geographical area; in some areas, children and youth are able to access services almost immediately, while in others, wait times can be up to two and a half years.

How can our readers help?

Join us in raising awareness and supporting mental health programs. We are proud to announce our inaugural challenge, Pass The Hat, has raised over $12,000!

Our Pass The Hat Challenges encourage company-wide teams to engage in fundraising together, alongside corporate donation matching, exciting workplace activations, and games. Help us create access to mental health care for all, and pass the hat with us in May 2024!

Find out how Hats On For Awareness breaks barriers and creates more access to mental health by visiting our website.

No matter your economic or situational status, there are ways you can get involved to help us make a difference in mental health care. From holding a fundraiser, engaging with us on social media to volunteering, there is something for everyone. Together, let’s raise awareness, break down barriers, and build a brighter future for mental health!

Do you have any events coming up?

Hats On For Awareness hosted its 14th signature fundraising gala, the Hatsquerade, which is an incredible event that creates real change in the lives of those struggling with mental health. We are proud to announce that $577,000 was raised to further support local mental health and wellness programs in the Greater Toronto Area!

What sets this gala apart from other fundraising events in its community? Hats On For Awareness committee volunteers and passionate leaders gather incredible spokespeople from across the Greater Toronto Area who continue to build relationships with many different corporations, and distinguished new and returning guests.

Additionally, the Hatsquerade has a reputation of being an event to look forward to each year. As one of the Greater Toronto Area’s not-to-miss events, this gala is known to be an elaborate party scene for all ages, from guests in their early twenties and through to retirement. The event always evokes a fulfilling, happy feeling for its guests, allowing more than 700 people to partake in an outgoing, fun, colourful celebration. Rather than focusing on multiple speakers at this prestigious event, the run of show focuses on a decadent meal, delicious drinks, and themed, coordinated entertainment to last all night long. Past guests have said this event has a “crazy energy” and is a “massive party”. It is easy to feel like you are in a room surrounded by a tight network of friends and family, even if you are a new guest to this annual celebration.

Join us next year in 2024!

Where can we follow you?

Website | Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn | TikTok

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

Hats On For Awareness has supported Jack.org since 2013 and donated more than $125,000 to provide education and training about mental health. As a national charity that trains and empowers young leaders to revolutionize mental health, Jack.org hosts national and regional summits where over 1,200 student advocates share ideas and strategies for action in their communities. The Canada-wide non-profit is based in Toronto, with Eric Windeler at the helm. I highly suggest you visit their website to learn more. Jack.org is changing the landscape of mental health.

 

About Emilea Semancik 106 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to freelance her own pieces and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. She is also a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of recipe books. You can find her recipes on Instagram. @ancestral.foods