Howard Ungerman began his work with Reena in the early 1980’s and has spent about 35 years working diligently for the organization including stints chairing both the Reena board and the Batay Reena Board. “It’s not because I had any connection to the developmentally disabled, it’s because I got drawn in through my father’s involvement in the Rickles event,” says Ungerman.
Irving Ungermanz”l a well-known Toronto businessman and boxing promoter, recognized the fact that individuals with diverse abilities want to participate in sports too, and that Reena needed a proper facility for that to happen. So, Irving bought out the former O’Keefe Centre in Toronto for the opening night of the Don Rickles’ Show and sold the tickets to provide the seed funding for a sports complex at Camp Reena. “There was a committee put together for the fundraiser and my father told them to invite his son,” says Howard. He was invited for an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting, and despite living close by, he drove, but forgot about the lack of parking on Eglinton Avenue. “By the time I got into the meeting 5 minutes late, I had already been appointed co-chair! I learned never to be late again!” The event was a huge success raising some $250,000.
Howard Ungerman, a lawyer by profession, eventually joined the Reena board, where he was asked to participate in organizing one of the annual dinners. “I had never done anything like that before,” says Howard, “My father was always pushing me to work for charities, joking that if you volunteered you would meet people and get business. I never got any business, but I certainly met a lot of wonderful people.” After several years working on dinners and fundraising events, Howard became chair of the Reena Board in 2000. One of the most memorable dinners for him was one which honoured five outstanding athletes and featured a moving video presentation of Reena supported individuals participating in the same sports as the honoured athletes.
Howard Ungerman’s connection with Reena continued to grow. “Reena was heartfelt to me, and I thought Sandy (Keshen) was just the most amazing person…a driving force. The people were so kind-hearted and generous, so committed and caring and bright and personable.” Ungerman explains his involvement with Reena as special. “It’s easy to work for diabetes or cancer or research,” he says, “You do these runs, you raise money for this or that, pro-am games and it’s all fun, but it’s not the same as doing work for Reena. It’s not easy to work for an agency doing the things that Reena does. It’s not as sexy. But the agency does such incredible work for so many people that have such difficult problems.”
Howard Ungerman is also proud of Reena’s reputation, “It has such incredible respect among all the agencies doing the same work. Reena is a leader, it’s so well respected.” The same can be said for Ungerman who held the role of Chair of Batay Reena for 11 years, helping guide the organization and working to build supportive housing for individuals with diverse abilities.