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Erin Benjamin poses with her United Way Community Builder of the Year award.

Community Builders: Erin Benjamin exemplifies the power of music

By United Way East Ontario on July 12, 2019

Samantha Pope is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Award program, United Way Ottawa honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.

Music not only moves us, it brings us together. It opens our minds and helps us engage with the world around us, according to Erin Benjamin, President and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association and the 2019 recipient of United Way Ottawa’s Ambassador Award.

That’s why, after the September 2018 tornadoes damaged many Ottawa communities, Erin decided to use the power of music to help those hit hardest by the disaster.

“[Music] adds a dimension to life that is hard to find,” she said. “It unites us.”

Erin Benjamin poses with her United Way Community Builder of the Year award.

When her home regained power after the tornadoes, Erin said she could not believe what she saw on the news.

“Kilometres from my house, people had lost their homes,” she said, adding that it felt surreal that the disaster happened in her own city.

Immediately, Erin said she started contacting her colleagues across Ottawa’s music industry with the idea of organizing a fundraising concert. After lots of planning, she was successful in bringing together a group of musicians and other partners to host CUPE Local 503’s annual benefit concert at TD Place on November 10, 2018.

On the day of the concert, 5,000 people from all over the city came together to attend the show, which raised more than $55,000 for tornado relief. Everyone was there for the right reasons, Erin said.

A moment that she said touched her during the concert was when video footage showed the aftermath of the Dunrobin and Arlington Woods tornadoes.

“I turned around to see all the people in the communities staring up at the screen and most of them [were] very emotional,” she described. “I was very satisfied to know that they were there. I think that raising the money was important and that’s what we set out to do, but at the end of the day, bringing people together was so powerful and just truly miraculous.”

At the 19th annual Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala on May 16, United Way Ottawa presented Erin with the Ambassador Award, which recognizes a person who shares and exemplifies the values and goals of United Way and has gone above and beyond in dedicating time, energy, and effort to building a healthier and stronger city for everyone.

Not only did Erin demonstrate strong leadership during the aftermath of the tornadoes, but she has also been an advocate for women throughout her career in the music industry. As President and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association, she works hard to promote inclusion and equality across her sector.

In addition, she is a board member with the Unison Benevolent Fund, which raises and distributes money to artists in need.

“I fundamentally believe that as a human being on the planet, as a woman in the music industry, and as a leader in the music industry, my number one job is to make life better for the people I work with and for,” she said.

According to Erin, uniting the community to raise money for those hit hardest by the tornadoes was extremely special and an experience that was completely new to her. There’s something about music that is really effective at bringing people together, she said.

“Without music,” Erin added, “I don’t know about you, but my life would be a lot less.”

Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. 100 per cent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.